Dallas, TX – In an important change in attitude and approach concerning the late Friday night/Saturday morning assault on two gay men by bat swinging attackers, the Dallas Police Department has released a statement dated May 17 indicating that the case is to be investigated as a “hate crime.” Apparently, a combination of rational reasoning and responsiveness to a groundswell of protest in the LGBT community led authorities to change course on this dangerous incident just two and a half blocks from the main gay entertainment district in Dallas. The Cedar Springs-Wycliff corridor has been particularly violent in recent months, and has a particularly bloody history of anti-LGBT attacks and murder stretching back over two decades. Historically, homophobic elements have targeted gays and lesbians in the “gayborhood,” and this most recent attack is an ominous sign that young men who are hateful, ignorant and insecure are coming to the neighborhood to locate victims again. Police initially told WFAA.com that the baseball bat beating of Kyle Steven Wear and his companion Alex would not be investigated as an anti-gay hate crime, since the pair were robbed. Both victims reported to police and the media that they were not only assaulted physically, but were subject to hate speech during the attack, being called “faggots” among other derogatory slurs by their assailants. Most current merchants and visitors to the gay entertainment district are unaware that the Oak Lawn-Cedar Springs-Reverchon Park area of Dallas has been bloodied far too often by violence against LGBT people. In 1988, John Griffin and Tommy Trimble, two gay men, were picked up at the Crossroads by Richard Lee Bednarski, an 18-year-old high school student from Mesquite, who drove them the short distance to Reverchon Park where he shot them to death. The judge in the case gave Bednarski only a 30-year sentence for the cold-blooded murders, commenting that the killings were insignificant since the victims were gay. In 1991, Thanh Nguyen and Hugh Calloway were gunned down by Corey Ardell Burley, 20, and two other accomplices at Reverchon Park. Calloway survived to testify against Burley, but Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant to the Dallas area, died as a result of his wounds. Initially, Dallas police refused to classify the murder as hate-motivated, but Burley confessed that he targeted the gay men because they were “weak.” Jimmy Lee Dean, a self-identified bisexual man, was nearly killed in 2008 by 26-year-old Bobby Jack Singleton and 31-year-old Jonathan Russell Gunter, both of Garland, at the corner of Dickason and Throckmorton Streets. Robberies and assaults by thugs targeting young gay men along the Strip are far more frequent than merchants and residents would care to admit, including an attack on a minor on Cedar Springs in the early Spring of this year whose complaint to Dallas police was minimized because, as one officer told the youth, he was just a “drunk little faggot,” and deserved what he got. It is some measure of hope that the Dallas Police have either chosen to change their approach to the homophobic robbery of the two most recent gay victims of violence in the gayborhood, or have been coerced into it by the growing outcry from the local LGBT community. In part, the Dallas Police Department bulletin entitled “Weekend Robberies to be Investigated as Hate Crimes” reads: “Early Saturday morning just after midnight, two 28 year old males were walking to a nightclub in the 2700 block of Throckmorton Street when they were confronted by four unknown Latin male suspects. Two of the suspects were carrying bats. All four suspects began to beat the victims with the bats and their hands while robbing the victims of their property. Both victims sustained non life threatening injuries. These offenses are documented on case numbers 134186-X and 134193-X. Based on derogatory statements made by the suspects during the commission of the robberies, these two offenses will be investigated as hate crimes. There have been no suspects identified at this time and detectives are continuing to interview witnesses.“
Fort Lauderdale, FL – A right-wing political machine in South Florida, operating under the cover of a church, has recently launched a full-throated anti-gay propaganda campaign to over 20 million supporters worldwide. Coral Ridge Ministries, working within the shadow of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, a 2,200 member church, is reaching out through video and internet media to tub-thump its latest tirades against what CRM leaders call “the militant homosexual agenda.” As Jarrett Terrill of South Florida Gay News writes in a recent exposé of this organization, “The political think-tank operates under the guise of a church, allowing them to use an excess of $45 Million dollars in tax-deductable donations annually for maximum outreach. Bypassing all campaign finance laws, a political media center which calls itself a church can effectively control our nation’s political dialogue in ways that most political action committees could only dream of.” Broadcasting from a fortress mentality claiming superior patriotism and Christian orthodoxy, the Coral Ridge sect seeks to replenish its depleted coffers by pumping up the fear factor among Tea Party members and more traditional gay-hating citizens. In one of its recent shows, CRM claims, “The militant homosexual agenda is a symptom of sexual politics… Sexual politics always trumps religious liberty. Hate crime laws are turning Christians into second class citizens.” Dr. D. James Kennedy built the Coral Ridge congregation by a peculiar blend of right-wing politics and Protestant evangelical theology from the 1960’s until his death in 2007. