Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Harvey Milk, Slain Gay Rights Pioneer, Honored Across the USA

San Franciso, CA – May 22 marks the first official Harvey Milk Day by action of the State of California.  Milk, the first openly gay or lesbian office holder in American history, was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.  Because of his advocacy for LGBT rights, especially the citizens of his district, Harvey was affectionately known as the “mayor of Castro Street.”  In 1978, he was gunned down a few minutes after Mayor George Moscone faced the same fate at the hands of disgruntled former city supervisor, Dan White.  The story is compellingly told by the Academy Award winning film, “Milk,” whose screen writer, Justin Lance Black and whose leading actor, Sean Penn, both received Oscars.  In 2009, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor. Milk’s legacy is immense, and it is only fitting that he is immortalized by this rare distinction in the Golden State.  Only John Muir has been so honored in California before Harvey.  Milk is the only gay person whose memory is enshrined in a day of festivities, education, activism, and remembrance statewide.  Notable among his words was the famous line he used so often to open his speeches, “I’m Harvey Milk, and I’m here to recruit you!”  Today, as California and and the nation at large struggle with the full inclusion and equality of LGBT people, racial ethnic minorities, women, and immigrants, nothing could be more pertinent than to recall Harvey’s life, and the qualities of passion and advocacy that continue to inspire and convert us to the cause of justice for all people.  First, Harvey Milk was not a quitter.  He ran unsuccessfully for public office multiple times, but refused to quit. The race for the finish line of justice is long, a relay, not a sprint, and he stayed the course until the voters caught up to him and to his vision of equality. Second, He refused to remain protected by the dubious security of the closet.  Openly and publicly, Harvey owned his identity and culture as a gay man before the world.  He called upon gays and lesbians everywhere to come out to everyone they knew, family, friends, co-workers, fellow students.  He knew that when LGBT people are known as the real human beings we are, it is harder to discriminate against us than if we are mysteriously hidden by fear. Third, he demanded respect and full equality.  Harvey knew that inequality for some of us–gay people, seniors, women, Asians, teamsters, youth–meant inequality for all of us. In his name, we should never support candidates or policies that compromise on equality for all. Rights are for all Americans alike–full rights, equal rights.  Fourth, Harvey Milk understood that political and social justice is all about hope.  “You gotta give ’em hope,” was Harvey’s most memorable mantra, and it remains true for today.  Hope for justice is not about optimism.  Optimism is shallow and may be easily frustrated by the unfairness of systems and circumstances.  Hope, on the other hand, is realistic and muscular.  Hopeful people are anything but passive.  They are engaged, as Harvey was, in the effort to make the world a better place, for hope’s sake.  Saturday, May 22 marks what would have been Harvey Milk’s 80th birthday.  He died an untimely, violent death.  But his life and legacy have paved the way for a better America, a more hopeful present, and full equality just over the horizon.  That is why in cities and towns all across the United States, Harvey’s hope is rippling out, expressed in events, festivals, teach-ins and social justice rallies to remember the Mayor of Castro Street.  Happy Birthday, Harvey!  Happy Harvey Milk Day to us all!

May 21, 2010 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, California, Harvey Milk Day, Politics, Popular Culture, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Milwaukee Trans Woman “+” Brutally Shot to Death in the Street

Chanel Larkin, FORGE photo

Milwaukee, Wisconsin – A struggle for the assailant’s .357-caliber pistol ended savagely for a Milwaukee trans woman of color on May 7.  Chanel Larkin (née Dana A. Larkin), 26, was shot three times in the head by a man who allegedly picked her up for sex, and offered her $20 to turn a trick.  Authorities contend that Andrew Olacirequi, who was cruising the vicinity for a prostitute, shot Larkin three times in the head when Larkin revealed to him that she was biologically male, according to EDGE Boston. Larkin’s lifeless body was found on the sidewalk along North 23rd Street. Olacirequi was arrested later than night at the scene of the crime when he returned to find a lost cell phone. Law enforcement has charged him with first-degree reckless homicide and use of a deadly weapon.  EDGE reports that he could face up to 65 years in prison for the crimes.  As is so often the situation in transphobic murder cases, law enforcement and media follow the sensational and freakish imaginings of the general public rather than seeking to learn about the real lives lost and the human struggles that trans people face every day of their lives in biased communities.  Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, said to EDGE, “The media matters and phrases like ’cross-dressing prostitute’ are loaded terms playing to a victim-blaming stereotype or a ’transgender panic’ defense,” Silverman explained. “These types of stories play into the cultural stereotype of transgender people somehow committing fraud or trying to trick people, none of which is true.” Michael Munson, Executive Director of FORGE, (For Ourselves: Reworking Gender Expression), has worked tirelessly to express Chanel Larkin’s story to the media in a sensitive and meaningful way, pointing out that Ms. Larkin, who had identified as a woman since her mid-teens, was a vital young trans woman of color who never deserved to die at the hands of transphobic violence.  Munson and FORGE decry the way some mainstream media have mis-characterized Ms. Larkin as “a man posing as a woman.”  She was a trans+ person, according to FORGE standards of address.  “People are much more complex than a set of words and labels,” the FORGE website points out. “‘+’ indicates an expansiveness that words cannot capture, recognizing and welcoming the beautiful diversity within our community.” Chanel Larkin was beloved of her family, especially her siblings and her grandmother.  Over 200 people attended her funeral on May 14, and the trans+ community, as well as the African American, LGBT and entertainment communities are bereaved and deeply affected by her passing.  Ms. Larkin’s story is all-to-familiar on the mean streets of America.  She lived at the crossing point of oppressions: female, trans, black, and poor.  At some point, she resorted to sex work to pay her bills and make a living in a down economy that set the background for the violence she had to risk every day of her too-short life. Speaking to EDGE, Brenda Coley, a staff member at Diverse and Resilient who knew Ms. Larkin, said, “We have to stand up as a [LGBT] community and speak out against this. I hope we’ll see how we’re all really connected and how the problems a person or group of people face are not walled off within that group but permeate through the whole society. None of us are free if some of us are not,” Coley added. “These are not throw-away members of our community. These are precious lives.” Chanel Larkin was not responsible for her death. She fought to live when her alleged assailant pulled his gun on her. She also fought to survive as an authentic person amidst an epidemic of anti-trans violence in a state that has never applied its hate crime statute to any LGBT person, according to activists in Milwaukee. Pressure from trans and LGBT advocates is mounting on the district attorney to designate her murder as a hate crime, and to prosecute her alleged murderer as a hate-killer under the law.  But the ongoing struggle for justice in Milwaukee and around the country will continue to be against poverty, racism, sexism, and prejudice against trans people, whether it comes from the straight or the gay community. Chanel Larkin is beyond harm now. It remains for the living to struggle in her name against the fear and injustice that took her life and the lives of  hundreds like her around the world.

May 21, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, Character assassination, funerals, gun violence, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Media Issues, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Popular Culture, Racism, Social Justice Advocacy, trans-panic defense, transgender persons, transphobia, Uncategorized, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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