Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter Star, Speaks Out For Gay Suicide Prevention

Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images North America

Daniel Radcliffe, star of Harry Potter and Equus, says LGBTQ teens should “be proud of who you are.”  Radcliffe has made a PSA for the Trevor Project because of his passionate support of their work in suicide prevention for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender teens, according to the Associated Press.  The Trevor Project is the premier organization offering 24/7 phone contact and counseling for queer youth who are struggling with whether they will take their lives. While performing Equus on Broadway in New York City, Radcliffe who is not gay, became aware of the alienation, depression, and homophobia facing so many LGBTQ youth.  The friendships he developed with the New York gay community were integral to his decision to support the Trevor Project financially, and then to commit himself to the filming of the PSA.  “I hate that problems like this exist in the world, but the Trevor Project will help,” Radcliffe said.  The fact that he is a major stage and screen star puts Radcliffe in a position to use his influence and fame to further efforts to stem the alarming rate of gay teen suicide, and he is not shy about using his celebrity to help.  Declaring that he believes homophobia and any form of discrimination to be “abhorrent,” Radcliffe urged others to join him in letting LGBTQ youth know that they are not alone.  “I have always hated anybody who is not tolerant of gay men or lesbians or bisexuals,” he added. “Now I am in the very fortunate position where I can actually help or do something about it.”  In a moment of charming self-deprecation, the Harry Potter star called himself “gently eccentric,” saying that his childhood in a theatrical family taught him to appreciate the gay men who were in the entertainment industry.  The PSA which was filmed Friday features Radcliffe giving the Trevor Project’s phone number and website information with an encouraging word to gay teens that they need not lose hope, ever.  It is due to air in the Spring, according to a story in The Advocate.  The Trevor Project was founded in 1998 by three filmmakers.  Their Academy Award-winning short film, “Trevor,” follows the story of a 13-year-old gay boy who comes to terms with his sexuality, nearly ending his life.  The response to the 18-minute short convinced the creators of the film to establish an organization offering phone counseling or just a safe place to talk to any youth contemplating suicide because of his or her sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender identity.  Now they have Harry Potter on their side.

February 28, 2010 Posted by | gay teens, LGBT teen suicide prevention, Media Issues, Popular Culture, suicide | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Billy Jack Gaither Humanitarian Award Given to Birmingham Human Rights Champion: Hate Victim Remembered

