Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Tampa Bay Gay Publisher Admits Neglecting Ryan Skipper’s Hate Crime Murder “A Big Mistake”

RyanSkipperTampa Bay, FL – Jon Ponder of the blog, Pensito Review, writes that Watermark publisher, Tom Dyer, counts missing the Ryan Skipper hate crime murder story the deepest regret of his publishing career.  Watermark, a gay publication serving Tampa Bay and other metro Florida areas for 15 years, ran no stories on the Skipper case in 2007 even though it happened in nearby Polk County, between Tampa and Orlando.  Pensito Review ran multiple stories from virtually the beginning of the case, staying in close touch with the Mulders, Ryan’s parents, and pressing for the office of Sheriff Grady Judd to come clean on the law enforcement bias against homosexuals that skewed press releases and unsupportable statements about Skipper’s character to the media.  In Tom Dyer’s own words to a reporter from the Daily City, “We should have jumped on the Ryan Skipper story immediately. This young Polk County man’s murder just a few years ago was every bit as gruesome as Matthew Shepard’s, and every bit as telling about the persistence of violent homophobia in our area. There was almost no coverage in the mainstream press, and I let that influence my judgment. Big mistake, and I still regret it.” Skipper, a gay 25-year-old lifelong resident of Polk County, was brutally murdered by men who slashed him to death and dumped his body by the side of a lonely dirt road in rural Wahneta, Florida, just outside of Winter Haven.  If the savagery of the murder were not enough in itself, Sheriff Judd suggested to the media that Skipper was somehow to blame for his own murder, that he was “cruising for sex” on the night of his murder, picked up “rough trade,” and agreed to participate in a drugs-related check forgery scheme with them.  None of these allegations were supported by a shred of fact, but by taking the self-serving lies told by the alleged killers as his only source, Sheriff Judd accomplished two things:  he pleased his right-wing religious base by removing known meth addicts from his jurisdiction (Skipper’s alleged killers), and besmirching the reputation of the victim himself, an openly gay man.  While Joseph “Smiley” Bearden has already been found guilty, and William “Bill Bill” Brown will also in all likelihood, Judd remains unrepentant and unaccountable.  Pensito Review calls Judd’s actions “egregious malpractice,” and makes this trenchant observation, “In the final analysis, Ryan Skipper was assaulted twice — first, fatally by his homophobic killers and then in the media by the homophobic sheriff of Polk County. Bearden has been held accountable, and it’s a dead cinch Brown will be too. But Grady Judd has not been forced to take responsibility for his role in assaulting Ryan’s memory. Unless and until the media holds him responsible for his actions, it’s likely he never will be.” LGBT hate crimes killings are horrible, and Ryan Skipper’s was one of the most disturbing in the recent history of the nation.  Both the Gay American Heroes Foundation and the Unfinished Lives Project have been inspired and outraged by this case, and have moved to expose the way LGBT hate crimes are distorted and underreported.  A first-rate documentary film, Accessory to Murder, produced by Mary Meeks and Vicki Nantz, details the role Judd’s politicized demolition of Skipper’s character robbed his family of comfort, and nearly robbed Florida of justice.  A chapter dedicated to Ryan Skipper, entitled “Keeper of Hearts,” forthcoming in the book by Stephen Sprinkle, Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memory of LGBT Hate Crimes Murder Victims. Dyer is to be commended for admitting his error.  Too many times LGBT hate crimes are passed over because of distortion and misinformation, and it is refreshing to hear that he will not be making a mistake of this magnitude again.   The editors and staff of Pensito Review demonstrate the significance of blog coverage of news stories dismissed by otherwise reputable publishers.  We at Unfinished Lives applaud them.

August 5, 2009 - Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, Florida, gay men, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Media Issues, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I commend Tom Dyer for acknowledging that his publication, Watermark, should have covered Ryan’s murder during 2007. Tom has since made a concerted effort to improve news coverage at Watermark, and he has followed up on Ryan’s story in recent months. Watermark was not the only gay publication to dismiss Ryan’s murder when it happened. We made the documentary, Accessory to Murder: Our Culture’s Complicity in the Death of Ryan Skipper, because ALL media – gay and mainstream – dismissed the horrendous anti-gay murder of Ryan Skipper(with the exception of Pensito Review which covered it thoroughly). We all must demand attention and justice when any act of violence or intimidation is directed at the LGBT community. Silence and complacency is not ever acceptable in the face of hate. Please use your voice and change this world.

    Comment by Vicki Nantz | August 5, 2009

    • Thanks for this thoughtful comment, Vicki,

      I included Accessory to Murder and the link in my post on this site. It is a most important piece of work, and I use it in my classes whenever I can. Best to you always,

      Steve Sprinkle

      Comment by unfinishedlives | August 5, 2009

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