Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Murder Most Foul: Transgender Holocaust in the United States

trans day of remembrance collageChicago, IL – The Great Lakes Regional Editor of EDGE reports that the slaughter of transgender persons in the United States has already gone 12 per cent higher than last year at this time, and the grim statistics are growing.  Joseph Erbentraut, in his important essay, “Violence Against the Transgendered Only Getting Worse,” published on edgeonthenet.com, notes that the silence and invisibility common to LGBT hate crime murders is intensified for transgender Americans.  As in the case of Paulina Ibarra, the lives of transgender victims are often ignored until a more culturally sensational aspect of the crime surfaces, as it did in the August stabbing death of the East Los Angeles Latina transwoman when a known parole jumper surfaced as a “person of interest” in the investigation.  Until then, Ibarra’s brutal murder was largely neglected, even by the LGBT press, and her life has been reduced to a string of seamy innuendoes and a few glam photos.  Other notorious instances this year have been the broad-daylight attack on Ty’lia “Nana Boo-Boo” Mack in D.C. last month, Lateisha Green, shot to death in Syracuse, NY last November, Angie Zapata, bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher in Greeley, CO last July, and Duanna Johnson and Ebony Whitaker who died on the streets of  Memphis, TN last November and July, respectively.  According to Erbentraut, the media are largely to blame for this stunning neglect of one of the most important human rights stories of 2009: “Underreporting from official statistics leaves the issue in the hands of media outlets, which have historically been known for problems identifying victims’ genders through using incorrect names and pronouns,” he writes.   “The past year has also seen a number of examples of media programs condoning violence against the community,” Erbentraut continues, “including a radio news program on KRXQ Sacramento which referred to gender dysphoric children as ‘idiots’ and ‘freaks.’ Co-host Arnie States said he ‘[looked] forward to when [transgender children] go out into society and society beats them down…'”  While 32 states have some form of hate crime legislation that increases the penalty for violence against LGB people, only 11 have statutes covering their transgender population.  Only Brazil, with 80 transgender murders this year, has a larger number of transgender killings than the United States.  Until gays, lesbians, and bisexual people and their allies begin to take violence against transgender people, especially transgender people of color, as seriously as they do crimes against themselves, this deplorable trend will surely continue.

September 30, 2009 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bludgeoning, California, Colorado, gun violence, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Illinois, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Legislation, Media Issues, New York, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, Tennessee, transgender persons, transphobia, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Murder Most Foul: Transgender Holocaust in the United States