David Gary, Billy Jack Gaither Humanitarian Award Winner

Montgomery, Alabama – David Gary, a noted bank officer and dedicated LGBT activist well-known throughout Alabama, was awarded the Third Annual Billy Jack Gaither Humanitarian Award on Sunday, February 21, 2010. Mr. Gary is a master networker, and a true humanitarian. He is one of the founders of Integrity Alabama, the LGBT Episcopal advocacy group.  The award was officially conferred during the 12th Annual Vigil for Victims of Hate and Violence, held on the steps of the state capital to commemorate the murder of Billy Jack Gaither of Sylacauga. Gaither, a gay man, was bludgeoned to death with an axe handle on the banks of Peckerwood Creek by two homophobic assailants on February 19, 1999.  His body was burned like trash on a pile of tire carcasses.  Both of his murderers remain in prison serving out their sentences.  The Gaither murder, one of the most heinous anti-gay hate crimes in Alabama history, made news throughout the United States.  Though Mr. Gary could not be present for the presentation because of a bout of ill health, his remarks were conveyed to the crowd.  They are published here, in full: I was very humbled when hearing of the honor given me by this group today and deeply regret not being able to attend. My life has changed and been dramatically enriched through my association of many, both here and absent, who have worked tirelessly for decades to ensure people who have fallen to hate did not die in vain.  There are times when tragedy opens doors of association that we would have never known before.  My friendship with Kathy Gaither is golden to me, as was my friendship with Ken Baker and the numbers of like-minded people he introduced me to.  From Ken, Marshall Johnson and the Rev. Tim Holder, I learned the need of quick response and coordinated action. A more recent association is with the Rev. Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, associate professor of practical theology at Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas who has been researching LGBT hate crimes.  Dr. Sprinkle visited Alabama to prepare his anthology of stories for his upcoming book, Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memory of LGBT Hate Crimes Murder Victims.  From him, I learned the importance of never, never, never allowing the stories to disappear.  These horrific stories are very important and must not be forgotten. There are so many others we can discuss, but the important thing to remember, in my opinion, is threefold:  The work we do here is important, sacred and necessary. It is important because we should never ever allow the stories and memories of those who are victims to be forgotten. It is sacred, because of how we reverently assemble to not allow them to be forgotten. Unfortunately, our work remains necessary because we all know that any morning we may awake to the news of yet another person how has fallen to hate.  Extremism still exists and we can not stop our work as long as its ugliness lives among us. I invite all here to find the place to put your talents to work in the advocacy necessary to prevent yet another Billy Jack Gaither, whose name this award carries, along with the memory of many others, both with us and deceased.” Upon hearing the news of Mr. Gary’s selection for the Billy Jack Gaither Award, Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, Director of the Unfinished Lives Project, said, “The reason Billy Jack’s important story has not been forgotten is due in large measure to the tenacious advocacy of a small group of dedicated humanitarians and human rights activists in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and Montgomery.  David Gary is a key figure in this group: strong, trusted throughout the state of Alabama, and dedicated to ushering in a better world for LGBT people and everyone else.  No one is more deserving of this honor than Mr. Gary.”  The sponsors of the vigil in Montgomery were Alabama NOW, Color It Pride, Equality Alabama, Immanuel Presbyterian Church (Montgomery), New Hope Metropolitan Community Church, PFLAG (Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbians and Gays) Montgomery, and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Montgomery.  Keynote speaker for the event was Dr. Gwynedd A. Thomas, the first openly intersexed or transgender faculty member at Auburn University.

February 22, 2010 Posted by | Alabama, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bludgeoning, gay men, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, Law and Order, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, transgender persons, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gay Teen’s Murder Inspired Federal Student Non-Discrimination Act

Seattle students celebrate Pride, photo by jglsongs

Washington, DC – The execution-style murder of a 15-year-old gay boy inspired an openly gay Congressman to author the Student Non-Discrimination Act.  Lawrence “Larry” Fobes King was shot twice in the back of the head two years ago by a fellow computer class student, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney at E.O. Green Middle School in Oxnard, California.  Now, even before McInerney stands trial for murdering his gender non-conforming classmate, Congress will consider the proposed law which for the first time would make it unlawful throughout the country for a any school receiving federal aid to discriminate against a person because of a perception that the individual is gay or lesbian.  As VCStar.com reports, “Under the proposed law, known as the Student Non-Discrimination Act, gay and lesbian students in public schools could not be excluded from participating in or be subject to discrimination under any educational program that receives federal assistance. Discrimination would include harassment, which is defined as acts of ‘verbal, nonverbal or physical aggression,’ as well as intimidation or hostility based upon a student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation.”  Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado), the author and primary sponsor of the bill said that King’s death was foremost in his mind as he framed this legislation and promoted it among his colleagues. “I absolutely had Larry King in mind and other kids like him,” he told reporters.  In an interview with DCAgenda.com, Polis said the legislation would give schools across the country tools to fight against discrimination that includes “everything from exclusion from prom, to banning clubs, to lack of actions addressing bullying situations.” Polis continued, “Gays and lesbians across the country face discrimination and frequently institutionalized discrimination in many school districts, and giving them a federal remedy, just as girls do and minorities, will help address this.”  The bill, H.R. 4530, has good support in Congress, with 65 co-sponsors including Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts).  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) is reviewing the legislation which Polis introduced in late January 2010.  Nine out of ten LGBT students in middle and secondary schools throughout the nation report that they have been harassed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, and 61 per cent of them say they feel unsafe in their schools because of attitudes about their sexuality, according to GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.  According to his school friends, Larry King suffered repeated harassment because of his feminine self-presentation.  He sometimes wore jewelry and dressed in high heels and feminine apparel.  Students have confirmed that he had tense exchanges with McInerney in the weeks before the fatal shooting.  Rep. Lois Capps (D-California), one of the bill’s co-sponsors and the Congresswoman representing Oxnard where King was murdered, told the VC Star, “Larry’s murder was particularly painful because it happened at his school, a place that should have been a sacred space where he could grow and learn in a safe and supportive environment.”  School officials in Oxnard contend they did nothing wrong, so the proposed law would not affect them.  Their critics, among them LGBT activists in Southern California, counter that nothing substantive has been done to address the underlying hatred that permitted one of their students to act out his phobia on another, to the point of murder.  McInerney, who is to be tried as an adult because of indications of pre-meditation of the crime, has pleaded not guilty to murder and hate crimes charges in the case.

