Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Student at Georgetown U Attacked Because of Sexual Orientation

georgetownWashington, D.C. – The Washington Post reports that a female student was assaulted and robbed allegedly because of her sexual orientation on Tuesday, October 27 while she was walking near the entrance to Georgetown University on Canal Road.  Her assailants yelled anti-gay slurs as they beat her, knocked her down, and robbed her of her book bag.  At the time of the attack, she was wearing a T-shirt bearing a gay rights slogan.  Reaction at GU was swift.  By Friday, 50 students protested the assault, showing their support for the woman who was targeted because of her perceived sexual orientation.  JM Alatis, a freshman who serves as historian and secretary of GU Pride, the campus LGBT rights organization, condemned the violence, “We should not have to fear for our lives when we walk down the street.”  The rally had been set in motion by Facebook and Twitter contacts in less than 24 hours, demonstrating the speed with which the linked-in community can respond to anti-LGBT violence.  Students say that intimidation and attacks like this are common in the GU neighborhood, on and off campus.  Speaking to WaPo reporters, sophomore Marcus Brazill said, “This stuff happens all the time, but a lot of us are afraid of reporting it.”  A Georgetown Med student was intimidated by homophobes with a broken glass bottle last fall, and in September 2007, a sophomore student was arrested in an incident that was considered a possible anti-LGBT hate crime.  The case was subsequently dropped according the WaPo, but the controversy led to the establishment of the first LGBTQ Resource Center on the campus of a Roman Catholic/Jesuit university in the nation.  Rev. Kelly O’Brien, S.J., Executive Director of Campus Ministry, commenting on the significance of the LGBTQ Center, said, “Campus Ministry is pleased to collaborate with the LGBTQ Resource Center to learn from and support Georgetown’s LGBTQ community. The Center helps us understand the issues, struggles, concerns, and hopes of the LGBTQ community so that we can better minister to those seeking our care.”  As of Friday, the assailants in this latest anti-LGBT attack were still at large.

October 31, 2009 Posted by | Beatings and battery, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Lesbian women, Mistaken as LGBT, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Protests and Demonstrations, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Washington, D.C., women | Comments Off on Student at Georgetown U Attacked Because of Sexual Orientation

Sean Kennedy: Travesty of Justice Could Have Come Out Differently If Shepard Act Had Been In Place


Sean & Blue tie

Sean William Kennedy, 20

Washington, DC – Elke Kennedy and her husband, James Parker, were invited by the Human Rights Campaign to represent their slain gay son, Sean William Kennedy, at the ceremonies marking the enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Law at the White House.  In a statement issued on Sean’s Last Wish, web site for the foundation established following the brutal murder of their son, the Greenville, South Carolina couple issued this statement:  “Elke and Jim are honored to represent the LGBT community in memory of their son Sean Kennedy, who was the victim of a hate crime on May 16, 2007 in Greenville, SC. Sean’s Last Wish foundation considers this a privilege to be the voice and represent the LGBT community as we continue to fight against hatred, bullying, violence and religious bigotry.”  In one of the most egregious abuses of justice in recent years, Sean Kennedy’s murderer, Stephen Moller, was indicted only for involuntary manslaughter and sentenced on June 11 2008 to a 5 year sentence suspended to three years, and received credit for the 199 days he served in county lock-up. He was supposed to stay in prison till September 7, 2009, but received 2 month credit for good behaviour by getting his GED while in prison.  The court was sympathetic to Moller because he had fathered a child who was born while he was serving his shortened sentence, and released him a week earlier than his abridged sentence even called for.  Had there been a Matthew Shepard Act on the books at the time of the Moller trial, federal officials could have intervened, investigated the murder as the anti-LGBT hate crime it was, and tried the defendant under a hate crime charge of murder.  South Carolina, however, never has enacted an anti-LGBT hate crimes prevention law, which coupled with local anti-gay attitudes, caused the breach of justice in the Sean Kennedy case.  Now, thanks to the lobbying of bereaved families like Sean’s, hate crimes against gay people have a fighting chance of being tried and punished in their true context.