Protecting Wretches: Why Freedom of Speech Belongs to Fred Phelps, Too

Phelps protestorsRichmond, VA – The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a $5 million verdict Thursday against protesters from Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church who picketed the Maryland funeral of a U.S. Marine who was killed in Iraq with signs bearing messages like “Thank God for IED’s,” and “Priests Rape Boys.”  Surely the most offensive sign carried by the protesters at the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder of Westminster, MD, was “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”  A Baltimore jury had awarded Snyder’s father $5 million in damages from the Topeka, Kansas-based church for the emotional stress and invasion of privacy visited on the family by the protestors.  The three-judge panel of the court of appeals ruled that the language employed by Phelps’ church members, equating the death of Lance Corporal Snyder with God’s judgement against the United States for laxity on homosexuality was “imaginative and hyperbolic rhetoric” that was protected by the First Amendment as freedom of speech.  The messages the church group issued were meant to ignite debate and could not be understood as personally pertaining to the deceased, reasoned the court.  Supporters of the family decried the decision, and predictably, the Phelps Clan at Westboro Baptist Church applauded it.  Sean E. Summers, attorney for Mr. Snyder, vowed to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of Fred Phelps, welcomed the ruling.  Speaking to the Associated Press, Phelps-Roper, who was one of the protestors named in the lawsuit, said, “They had no case but they were hoping the appellate court would not do their duty to follow the rule of law and the appellate court would not do that. They didn’t change God and they didn’t stop us. What they managed to do was give us a huge door, a global door of utterance. Our doctrine is all over the world because of what they did.”  The Supreme Court will or will not hear the appeal the Snyder family says it will bring them, as the high court pleases.  But the guarantee of freedom of speech belongs to wretches as well as the righteous, and as hard as it is to admit its protections for grave errors in judgment, taste, good order, and belief, such protection ensures that truth remains free to combat error in the marketplace of ideas, morals, and customs.  As bitter as it sounds, the court of appeals decision was correct, both for the country, and for LGBT people and their supporters, in the end.  No outfit in America has said more inflammatory things about LGBT people than Phelps and his church, comprised of mostly family members.  The 1998 protest of Matthew Shepard’s funeral in Casper, WY, declaring that “Matt is in Hell!” and that when “Fags Die, God Laughs” is one of the more notorious examples of how wretched hate speech can be in the case of victims of anti-LGBT prejudice.  Finding that their virulent anti-gay rhetoric was losing its public shock value, Phelps’ hate mongers moved on to besmirching the memories of American military servicemembers who had died in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Phelps has not won at every turn.  A public monument proclaiming Matthew Shepard’s damnation, to be put in a Kansas municipal park, was blocked by city officials.  In the end, the defeat of anti-LGBT hate speech is the responsibility of everyone, gay and straight, who know that the Phelps message is morally, spiritually, and patriotically bankrupt.  In Pompeii, buried by volcanic ash in CE 79, graffiti scrawled on a wall proclaims, “Samius to Cornelius: go hang yourself!”  It is all but forgotten, as are Samius and Cornelius, and so will Phelps’ baseless rantings, as LGBT people and their allies continue to show themselves to be greater in character than their adversaries.  Hate speech does incite some people to violence against queer folk.  Too many cases exist of hateful, religious rhetoric being used to justify torture and murder of LGBT victims to ignore how wretches use God’s warrant to harm others.  Any case of bias-generated violence against LGBT people must be prosecuted swiftly to the full extent of the law, and passage of the Matthew Shepard Act is necessary so that these prosecutions may be pursued vigorously and successfully. But freedom of speech means more to truth than it does to error.  At every turn, LGBT folk and their allies may and must immediately and non-violently refute the falsehoods of bad religion so that justice may win out in American life, so that the better angels of the American spirit may rouse themselves to make protests like these seem as petty as scrawlings on an outhouse wall.

September 26, 2009 Posted by | bi-phobia, Bisexual persons, gay men, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Kansas, Law and Order, Lesbian women, Matthew Shepard Act, military, Monuments and markers, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, Popular Culture, Protests and Demonstrations, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Protecting Wretches: Why Freedom of Speech Belongs to Fred Phelps, Too

Transgender Latina Stabbed to Death in Los Angeles: Story of Injustice

paulina_ibarra1-450x250Los Angeles, CA – Paulina Ibarra, transgender Latina, was found stabbed to death in her apartment in East Los Angeles on August 28.  The transgender community quickly moved to help the LAPD identify a “person of interest,” 24-year-old Jesus Catalan, who is wanted for jumping parole.  Police as of this writing are still seeking Catalan to question him in regards to Ms. Ibarra’s murder, believing him to have been at the scene of the crime.  While the LAPD has not definitively determined that her murder is a transphobic hate crime, the case is being investigated as if it were, according to Officer Sara Faden.  According to the Los Angeles Daily News, all the LAPD is willing to say at this point is that a suspect, or suspects, apparently entered Ibarra’s home, “engaged in a physical confrontation, resulting in the victim being stabbed to death.”  Victoria Ortega, transgender community leader and activist, told ABC 7 News that the Los Angeles trans community won’t stand idly by and let a killer get away: “We’re here to say that we’re not going to let somebody come in here and kill one of our members and let it happen and let it be forgotten.”  Innuendo has been used to downplay the Ibarra murder, such as suggestions that Catalan, who allegedly frequented prostitutes may have been in Ms. Ibarra’s apartment for that purpose.  Such tactics in the press often diminish the victim in the eyes of the public, and just as often are later shown to be false, after the damage to the story, the investigation, and the character of the victim is already done.  Added to such reductionistic tendencies in press reports are factors in Ms. Ibarra’s identity, that she was non-white, transgender, and Latina.  The cumulative effect of these downplaying tendencies in the press and in public consciousness is subtly to blame the victim for her own demise, an insidious injustice.  While the story of the search for Catalan achieved moderate coverage in the mainstream media, and a bit more in the LGBT press, no follow-up news has been forthcoming on Ms. Ibarra, another indication that her death is being downplayed as less significant than if she were a white, straight male with a family.  The murders of transwomen of color have reached an epidemic proportion in the United States, a newsworthy item that is largely unknown because of cultural and media insensitivity.