February 20, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, Bullying in schools, California, Colorado, gay teens, gun violence, harassment, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Legislation, Lesbian women, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, School and church shootings, Social Justice Advocacy, transgender persons, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Miami Beach Police Disciplined for False Charges Against Gay Tourist Who Turned Them In For Beating

Flamingo Park Area of Miami Beach

Miami Beach, FL – “What is happening in Miami Beach?” —  Miami Herald reader Jeffrey Garcia questioned Miami Beach Police Chief  Carlos Noriega after reports that two MBPD officers falsely charged a gay tourist.  The officers were apparently unaware that the tourist was speaking on his cellphone to the 911 line to report them for beating a man on the street.  The large majority of the abusive arrest, shouts by the officers of anti-gay epithets, and their physical assault on gay tourist Harold Strickland were all recorded for the world to hear.  Once they realized the tourist was reporting them, they allegedly made up charges against him that have now been dropped. Under pressure from the ACLU of Florida, both MBPD Officers Frankly Forte and Elliot Hazzi have been put on desk duty while the investigation against them proceeds.  The Chief’s assurances of good relations with the Miami Beach LGBT community to the contrary, a flurry of reports are emerging that Miami, Miami Beach, South Beach, and other Dade County locales once considered gay Meccas are no longer safe for queer folk.  The made up charges against Mr. Strickland are the most recent example.  According to Miami Herald reports, Mr. Strickland observed two men beating a person at about 1 a.m. on March 13, 2009 in the Flamingo Park area of Miami Beach.  As Steve Rothaus of the Herald reports, “Strickland called 911 when he saw a man being beaten by two men just outside the park. ‘I saw a guy running and then I saw two, what looked like undercover cops running. And they pushed this guy down on the ground, the one cop did, and the other cop came up as if he was kicking a football … and kicked the guy in the head,” Strickland told a dispatcher during a recorded phone call to 911.”  Rothaus continues his report, “For nearly five minutes, he talked to the dispatcher, who encouraged him to get closer for more detail ‘if it doesn’t put you in any danger.’ A few seconds later, Strickland told the dispatcher: “Now they’re coming after me!””  The officers, Forte and Hazzi, demanded to know what Mr. Strickland was doing.  According to a spokesperson for the ACLU,they then grabbed his cellphone away from him and said, “We know what you’re doing here. We’re sick of all the f—ing fags in the neighborhood.”  Pushing him to the ground, they bound Mr. Strickland’s hands and proceeded to kick and beat him, hurling anti-gay slurs at him.  The ACLU report continues, “While Strickland was on the ground, the officers continued to spew anti-gay epithets. They called him a ‘f—ing fag’ and told him he was going to ‘get it good in jail.”’  Though Mr. Strickland tried to tell the officers about his call to 911, they would not listen.  They arrested him on prowling-and-loitering charges.  A half hour later, Officer Forte in his arrest report charged Mr. Strickland with breaking into six cars in the area.  In a hearing the next morning, a judge advised Mr. Strickland that he would get out of jail quicker if he would plead guilty to misdemeanor charges.  He did, but as soon as he was free, he called the ACLU, and changed his plea to not guilty.  The State Attorney General’s Office has dropped all charges against Mr. Strickland, as well as loitering and resisting arrest charges against Mr. Oscar Mendoza, the man Mr. Strickland saw Officers Forte and Hazzi beat near Flamingo Park.  The ACLU has informed the mayor of Miami Beach that they will sue both the offending officers and the city for the incident.  Robert F. Rosenwald Jr., director of the ACLU Florida’s Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender Advocacy Project, told the Herald’s Steve Rothaus, “This is an issue that we have hoped to address for a long time. Miami Beach Police have for a long time harassed gay men around Flamingo Park without probable cause.”