October 29, 2009 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, gay men, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Social Justice Advocacy, South Carolina, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sean Kennedy: Travesty of Justice Could Have Come Out Differently If Shepard Act Had Been In Place

Second Alleged Killer of Ryan Keith Skipper on Trial in Florida



William D. "Bill Bill" Brown on trial

Bartow, FL – Entering its third day, the felony murder trial of William D. “Bill Bill” Brown, 23, is underway in the Polk County, Florida Courthouse.  Brown is the second alleged murderer of Ryan Keith Skipper, a 25-year-old gay college student, who died of 19 stab and slash wounds on a desolate road in Wahneta, Florida in March 2007.  The first trial, that is Joseph “Smiley” Bearden, in February of this year ended with his conviction on all counts and a life sentence in state prison.  Ironically, Skipper’s murder is not being tried as a hate crime, though many including his parents, Lynn and Pat Mulder of Auburndale, contend that their son’s assailants chose him because he was a gay man.  The same judge and prosecutor who tried the Bearden case are trying the Brown case, as well.  In a surprise move by the defense on October 26, Brown pleaded guilty to arson (setting fire to Skipper’s car to destroy evidence), and evidence tampering, which could earn him a total of 20 years at sentencing.  He is still on trial for robbery and first degree murder, which could sentence him to life in prison, just like his accomplice.  The Mulders came to Bartow to attend the Brown trial two days after the wedding of Ryan’s older brother, Damien.  Though they were personally invited to attend the October 28 signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act by President Obama in Washington, DC, a law they had vigorously lobbied to see enacted, the Mulders declined the invitation in order to be present for the trial in Polk County.  Their son Damien and his wife attended the ceremony at the White House in their stead, and were greeted by President Obama, along with Matthew Shepard’s parents, Judy and Dennis, and William Sean Kennedy’s mother, Elke Kennedy.  In communication with the Unfinished Lives Project, Lynn Mulder said that during the first days of the trial, Cass Casstillo, the prosecuting attorney, presented evidence conclusively linking Brown to the murder, including finger prints, shoe impressions, and testimony from others who heard him admit to “stabbing someone.”   Brown has contended that Skipper, whom he knew was gay, touched his “private parts,” irritating him, but denied that he killed his 25-year-old neighbor, who lived barely two blocks from his trailer home in rural Wahneta.  On Wednesday, the prosecution rested.  The Judge gave the jury the next two days off, telling them according to Mulder that the defense would present a short case with one or no witnesses on Monday, such that closing arguments would probably be offered then, and the case would go to the jury on Tuesday, November 3.  Vicki Nantz, lesbian activist from Orlando, and director/co-producer of the acclaimed Ryan Skipper Documentary, Accessory to Murder: Our Culture’s Complicity in the Death of Ryan Skipper, noted to reporters that had there been a Matthew Shepard Law on the books, Skipper’s murder could have been tried as the anti-gay hate crime it was, instead of burying the true motive of the slaying.  Nantz and others have provided a detailed trial summary day-bay-day with links to media reports at the Ryan Skipper Documentary site.  Speaking to the press, Ryan’s mother, Pat, said she wanted it known that her son “was killed by hate.”  She urged the public to help end such lethal hate, because if it were not ended, hatred would kill others.  His father, Lynn, said that Ryan would have approveof the new law protecting LGBT people from hate crimes.  “He would see the value in that,” Mulder said,”that everybody was protected equally under the law, and he would be very proud that the bill was signed into law.”