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Kennedy founded Coral Ridge Ministries which has become one of the largest Christian fundamentalist political organizations in the country, “with some 160 employees, several divisions including a Washington-based Center for Christian Statesmanship, and radio and television studios producing shows that reach a combined weekly audience of 3 million.” After Kennedy’s death from a heart attack, the church, under the leadership of their new pastor, Tullian Tchividjian, a grandson of famed evangelist Billy Graham, has moved away from some of the more radical political efforts of CRM. A church schism, led by Kennedy’s daughter and five other right-wing dissidents, challenged Tchividjian, and when they failed to get him fired, split from Coral Ridge to found a new congregation of their own with around 400 supporters. Since early 2009, after being shaken by the church fight, Coral Ridge Ministries has gone back to the well of homophobic scare tactics to shore up its base financially. A typical program of CRM prior to the passage of the James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, claimed erroneously in March 2009 that the law “is directed at thought. It is directed at a coerced, forced belief that homosexuality is right and normal and should be acceptable for all.” Warning that the “militant homosexual agenda” placed American civil liberties in jeopardy, the program script continued, “Can you imagine a hate crime bill that criminalizes a person for sharing hope, for reaching out in love to tell someone how Jesus Christ changed their life?” asks program host Dr. Jerry Newcombe. “It’s unimaginable, and yet, it’s not far-fetched. In many countries, it’s already a reality. Now the same could happen here.” Alongside its fear-mongering around LGBT human rights, Coral Ridge Ministries currently ties the Obama administration with “socialism” and “totalitarianism,” linking the old “red scare” tactics of the 1950’s and -60’s to the newer anti-gay “pink scare.” Though carefully distancing themselves from the Christian Reconstructionist roots of the Coral Ridge movement that included advocating the extermination of LGBT people, adulterers, “witches,” “sorcerers,” and dissenters, the inflamed hate speech generated by CRM underpins the extreme logic of people who justify violence against gay people. The relationship between religious hate speech like that generated at CRM and anti-LGBT hate crimes is a hotly debated topic in ethical, human rights, and theological circles, but a growing consensus is that hate speech coupled with fear does lead to hate violence. Jarrett Terrill of SFGN.com concludes his post with a summation of the fear-culture of Coral Ridge Ministries, and a pointed question about their prospects of re-igniting the anti-gay agenda of the religious right: “The people at CRM have chosen to re-write world history from their own isolationist and self-victimizing viewpoint. For them, to be Christ-like means only that they practice martyrdom – that they somehow view themselves not as millionaires who have more influence on the world than anyone else, but rather as the poor, persecuted minority who are being oppressed by an all-powerful, evil, homosexual majority.
“The only question left to answer is – who’s really buying into this or believing any of it?”
Brooklyn, NY – Testimony in Brooklyn’s Supreme Court corroborated Romel Sucuzhañay’s contention, that two young men attacked him and his brother, José Sucuzhañay, wielding a broken beer bottle and an aluminum base ball bat, screaming anti-Latino and anti-gay slurs. The assault left José with a broken skull. The Ecuadoran immigrant, 31 years old, living in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, lingered in a coma for five days, dying just before his mother got to his bedside from Ecuador. Any reasonable person would call that a hate crime. Not the Brooklyn jury, however. They bought the defense line, that Hakim Scott, 26, was caught up in an unfortunate “escalating fight.” It did not seem to matter that a the prosecution established that Scott, who broke his beer bottle over José’s head before menacing Romel with the jagged glass, had dazed José to the point that his accomplice, Keith Phoenix, had an easy target as he lethally swung his bat. On May 6, the jury found Scott guilty, not of first or second degree murder and hate crime, but first degree manslaughter, allowing him to escape a life sentence for snuffing out an innocent man’s life. Scott and Phoenix didn’t like the Sucuzhañay brothers because they were Hispanic, and they appeared to be gay. While Scott will face a possible 40 years in prison for his manslaughter conviction when he is sentenced on June 9, it is hard not to say that there was a travesty of justice in this case. Now, because a juror refused to hear any more testimony in the Phoenix case, Judge Patricia Dimango has declared a mistrial, and the Sucuzhañay family and their supporters will have to wait further agonizing weeks to learn whether the 31-year-old ball bat perp will escape the full force of the law, too. Latinos, especially Ecuadorans, are outraged by the verdict. So are LGBT people. And justice has not been done for José Sucuzhañay. It seems that living at the intersection of two discriminations is very dangerous place to be in America.