Since time immemorial, Gay and Lesbian people have served their country with distinction. LGBT Americans pause to remember and honor the service and sacrifice of all American service members, especially the ones who faced battle on two fronts: the battle for freedom and security for our country, and the battle against unreasoning homophobia. This Memorial Day, The Unfinished Lives Project pauses to give thanks for the lives of three gay men who served their country, and died because their countrymen could not accept their sexual orientation: Petty Officer Third Class Allen R. Schindler, Jr., Chicago Heights, IL, sailor on the U.S.S. Belleau Wood; Private First Class Barry Winchell, Kansas City, MO, soldier at Fort Campbell, KY; and U.S. Army Veteran Michael Scott Goucher of East Stroudsburg, PA.
Schindler, who was mercilessly harassed on board his ship, was murdered in 1992 by shipmates in a public toilet while on leave in Sasebo, Nagasaki, Japan. His body was so ravaged by the attack that every major organ in his body was ruptured, his skull was crushed, and the medical examiner found sneaker tracks embedded in his chest and face. The only way his mother could identify her son’s body was by a tattoo he had inked into his upper arm. His main assailant, who openly declared that he was disgusted by homosexuals, said shortly after the murder, “I don’t regret it. I’d do it again. … He deserved it.” The Navy has never been forthcoming about the slaying, and has repeatedly refused to release the report of the Japanese police about the crime. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) was officially enacted soon after Schindler’s murder by President Clinton. SLDN has continued to represent his mother in the courts.
Winchell, who had been singled out for anti-gay ridicule by his barracks mates at Fort Campbell, was bludgeoned to death in 1999 by a fellow soldier wielding a baseball bat at his head and body while he was asleep. Ironically, he was killed after an Independence Day celebration on base. His hate crime murder and trial exposed one of the most notorious cover-ups of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) era. His parents and SLDN contend that the Army betrayed him by violating its own DADT policies, failing to follow the best traditions of the Army in order to shield the chain of command, and exposing other gay soldiers to danger and dishonorable discharge. The anti-gay climate of Fort Campbell was never sufficiently addressed in the wake of Winchell’s killing, and the base commander, General Robert T. Clark, was promoted despite the protests of SLDN and other LGBT advocacy organizations around the country. His killer is serving a life sentence for murder in a federal military prison facility.
Goucher, who had been honorably discharged from the U.S. Army after a tour of duty in Alaska where he served in transport, was ambushed by two young men who stabbed him to death over 45 times according to autopsy records in 2009, arguably the first anti-LGBT hate crime murder victim of the year. After returning to East Stroudsburg, Goucher worked as a high school janitor, captained the Neighborhood Watch in his area, and served as assistant organist at a local church.
These three represent many more loyal Americans who happened to be LGBT and have been stigmatized, drummed out of the service, and in the cases of these faithful guardians of our country, were killed because of deep-seated bias against members of the sexual minority. They neither betrayed their country nor themselves. For that, and for justice-sake, we cannot forget them. At the request of SLDN, Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Network, Chan Lowe drew this provocative tribute to homosexual Americans who have paid the supreme price to wear our nation’s uniform. We offer it for your consideration on this Memorial Day 2009.
Washington, DC – President Barak Obama met Judy Shepard, mother of slain gay son, Matthew Shepard, in the Oval Office of the White House, according to Jon Barrett of The Advocate. President Obama affirmed his support of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act still pending action in the United States Senate. The House version of the bill has already passed by a wide margin. While a Senator, President Obama voted in favor of the act, and told Mrs. Shepard that he would sign it once it reaches his desk. Though brief, the meeting was a significant indication of the support of this president for justice for LGBT people and their families and friends. The Obama administration has been criticized for moving slowly on LGBT issues. Former White House aide to President Bill Clinton, David Mixner, for example, is calling for a march on Washington to pressure the president to follow through on his support for the LGBT community, such as the repeal of DADT (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) and of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). Critics point out that other groups who helped elect President Obama have already received significant support and legislation, such as women, blacks, and hispanics. The LGBT vote went heavily in favor of the president in the November general election, playing a significant role in swinging states into the Democratic column in the case of Florida, Indiana, and North Carolina, where slim margins suggest the necessity of the queer vote. Shepard counseled patience with the president today. “We are victims of our own hope,” she says. “These bills are going to get passed, it’s just going to take time and work.” For now, Shepard is calling on citizens to call their Senators to urge them for passage of the Shepard Act when it comes to floor of the Senate. She also calls on friends of anti-LGBT Hate Crimes legislation across the country to discourage Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada from attaching the Shepard Act to a Defense Department Appropriations Bill, which she believes will hurt its chances of passage.
Newark, CA, May 13, 2009 – A California state court of appeal upheld the second degree murder convictions of two young East Bay men for their part in the strangling, beating, and murder of 17 year old male-to-female transgender Latina Gwen Amber Rose Araujo in 2002. Jose Merel and Michael Magidson had appealed their convictions on the grounds that the Alameda County trial judge had not defined the crimes properly to the jury at the time of the original trial in 2005, and that there had not been sufficient evidence for second degree murder convictions. The appeal court ruled 3-0 against the petition of the defendants, who will continue to serve out their 15-year sentences for the grisly murder.