Ryan and Damien Skipper

Ryan and his brother, Damien Skipper






October 29, 2009 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, Florida, gay men, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Social Justice Advocacy, South Carolina, stabbings, Washington, D.C., Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Second Alleged Killer of Ryan Keith Skipper on Trial in Florida

President Obama Keeps Promise, Signs Shepard/Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act

Obama&GeorgeWashington, DC – 20 years of advocacy and struggle issued today in a powerful moment when President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.  USA Today reported the comments of the President, both at the signing event, and at a later ceremony honoring the new law.  “After more than a decade of opposition and delay, we’ve passed inclusive hate crimes legislation to help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray or who they are,” Obama said as he signed the Act.  Commenting later in the day, he said to supporters of the new law, “No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hand of the person they love.” He then cited statistics that in these past 10 years since the hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard, there have been more than 12,000 hate crimes based on sexual orientation. “We will never know how many incidents were never reported at all,” the President concluded.  Social justice advocates from all over the nation hailed the moment, as well. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT rights advocacy organization, reported that representatives of the Shepard family and the Byrd family were present at the signing event with the President.  Judy Shepard remarked, “We are incredibly grateful to Congress and the president for taking this step forward on behalf of hate crime victims and their families, especially given the continuing attacks on people simply for living their lives openly and honestly.  But each of us can and must do much more to ensure true equality for all Americans.”  Stella Byrd, mother of straight African American hate crime victim, James Byrd, Jr., for whom the Act was also named, followed Mrs. Shepard with her remarks, “We appreciate everyone who worked so hard on this bill.  My son was taken at such an early age and we hope this law will help prevent other families from going through what we experienced. Even though we’re different colors and different sexual orientations or gender identities, God made us all and he loves us all.”  According to other reports, Damien Skipper, brother of slain gay Floridian Ryan Keith Skipper, and Elke Kennedy, mother of Sean Kennedy, murdered gay hate crimes victim from Greenville, South Carolina were among other bereaved family members present at the events.  HRC President Joe Solmonese made these observations to the press: “This law honors our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters whose lives were cut short because of hate. Today’s signing of the first major piece of civil rights legislation to protect LGBT Americans represents a historic milestone in the inevitable march towards equality.  Although this is a major step in fighting the scourge of hate violence, it is not the end of the road.  As a community, we will continue to dedicate ourselves to changing not only laws but also hearts and minds.  We know that hate crimes not only harm individuals, but they terrorize entire communities.  After more than a decade of advocacy, local police and sheriffs’ departments now have the full resources of the Justice Department available to them.”  Solmonese concluded, “We applaud President Obama for signing this bill into law and thank the leadership and our allies in the House and Senate.   We also will always remember the tireless efforts of Senator Edward Kennedy on this issue.  Senator Kennedy once said that this legislation sends ‘a message about freedom and equality that will resonate around the world.’   This marks the first time that we as a nation have explicitly protected the LGBT community in the law.  And this law sends a loud message that perpetrators of hate violence against anyone will be brought to justice.”

Not only was this an historic moment in the history of human rights advocacy in the United States.  The action of President Obama marks a significant milestone in the relatively short history of his administration.  The enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is the first major promise to the LGBT community that the President has kept.  During his campaign for the presidency, Obama repeatedly made promises to LGBT people that he would expand, protect, and defend their rights.  Many LGBT activists have been critical of the seeming slowness of the President and the Congress to keep faith with homosexual and transgender Americans, who voted in record numbers to support the Democratic ticket this past year.  Many other important promises remain unfulfilled by the Obama administration: enactment of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t tell (DADT) which the Secretary of the Army suggests is now doable, and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  The enactment of the Shepard/Byrd Act, however, is a powerful indication the President will make his promises good to some of his most loyal supporters, and the significance of this day should not be lost on his LGBT critics.

October 29, 2009 Posted by | African Americans, Bisexual persons, DADT, ENDA, Florida, gay men, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, Matthew Shepard Act, military, Politics, Social Justice Advocacy, South Carolina, transgender persons, Washington, D.C., Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

20 Years of Effort Led to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Act of 2009

Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr.

Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr.