February 16, 2010 Posted by | ACLU, Anglo Americans, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, Florida, gay men, harassment, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, police brutality, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Stomping and Kicking Violence | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Miami Beach Police Disciplined for False Charges Against Gay Tourist Who Turned Them In For Beating

Phelps Clan to Protest at Gay Fashion Designer’s Funeral: When Religion Turns Preposterous

Topeka, KS – Alexander McQueen, renowed gay fashion designer, died on February 11.  That same day, Fred Phelps, founder and chief screed-monger of Westboro Baptist Church, issued an announcement declaring that WBC would demonstrate at McQueen’s funeral “in religious protest and warning”  (see WBC web site graphic to the left).  Alexander McQueen (1969-2010) was a genius in the fashion industry who was named British Designer of the Year four times, and most recently was honored by Queen Elizabeth II with the rank of CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 2003 in recognition of his lifetime achievement.  His obituary in The Times of London notes that he was formerly head designer at Givenchy and then moved into partnership with Gucci.  The shock value of his designs drew attention to his genius, and he counted Rihanna, Björk, and Lady Gaga among his more famous clients.  McQueen’s sexual orientation was no secret throughout the fashion world.  Phelps announced that his church was picketing McQueen’s funeral because he spent his life “teaching rebellion against God” and “committing crimes against God,” presumably by living openly as a talented, notable gay man.  Phelps also used the moment to slam Lady Gaga, calling her a “proud whore” who had “blood on her hands” for wearing McQueen’s creations.  Though Phelps and his independent Baptist Church are engaging in protected speech under the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights, their scramble for contributions and attention goes beyond innocence when they lambaste fallen U.S. servicemembers, synagogues and churches,LGBT people, and celebrity figures under the banner of freedom of expression/freedom of religion.  It would be a mistake to underestimate the effect of this brand of hate speech on the gullible and impressionable–when direct links between hate speech and violence can be established, the full force of law must be brought to bear in order to prevent harm and loss of life. The link between hateful speech and hate crimes continues to be hotly debated, but though Phelps may not be guilty of hate violence yet, he and his followers have made their brand of religion look silly.  Should anyone take him seriously?  Alexander McQueen may rest undisturbed by the rantings of the likes of Phelps.  If anything, Lady Gaga can bask a bit in the knowledge that she has made WBC’s “Anti-Christ List” along with so many other worthy people.  The King James Version of  the Book of James 3:11 reads: Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Phelps twists the goodness of religion turning it into a bitter hate-filled caricature that sours what it touches.  Exponents of Good religion, the Golden Rule/Great Commandment kind, must work overtime to repair the damage to faith communities that Christian jihadists like WBC do in the name of God.

February 14, 2010 Posted by | gay men, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Kansas, Law and Order, Protests and Demonstrations, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Larry King Remembered: Too Young To Die

Lawrence “Larry” Fobes King was murdered by two gunshots to the back of the head on February 12, 2008, and died two days later.  He was only 15 years old.  His assailant, Brandon McInerney, was only 14.  Larry died because he was gender non-conforming–a gay youth who would not, could not conceal who he was from his classmates at E.O. Green Middle School, Oxnard, California.  McInerney remains in custody in Ventura County pending his trial as an adult for allegedly slaughtering King with his grandfather’s pistol during morning computer class.  McInerney has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and hate crime charges.  His trial is slated to begin in May 2010.  Today, two years since the fatal shooting, we remember Larry, and mourn for Brandon, too.  Two young lives have been lost to unreasoning homophobia.  The message of Larry’s death is as clear on the second anniversary of his murder as it was when it occurred: violence and hatred against gender non-conforming youth–gay, lesbian, bi, and transgender–has got to stop.  This weekend, vigils and memorial services are being held in Larry’s memory  by Gay & Straight Alliances throughout the nation–in California, Iowa, Nebraska, Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, and Virginia, according to a GLSEN-endorsed site dedicated to him, www.rememberinglawrence.org. The Ventura County Star commemorated the anniversary with an article highlighting GSA efforts in Southern California, dedicated to bringing the terror of homophobic teen-on-teen violence to an end.  J.T. Mendoza, a high school senior from Simi Valley and a member in the local Gay and Straight Alliance there, spoke for all who seek to honor Larry: “There needs to be more awareness that all students, regardless of their sexual orientation, need to be safe in schools.  It’s not just a LGBT issue, but an everyone issue.”