The 2002 Araujo case drew national attention to the plight of transgender people in the United States, especially transgender people of color. Araujo, born biologically male and originally known as Eddie, had transitioned to being female by the time of the assault. After she died, her mother legally changed her name to Gwen as a sign of love and respect. Her killers, who knew her as “Lida” had known her for months, and Gwen believed they were fast friends. Both Merel and Magidson had sex with Araujo orally and anally. According to their defense, she had not revealed her biological identity to them. When her biological maleness was discovered, the defense went on to contend, the men attacked Araujo “in the heat of the moment,” and therefore deserved convictions for a lesser charge of manslaughter instead of murder. The prosecution successfully argued against this version of the “trans-panic defense,” and secured the murder convictions against them. Two other defendants in the case, Jaron Nabors and Jason Cazares pled guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to 11 and 6 years respectively. They have not sought to challenge their convictions.
The Araujo case sharpened the national debate on the trans-panic defense. The outcome of the 2002 trial went a long way toward refuting the once widely held notion that trans people somehow brought on attacks against themselves. As Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center noted to reporters,the ruling of the court of appeal definitively rejected the claim that the murder of a young woman like Gwen should be reduced to a lesser charge just because she was transgender. “We are thankful that the Court of Appeal saw through this blatant prejudice, and upheld the convictions of Gwen’s killers,” she said.
Mark Scott Harriss, 30, looked forward to moving to Canada to get married to his fiancé, Ross Salvosa. Instead, he was shot to death around 8:30 pm in his Delray Beach, Florida driveway on Monday, May 11, 2009. Was it a hate crime? He had multiple gunshot wounds, and there was no evidence of robbery, according to investigators. Though authorities have not yet made the determination that his murder was a hate crime, friends of Harriss think it was likely. Professor Earl Fox from the University of Miami School of Medicine knew him well, and the neighborhood where he lived. Fox noted to the Palm Beach Post that another friend of his who lives in the same area as Harriss had a Nazi swastika painted on her car earlier this year because she is Jewish. “If somebody is shot multiple times and nobody takes anything, that is just strange,” Fox told reporters.
Police told WPBF television, an ABC affiliate, that Harris was shot 12 times at close range in a manner resembling an “assassination.” Homophobia is under consideration as a motive for the murder, officers said.
Harriss grew up in Fredericksburg, Texas, in the Hill Country. He was an enthusiastic water skier, and loved gardening, according to his high school classmate, Theresa Valenzuela, of Austin. He had moved to Florida in 2007 to take a job with Best Western Motels. Salvosa, a classical piano student, lived with him until his student visa expired, at which time he returned to his native home in Vancouver, British Columbia. Harriss was tying up loose ends as quickly as he could in Delray Beach, so that he could find a job in Canada, go to live there in early summer, and marry his beloved.
Now Salvosa is returning to Florida to mourn Harriss and to oversee his memorial service. Harriss wished to be cremated, and to have his ashes interred back in New Braunfels, Texas, a city between Austin and San Antonio.
Investigations into Harriss’ savage murder continue, and the Delray Police Department vow to follow all leads until the tragic mystery of this killing is resolved.
By a bipartisan vote of 24-14, the California Senate has approved May 22 as Harvey Milk Day, according to Advocate.Com. Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the United States, was slain on November 27, 1978 by jealous San Francisco City Supervisor, Dan White, along with Mayor George Moscone. Milk’s murder rocked the gay rights world, and secured a martyr’s respect for the affable politician whose advice to all LGBT activists was “You gotta give ’em hope!” Milk would have been 79 this coming May 22, the choice of his birthday a deliberate effort to preserve his story and legacy for generations to come.
Harvey Milk Day will be a “Day of Significance” throughout the Golden State. The designation differs from a state holiday in that state employees will not be given the day off, and state offices will not close. Nonetheless, the action of the state Senate is unprecedented in recognizing the importance of Milk’s contribution to the struggle for human rights in general, and for LGBT rights in particular. In view of the controversy surrounding same-sex marriage and Proposition 8, this first annual commemoration becomes even more timely.
Among those testifying in favor of the Harvey Milk Bill was Dustin Lance Black, who received an Academy Award for his screenplay of the film Milk, starring Sean Penn in the title role. Black expressed his debt to Harvey Milk who kindled hope in him as a Mormon boy in Texas who was isolated and hedged in by anti-gay sentiment. The sole Republican to join the Senate’s 23 Democrats to vote for the creation of Harvey Milk Day, Senator Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, credited Black’s testimony before the Senate Education Committee with causing him to flip his vote from “no” to “yes.” “I rarely get swayed by testimony,” Maldonado said.