September 26, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, California, Hate Crimes, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Media Issues, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, stabbings, transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Transgender Latina Stabbed to Death in Los Angeles: Story of Injustice

For Courageous Mothers of LGBT Murder Victims, There is No Closure

Pat and Lynn Mulder at USF, Stephen Coddington photo for the Times

Pat and Lynn Mulder at USF, Stephen Coddington photo for the Times

Families of LGBT hate crimes murder victims are on the front lines of grief and loss when a homophobic attack takes the life of someone they love.  This is especially true of their mothers.  That powerful truth was driven home for me again by learning of Pat and Lynn Mulder’s courageous appearance at the Hate Crimes Awareness Summit held this week at the University of South Florida.  Pat shared the story of how her beloved son, Ryan Keith Skipper, lived and died at the hands of brutal, anti-gay attackers in rural Polk County Florida on March 14, 2007.  The popular 25-year-old Skipper was stabbed over 19 times, and left to bleed out on a lonely dirt road in Wahneta, a rural town in the Winter Haven region. One of his murderers, Joseph “Smiley” Bearden has been sentenced to life without parole earlier this year, and a second alleged killer, William D. “Bill Bill” Brown is to stand trial on October 12.  Reporting on the Summit, Alexandra Zayas of the St. Petersburg Times, relates how Pat had to overcome her reluctance and nervousness about speaking in front of crowds about the worst tragedy in her family’s history.  “The worst thing in the world that can happen to you has already happened. There’s nothing else to be afraid of.”  Speaking with passion and the conviction that no family should ever have to endure what hers has, Pat and her husband Lynn have tirelessly reached out to others bereaved by unreasoning hatred.  Barely a year after her son’s murder, Pat traveled to Fort Lauderdale to see Denise King, mother of African American youth Simmie Williams, Jr., who was shot for being transgender by attackers who have not yet been identified or apprehended.  At at town hall meeting dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Williams, Pat introduced herself to Mrs. King as Ryan’s mother, and enfolded her in an embrace that King later said was deeply meaningful to her.  Speaking to the Times about that moment, Pat said, “It’s beyond being women. It’s beyond being different races, different backgrounds. It has nothing to do with that. It’s the hearts of two mothers,” Pat said. “For a moment, there’s someone who’s helping you hold up your pain.”  The real unsung heroes of the effort to win passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act are women like Pat Mulder and Denise King who became “accidental activists” for the sake of their children who died so senselessly.  Elke Kennedy, mother of Greenville, SC victim, Sean William Kennedy, Pauline Mitchell, mother of Navajo two-spirit son, F.C. Martinez, Jr. of Cortez, CO, Pat Kuteles, mother of U.S. Army Pvt. Barry Winchell, murdered at Fort Campbell, KY, Kathy Jo Gaither, sister of Sylacauga, AL victim Bill Joe Gaither, and, certainly, Judy Shepard of Casper, WY who is currently touring the nation to promote passage of the LGBT hate crimes bill named for her son Matthew, are but a few outstanding examples of women whose love overcame untold obstacles to add their voices to the chorus of Americans, gay and straight, who want anti-queer violence to come to an end forever.  These courageous women and many other family members around the nation have become the most effective spokespersons for human rights because of their unsought-for mission to stamp out hate from the American vocabulary for all people, especially LGBTQ folk who are so much at risk.  How do mothers do it?  Pat Mulder says that for parents of gay murder victims, there is no closure, only the determination to turn up the volume on what hate crimes do to families.