When President Obama signs the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Act of 2009 into law sometime next week, that moment will be the culmination of  two decades of tireless work at the federal level to protect Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual  and Transgender people from violent, bias-motivated crimes.  The term “hate crime” did not enter the American lexicon until the 1980s, though crimes of violence against minorities that caused whole groups to live in fear.  First introduced in 1989, Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA)  of 1990 which mandated the that U.S. Department of Justice collect statistics on crimes that “manifest prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity” from law enforcement agencies across the country and to publish an annual summary of the findings. In the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Congress expanded coverage of the HCSA to require FBI reporting on crimes based on “disability.”  Pursuant to the passage of the HCSA of 1990 and at the request of the Attorney General of the United States, the FBI first gathered and published this data in 1992, and has done so every year since.   The collection and publication of data supporting the claims of the LGBT community, that they were indeed being targeted by terror-attacks, set the stage for all subsequent federal legislation relating to the protection of people who were being physically harmed because of actual or perceived sexual orientation.  Transgender persons have been left out of any data gathering done by the federal government right up until the present, as if there were no violent crimes perpetrated against this important population of gender non-conformists.  The FBI Sexual Orientation Hate Crimes Statistics for 2007, published in October 2008, recorded 1,512 persons or 11% of the total of the 9,535 persons victimized in physical attacks classified as hate crimes. This number of individual victims was the third highest of all victims of hate crimes, after race and religion bias crimes.  Further, the 2007 figures show that two and a half times more Lesbians, Gay men, and Bisexual persons were victimized by murder or non-negligent manslaughter than any other group on whom the FBI kept statistics that year.  Though flawed and under-counted according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, the incidence of violent crime against the LGBT community recorded by the FBI established something of the magnitude of the national crisis brought on by homophobia and heterosexism.  In 1993, the Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act was enacted into law, allowing judges to impose harsher penalties for hate crimes, including hate crimes based on gender, disability and sexual orientation that occur in national parks and on other federal property. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, predecessor of the Matthew Shepard Act, was first introduced in the 105th Congress. At that time, 1997-1999, both houses of the federal legislature had Republican majorities.  Successive attempts to pass federal hate crimes legislation covering LGBT people were frustrated until the 111th Congress.  First named the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, then the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and finally the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (in memory of Shepard, a gay 21-year-old student murdered in Wyoming and Byrd, a 49-year-old African American dragged to death in Texas), the legislation moved steadily through Houses of Congress.  The vote in the United States Senate on October 22, 2009 was the “14th and final time” this legislation faced a vote on the floor in either the House or the Senate.

October 25, 2009 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, gay men, harassment, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, Politics, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C., Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on 20 Years of Effort Led to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Act of 2009

See How Your Senators Voted on the Matthew Shepard Act

Visit http://www.govtrack.us/congress/vote.xpd?vote=s2009-327 for more information.

Standard projection from GovTrack

Standard projection from GovTrack

October 24, 2009 Posted by | Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, U.S. Senate, Uncategorized, Washington, D.C. | , , , , | Comments Off on See How Your Senators Voted on the Matthew Shepard Act

Vicious Queens, NY Attack Highlights Need for a Federal Hate Crimes Law

Jack Price speaks from his hospital bed (NY Daily News photo).

Jack Price speaks from his hospital bed (NY Daily News photo).