February 12, 2010 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bullying in schools, California, gay teens, gun violence, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Remembrances, School and church shootings, Social Justice Advocacy, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Larry King Remembered: Too Young To Die

Gay Brazilian Granted Asylum By Homeland Security: Hope Now For Uganda?

L to R - Rena Stern, Augusto Pereira de Souza, and Brian Ward

New York City – A gay Brazilian man has been granted asylum in the United States on the grounds that deportation to Brazil would threaten his life.  Columbia University’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic won asylum for Augusto Pereira de Souza, 27, from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in a move that may bring hope to thousands of Ugandan LGBT persons in the event that the odious “Kill the Gays Bill” becomes law in Uganda.  The news highlights the danger LGBT people face in Brazil.  According to Grupo Gay da Bahia (GGB), the largest LGBT rights organization in Brazil, between 1980 and 2009, there were 2,998 murders of LGBT people in Brazil.  In 2008, 190 such murders were reported, though the GGB notes that since many crimes against LGBT people go unreported in Brazil, the actual number of people who lost their lives because of their sexual orientation is likely much greater.  Calling his decision to petition for asylum in the United States “a matter of life or death,” Augusto Pereira de Souza told reporters, “In Brazil, I lived in constant fear for my life. I tried to hide that I was gay, but still faced repeated beatings, attacks, and threats on my life because I was gay. At times I was attacked by skinheads and brutally beaten by cops. After the cops attack you and threaten your life for being gay, you learn quickly that there is no one that will protect you.”  He will now live openly as a gay man in Newark, New Jersey, where he had lived for some time hiding his sexual orientation.  Pereira de Souza’s writ of freedom is thanks to the tireless legal work of three students from Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic, Rena Stern, Brian Ward, and Mark Musico.  The trio of law students worked on the case since last September under the direction of clinic director, Dr. Suzanne Goldberg.  In a statement reported by The Advocate, Ward said, “In Brazil, police routinely fail to investigate violence committed against GLBT individuals. In this environment, skinheads and other groups are free to persecute, torture, and even kill GLBT individuals with impunity.”  Stern, who also assisted with Pereira de Souza’s case, said attacks and murder based on sexual orientation in Brazil appear to be on the rise there. 
“Mr Pereira de Souza’s story is unfortunately not unusual for a gay man in Brazil.”  Such a grant of asylum is rare, largely because of the time and expense necessary to file the application and see it through the process of vetting to make sure that actual danger is truly probable for the asylum-seeker.  Individuals must first make it into the United States even to apply, a significant hurdle for foreign LGBT people from countries in the developing world, such as Brazil and Uganda.  For Ugandan LGBT people living in fear for their lives in a country where Parliament is debating the enactment of a law making homosexuality punishable by the death penalty, the decision to grant the Brazilian asylum is potentially life-saving news.  President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have spoken out against the “Kill the Gays Bill” as recently as their appearance at the right-wing sponsored National Prayer Breakfast last Thursday in the nation’s capitol.  Should the Ugandan Parliament enact the bill into law, gay Ugandans could face a death sentence, their families and friends could be imprisoned for as much as seven years, and even landlords who rent to homosexuals could face jail time.  Now, with the Pereira de Souza decision, the door to freedom and life in the United States is opened just a crack for LGBT Ugandans, but it is much more than they had even a week ago.

February 12, 2010 Posted by | "Kill the Gays Bill", anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Brazil, death threats, gay men, harassment, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, New York, Political asylum for LGBT People, Politics, Social Justice Advocacy, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Uganda | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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