More than 300 LGBT Clergy and Allies hit Capitol Hill to pray and lobby for the passage of the Matthew Shepard Act and a fully trans-inclusive Employment Non-Descrimination Act. A new breeze seemed to be blowing in the halls of government. The Human Rights Campaign Religion and Faith Program, directed by Harry Knox and Sharon Groves, coordinated three days of events, May 4-6, 2009. Among the speakers for the Press Conference were Dr. Tony Campolo, noted evangelical leader, and Dr. Jo Hudson, Rector and Senior Pastor of Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. Clergy from all 50 states attended. The Matthew Shepard Act awaits the action of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and chief sponsor Senator Ted Kennedy in order to bring the legislation (which has already passed the House of Representatives by a healthy margin) to the floor of the Senate. President Obama has publicly indicated that he would sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk. Federal Hate Crimes legislation was first introduced in Congress 17 years ago. So much has happened since, and so many have needlessly died. With the Hebrew Prophets, the ministers, rabbis, and priests meeting for Clergy Call 2009 cry out, “How long, O Lord?”
The gathering of large contingents of LGBT Clergy and Allies to lobby for passage of fully inclusive hate crimes federal legislation, first in 2007 and now, has done much to persuade fence-sitting members of Congress that the radical right does not own the religious vote on this issue.
Bill Clayton wanted to be a sculptor, a teacher, an architect, a counselor…but his life was cut short by irrational hatred on May 8, 1995. He was barely 17. Bill had come out to his parents as a bisexual three years before, when he was 14. Molested by a sexual predator that same year, he went into intensive therapy and regained his old confidence. It took years, but by April 1995 he and his counselor agreed that he was no longer in need of counseling for the PTSD that had plagued him for the past three years.
Bill was out at school, and a vocal, active proponent of the rights of sexual minorities. When an anti-LGBT storm broke over a Women’s History Month speaking invitation to Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer (who defied Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the U.S. Military) at Olympia (Washington) High School, where Bill was a student, he openly supported her presence on campus. She was allowed to speak on March 21, 1995. Strong, homophobic feelings hung thick in the air after that.
On April 6, 1995, ironically one day after his therapist released him, Bill and his friends Sam and Jenny were attacked by a gang of students in broad daylight. The two boys were beaten and kicked unconscious after being verbally assaulted for being queer. The police arrested several boys under 18 who had acted on the community’s homophobia by targeting Bill and his friends. The assault was treated as a hate crime from the beginning. In time, the boys who attacked Bill and Sam were sentenced to 20-30 days in juvenile detention, followed up by probation and community service and four hours of diversity training concentrated on sexual orientation.
Olympia rose to the challenge, and began to face its homophobia at a rally in a city park on April 14. Bill spoke out, saying, “As an openly bisexual person in Olympia, I’m probably–or may be–the victim of this sort of thing again. Hate crimes–especially those against homosexuals and bisexuals and transgendered people are on the rise in this area. And that is why now–more than ever–we, the gay community need to come out and band together and fight for our civil rights and our right to be safe in our homes and on the streets.” It was a brave thing for him to do.
As a result of the attack, Bill fell into a deep depression, becoming suicidal. His family hospitalized him for his own protection and healing. Ten days later he came back home. He told his mother that all he could see ahead was a lifetime of dealing with one assault after another, and he was tired of coping with it all. She wrote about his fear and depression, “He was 17 years old–an age when kids are supposed to be excited about moving out into the world as adults. The only place he felt safe was at home.” She continued, “He saw no hope, so he chose to end his life.” As a living memorial to Bill, his mother, father, and brother have become advocates for LGBTQ youth, and strong voices for the prevention of teen gay suicide. They have not forgotten Bill, and we cannot let ourselves forget him, either.
Now, with anti-bullying legislation on the books in several states, and pending in several others (NC, for one), Bill’s passion for life has a new dawning of hope. Federal legislation has been introduced in Congress to address school bullying and violence. Bill’s story takes on new power as the cause of security and hope for LGBT youth moves to center stage in American consciousness. Every time a life is saved, every time a young boy or girl is helped not to take their lives, Bill Clayton is honored. To save the lives of young queer folk is to vindicate the passion of our young brother, Bill, and all the thousands like him for whom the dawn did not break in time.
To that end, here is the link to the Trevor Helpline, http://www.thetrevorproject.org/ the oldest and largest 24/7 suicide prevention helpline for LGBTQ youth in existence. If you or a friend are feeling lost and alone, call the Trevor Helpline, 866-4-U-Trevor, [866-488-7386]. There is hope, there is help. Bill has not been forgotten. The morning is breaking.
Denver – the AP reports that Allen Ray Andrade, convicted of murder in the first degree in the Angie Zapata transgender murder case and sentenced to life without parole has been determined to be a “habitual criminal” and sentenced to an additional 60 years in prison. Weld County District Judge Marcello Kopcow ruled on May 8 that the three remaining convictions, for bias-motivated crime, aggravated motor-vehicle theft and identity theft, should carry such a penalty in view of the deliberate criminality with which Andrade committed these offenses.
Supporters of federal hate crimes legislation hope that this application of the Colorado hate crimes law will add pressure for the passage of a fully transgender inclusive Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act that is awaiting action in the United States Senate. The House of Representatives has recently passed its own version of the legislation, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, by a large margin. President Obama has publicly stated that he would sign a fully trans-inclusive hate crimes law when it reaches his desk.