Queens, NY – Two attackers beat a 49-year-old gay man within an inch of his life in the early morning hours of Friday October 8 near a 24-hour delicatessen where he had stopped to buy a pack of cigarettes.  Jack Price, described by friends as a likable man who went out of his way to help members of the community, was assaulted in the middle of the street in full view of the deli’s surveillance camera.  Two neighborhood men who allegedly carried out what authorities are calling a hate crime attack, Daniel Rodriguez, 21, and Daniel Aleman, 26, were identified by investigators from a close review of the surveillance video, punching, stomping, kicking, and slapping the victim.  Aleman was taken into custody and arraigned on October 11, and Rodriguez, who fled the state, was arrested in Norfolk, VA on October 13.  Both men are charged with felony hate crime assault.  The victim, who fought for his life in ICU at New York Queens Hospital, suffered a broken jaw, fractured ribs, a lacerated spleen and a collapsed lung in the beating.  He recovered enough to describe the crime scenario to reporters for the New York Daily News from his hospital bed.  As he was on his way home, Price said, he saw Rodriguez and Aleman, both of whom he recognized from the College Point Queens neighborhood, approaching him.  In Spanish, the two men called Price “a stupid f_____” and “a dumb f_____,” not realizing that Price spoke Spanish and could understand them.  Price stepped into the deli to buy cigarettes, thinking that his two assailants would leave, but they were waiting for him in the street when he came out of the shop, and reignited the confrontation.  Price recalled that one of the men threatened him, “I know where you live, f_____.”  The second man added, “You better run away before he kills you.”  Then the physical attack commenced.  Miraculously, he somehow survived the savage beating and managed to get home before losing consciousness.  Though Price says he does not remember very much about the beating, he says that when he regained consciousness in the hospital, he was surprised and relieved to be alive.  As for his alleged attackers, Price told the Daily News, “I hope they rot in jail…I don’t understand how someone can do this to somebody.  They almost killed another human being.”  City officials immediately decried the attack as an anti-gay hate crime, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, NY City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and City Councilmember John Liu.

Leviticus 18:22 tattoo (News 7 photo).

Leviticus 18:22 tattoo (News 7 photo).

They are calling for the full penalty appropriate to a hate crime assault to be applied to the attackers, if proven guilty.  Hundreds of local citizens marched in protest of the attack, calling for an end to anti-LGBT violence in New York City on October 17.  Supporters of Rodriguez and Aleman have mounted their own rally, denying that the “incident” was a bias-motivated crime, according to yournabe.com.  Both the father and sister of Rodriguez have denied that he is anti-gay.  One of Rodriguez’s chief supporters proudly sported a tattoo on his forearm bearing a quotation from the Hebrew Scriptures, Leviticus 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as one does a woman.  It is an abomination.” While the tattooed supporter denied that homophobia was a motivation in the assault, he said he has no problem with punishing gay people for their behavior.

October 24, 2009 Posted by | Beatings and battery, Bludgeoning, gay men, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, New York, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Slurs and epithets, Stomping and Kicking Violence, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Vicious Queens, NY Attack Highlights Need for a Federal Hate Crimes Law

Senate Acts on Matthew Shepard Act: Bill Goes to Obama’s Desk

We the PeopleWashington, DC – In a historic vote Thursday, the United States Senate voted 68-29 to approve the Matthew Shepard Act, broadening federal protection from hate crimes to LGBT people.  The Shepard Act, which had already passed in the United States House of Representatives two weeks ago by a similarly wide margin, was approved by the upper house as a part of a mammoth Defense Appropriations Bill.  President Obama has repeatedly signaled that he favored extending hate crimes protections to LGBT people, and is expected to sign the bill as early as next week.  Senator Patrick Leahy, (D) Vermont, a sponsor of the bill, said to the New York Times “Hate crimes instill fear in those who have no connection to the victim other than a shared characteristic such as race or sexual orientation.  For nearly 150 years, we have responded as a nation to deter and to punish violent denials of civil rights by enacting federal laws to protect the civil rights of all of our citizens.”  Leahy also noted how appropriate a tribute the passage of the Shepard Act is to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who championed the cause of equality for LGBT Americans for many years.  Ten Republicans voted with the Democratic majority for the passage of this historic legislation.  The lone Democratic Senator to vote against passage was Russ Feingold, (D) Wisconsin, who favored the Shepard Act, but opposed the increased funding of the military action in Afghanistan.  The Shepard Act commits $5 million annually to the Justice Department to assist local communities in investigating hate crimes, and it allows the agency to assist in investigations and prosecutions if local agencies request help.  It also permits the Justice Department to carry out hate crimes investigations in localities where law enforcement neglects or stymies such action for prejudicial reasons.  Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old University of Wyoming student for whom the Act was named, has been a tireless advocate for the passage of hate crimes protections for LGBT people since Matthew was slain by two young men in Laramie in 1998. Speaking to the press, she said, “Dennis and I are extremely proud of the Senate for once again passing this historic measure of protection for victims of these brutal crimes. Knowing that the president will sign it, unlike his predecessor, has made all the hard work this year to pass it worthwhile. Hate crimes continue to affect far too many Americans who are simply trying to live their lives honestly, and they need to know that their government will protect them from violence, and provide appropriate justice for victims and their families.”  All eyes now turn to President Obama for his signature that will enact the Matthew Shepard Act into law, the most significant lift to the LGBT community in the United States in forty years.

