Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

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


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