Sprinkle in FL 08

~ Stephen Sprinkle for the Unfinished Lives Project

September 25, 2009 Posted by | African Americans, Alabama, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Colorado, DADT, Florida, gay men, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Kentucky, Latino and Latina Americans, Legislation, Lesbian women, Matthew Shepard Act, military, Native Americans, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Social Justice Advocacy, South Carolina, transgender persons, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Trans Hate Violence Spikes in Nation’s Capital

MackX390Washington, DC – Hard questions are being asked by the LGBT community in the wake of the murder of 21-year-old transwoman, Tyl’ia “Nana Boo-Boo” Mack and the continuing investigation by metropolitan police.  Stabbed to death in the Truxton Circle neighborhood by an assailant still at large, the popular and well-known transwoman of color had nearly made it to  her destination, the offices of Transgender Health Empowerment (THE).  Another transgender woman of color was seriously injured in the knife attack, but survived.  Her name has not be released because of the ongoing investigation.  By one reputable estimate, there have been six transwomen murdered in DC since 2006, and GenderPAC has rated the nation’s capitol as having the highest incidence of anti-transgender violence in the United States.  The Metropolitan Police are offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a suspect or suspects in the Mack murder case.  G.G. Thomas, Mack’s client advocate at Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS), told Will O’Brian, reporter for the Metro Weekly, that she “was a roar of thunder, someone who always had an opinion and expressed it. She was like a role model to the younger girls, saying, ‘We’re all going through discrimination and poverty, dealing with drug issues, family issues…. But at the same time, there’s hope.'”  The DC trans community is on guard, many feeling unsafe in the city.  Gay DC City Council Member David Catania told the Weekly, “This is an opportunity for every leader in the city — whether elected, whether appointed, whether in a pulpit — to stand up and say this is not acceptable, that the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are not so casual and so meaningless that they can be taken from us for no reason,” he said. “This was an unprovoked and unforgivable attack. And this must stop. To the family of Ms. Mack, our profoundest condolences. To every one of us, let us go to all of our leaders and say enough is enough. We want to hear Sunday in the pulpits in this city that this kind of attack is unacceptable.”  David Mariner, executive director of the Center, DC’s LGBT community center, confessed that he was particularly hard hit by Nana Boo-Boo’s brutal murder: “I’m just here along with everybody because I’m shocked, I’m troubled, and because it’s happened again. My thoughts are with the family. My thoughts are with every person in D.C. who has felt unsafe, or who will in the future.”

September 19, 2009 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, gay men, Hate Crimes, stabbings, transgender persons, transphobia, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Trans Hate Violence Spikes in Nation’s Capital

Protest Calls for Passage of NC Hate Crimes Protections for LGBT Tarheels

hate300New Hanover County, NC – In the wake of a violent attack on two gay men in Wilmington, NC in July, protestors gathered Thursday to repeat their call for the passage of hate crimes protection for LGBT North Carolinians.  Chaz Housand and Chet Saunders were beaten outside a popular bar on Front Street in Wilmington after celebrating their graduations.  Three suspects are charged with the attack, which witnesses say was accompanied by virulent anti-gay slurs as the two men were beaten senseless and left on the sidewalk.  Both sustained considerable injuries, and investigators on the scene suggested that more serious harm might have been done had witnesses not intruded on the attackers.  Tab Ballis, an independent documentary film maker and local human rights leader told WWAY News, “In downtown there is a lot of general violence, but this violence by three assailants was directed towards these two men because of the perception that they were gay.”  Protestors point out that North Carolina is one of sixteen states that does not protect LGBT people against hate crimes, and they want the State Legislature to pass a statute criminalizing anti-LGBT bias crimes in the Tarheel State.  Assistant District Attorney James Blanton told WWAY News that though North Carolina does have laws protecting people from attacks against them because of race, religion, or country of origin, “Sexual orientation is not one of the protected classes. If someone commits a misdemeanor assault based on the fact that the victim has a different sexual orientation that they’re not satisfied with, it would not bump it up to a felony.”  The Safer Communities Act, North Carolina State House Bill 207, would provide protection based on victims’ sexual orientation, as well as for gender and disability.  Human rights advocates are concerned that the three alleged attackers will not face appropriate punishment for their actions because the statute is not yet law in North Carolina.  Ballis went on to say, “Hate crimes are based on fear, ignorance, and misunderstanding. And I think we all believe that folks that pay taxes deserve to be safe in their own community.”

September 11, 2009 Posted by | Beatings and battery, Bisexual persons, gay men, harassment, Hate Crimes, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, North Carolina, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, transgender persons, women | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Protest Calls for Passage of NC Hate Crimes Protections for LGBT Tarheels


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