October 23, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Hate Crimes, Law and Order, Matthew Shepard Act, Politics, Social Justice Advocacy, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C., Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Senate Acts on Matthew Shepard Act: Bill Goes to Obama’s Desk

The End of the Beginning: How the Passage of the Matthew Shepard Act Transforms Us

shepard_smallResearching LGBT hate crimes for four years has changed my life.  Now that the passage of the Matthew Shepard Act is imminent, I feel another sort of change coming: to my work, to the LGBTQ community, and to my country.  For decades, families, loved ones, law enforcement officers, and social justice advocates have prayed for, labored for, and agitated for a federal law extending protection to queer folk victimized by anti-LGBT violence.  Tens of thousands of Americans, straight and gay, have labored tirelessly for this result.  Our well-practiced shoulders are again set to the task, and with one more great heave, the first major expansion of legal protection against physical harm for vulnerable Americans in the 21st century will make it across the finish line.  The end of the beginning has come at last.  No more than that, and no less.

The dead are beyond further physical harm.  So many hundreds have died at the hands of the ignorant, the malicious, and the sincerely bigoted.  Gay Charlie Howard drowned in Bangor, Maine.  Lesbian Talana Kreeger, manually disemboweled in Wilmington, North Carolina. Navajo Two-Spirit youth, F.C. Martinez, Jr., brained with a 25-pound rock in a blind canyon in Cortez, Colorado.  African American transwoman, Duanna Johnson, shot down in a Memphis, Tennessee alley.  Pfc. Barry Winchell, murdered by a fellow soldier with a baseball bat at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on the suspicion that he was gay.  And the archetype of them all, young Matthew Shepard, pistol-whipped into a coma and left to die, tied to the foot of a buck fence in Laramie, Wyoming.  For every victim whose name is remembered, scores of anonymous others have died, their agonies unreported, their names forgotten.

What will change for all these victims of hate, once the Shepard Act becomes law?  And, what about their families, lovers and spouses—what will change for them?

For the dead, the change will come subtly, like a gift of dignity.  The Shepard Act is not only for the living.  Those who have died at the hands of hatred will finally receive a measure of vindication.  No longer will they be merely the debris of social history.  Their stories will be told with renewed passion, and more and more people will want to know who they were.  Their lives will take on a greater sense of meaning to the LGBTQ community, who will find encouragement to embrace these dead as their own—just as blacks, Jews, and other besieged peoples have embraced their fallen friends and family members.  As these LGBTQ victims have become my teachers in my quest to recover their stories and the meaning of their lives, the queer community will find new strength for justice by remembering them.

For the families and loved ones of these victims, perhaps a measure of peace will come at last.  Their loss, of course, is incalculable.  Their pain is beyond reckoning.  I have seen the furrows in their brows, the lingering sadness in their eyes.  As Ryan Skipper’s mother Pat said to me, there is no closure for her and those like her.  The change will come, I suspect, with a sense of honor, and a quiet assurance that their beloved will have not died in vain.  When the Shepard Act finally passes, I will think first of all about the valiant witness of the mothers—women who never sought the spotlight, but who fought back tears to learn how to speak out for their children and for everyone else’s children.  Signing day in President Obama’s office will be most of all for Judy Shepard, Pat Mulder, Elke Kennedy, Pauline Mitchell, Denise King, Kathy Jo Gaither and everyone else whose flesh and blood have consecrated the moment of passage.

Those who believe in justice will feel the change, too.  The LGBTQ community will be challenged to mature and take their place among communities of survivors, witnesses who understand that it takes hard work to make hope become real for everyone.  At the stroke of a pen, the entire LGBTQ community will experience the greatest lift since the Stonewall Rebellion forty years ago.  But that will not be all.  The America I know and love will encounter change on the day the Shepard Act becomes law, too.  Summoned by the angel of justice, the American people will face the challenge to make the promise of the Constitution come true for their transgender, gay, bi, and lesbian neighbors and friends.

Passage and signing the Matthew Shepard Act into law will not magically stop the killing.  Record numbers of LGBTQ Americans, especially young transgender people of color, are dying violently all across the land.  But the high water mark of hatred will be scotched with the stroke of a pen on the day President Obama keeps his promise and signs the bill.  The end of the beginning of full equality for my people will come.  And we who believe in justice will not rest until it comes.

~ Stephen V. Sprinkle, Director of the Unfinished Lives Project

October 16, 2009 Posted by | Hate Crimes, Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, Politics, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , | 3 Comments

U.S. House Approves Matthew Shepard Act

HATECRIMES_REPX390Washington, DC – In a vote that marks the first major expansion of protection under the law in 40 years, the House of Representatives voted to approve the Matthew Shepard Act on Thursday.  The Shepard Act, attached as an amendment to a Defense Appropriations Bill, extends protection to LGBT people from bias-related physical violence.  A similar provision faced the threat of a veto from President Bush in a recent Congress, even though it passed the House by a comfortable majority.  This time around, President Obama has signaled his eagerness to sign the Shepard Amendment into law, as soon as it receives a favorable vote in the U.S. Senate.  That vote is expect soon.  Protections from hate violence for LGBT Americans have been opposed by congressional Republicans and their allies, usually on the pretext that the addition of the Shepard Act to a defense bill is inappropriate “social engineering,” a “poison pill,” and that the provisions of the Act would serve as a sort of Trojan Horse, making LGBT behaviors “normative.”  Some religious critics have argued that the Shepard Act would gag ministers and priests who oppose homosexuality on moral or doctrinal grounds, abrogating their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and to the free exercise of religion, making vocal opposition to LGBT behaviors criminal.  Proponents of the legislation counter that the language of the Shepard Act has been carefully crafted to criminalize only acts of physical violence, leaving all First Amendment rights fully intact.  The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and openly gay Congressman Jared Polis (D-Colorado) hailed the passage of the Act in the House.  Pelosi said, “It’s a very exciting day for us here in the Capitol,” noting that attempts to pass such a law had gone on for her 22-year tenure in the House of Representatives.  Polis argued that critics of the Shepard Act seem not to understand the impact of anti-LGBT hate violence beyond the individual victims. “What makes these crimes so bad is they are not just crimes against individuals; they are crimes against entire communities,” he said during the debate on the defense bill.  The measure passed the House by a vote of 281 to 146.  237 Democrats and 44 Republicans voted in the affirmative. 131 Republicans and 15 Democrats opposed the bill. “We are closer than ever before to protecting Americans from hate violence thanks to today’s action by the House,” said Joe Solmonese, head of the Washington, D.C.-based LGBT advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign. “The day is within sight when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will benefit from updating our nation’s hate crimes laws.”

October 9, 2009 Posted by | California, Colorado, Hate Crimes, Law and Order, Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, Politics, religious intolerance, Social Justice Advocacy, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on U.S. House Approves Matthew Shepard Act

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