Vonore, Tennessee – The home of a Monroe County, Tennessee lesbian couple was burned to the ground and their garage defaced by anti-gay graffiti in what is believed to be a hate crime. On Saturday, September 4, the house was set ablaze, and the word “Queer” was spray painted on two sides of the family garage, which was left standing. WATE, Channel 6, Knoxville reports that the couple, Carol and Laura Stutte, had been threatened in August by a neighbor who said he was going to burn their house down because they were lesbian. He also threatened their lives, according to Stutte. They reported the threat to the police, but there is no report as to the status of the complaint at this time. The couple, who have been together 15 years, moved to Vonore from Oklahoma. The crime occurred while the Stutte’s were celebrating their fifth anniversary in Tennessee with friends in Nashville. At present, the couple is in a safe house in Nashville while the investigation is going forward. They have no plans to return to the property, and are staying away out of prudence and fear. Other neighbors have defended the couple, saying that lesbians make good neighbors, and are welcome in Vonore. Members of the community, especially PFLAG of Maryville, and the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church are responding with funds and household goods, since the couple has lost everything. As Becky Lucas, president of PFLAG Maryville said, “We are hopeful that the authorities will investigate it fully and that this couple will get justice. I think this happens every day to people in this community and many times they don’t speak up because they are afraid. Everybody deserves basic human rights.” Lucas went on to say to reporters, “We want to send a message to this couple and other couples like them — you do have many allies in this area. Many people in the community are just as outraged as I am.” Care2.com reports that no determination has yet been made by local authorities about whether the incident will be classified an hate crime. According to Care2, “Detective Travis Jones, with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, has confirmed that the department is investigating the arson with the aid of the state Bomb and Arson Squad, that there are ‘people of interest’ in the case.” The lesbians say that they would like to remain in the area, but they would never rebuild on the same site.
Lincoln, Nebraska – The Lincoln Police Department announced today that the 22-year-old man who allegedly bashed a gay man outside a gay club last Friday lied about his identity and used a fake ID card. The Journal Star reported on Labor Day that the man claiming to be Luke Stevens is actually Lucas M. Clifford, 19 years of age. There is no confusion about his role in the gay bashing, however, since a police officer saw Clifford throw a punch at a 32-year-old gay man after using anti-gay slurs and epithets. As the Journal Star reports, “Lincoln Police Capt. Jim Davidsaver said Monday that Lucas M. Clifford, 19, 1014 Claremont St., was cited Friday evening on suspicion of possessing an Indiana ID that gave his name as Luke Stevens, 22.” It is not known as of this writing about whether Clifford, then thought to be Stevens, was indeed a UNL student as reports suggested on Friday. The citation for using a fake ID deepens the trouble Clifford is already in for the attack outside Club Q. He was charged for third-degree assault and commission of a hate crime in Lancaster County Court on Friday. While the name of the man charged with these offenses remains “Luke Stevens” on the record this Monday, his true identity will replace the false one on all court documents and police records, according to Captain Davidsaver. A bit more detail about the assault has been released to the press. Clifford went to Club Q Thursday night, September 2, and stayed at or about the bar all night. The first Thursday of each month, Club Q sponsors an amateur “Strip Night” contest offering cash prizes, an event that has proved popular in the community, drawing men and women to the bar for excitement and inexpensive drinks. Clifford would not have had to use a fake ID to gain entrance to the club, since persons 19 and older were admitted. At some point in the evening, Clifford’s advances toward a girl attending the event were spurned, and he became outraged at her rejection. At about 1:40 a.m., Clifford and a 19-year-old friend, Travis Garrett, went out of the bar, where the verbal abuse and attack against a gay man took place in the sight of a Lincoln Police officer, who arrested the alleged assailant on the spot after a short struggle. The victim was treated for minor injuries on the scene and released. Garrett, Clifford’s friend, was also arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. A statement on the Facebook site for Club Q credits the hate crime attack with galvanizing the LGBTQ community to face the threat: “It was great to see so many people respond to the whole hate crime situation. It was an unfortunate event but the positive side to it is that the GLBTF community rallied and that can only make us stronger and more cohesive.”
Lincoln, Nebraska – A 22-year-old University of Nebraska – Lincoln student has been arrested and charged for assaulting a gay man outside a popular gay club on Friday, September 3. Luke Stevens allegedly harassed a 32-year-old gay man after leaving Lincoln’s Club Q, calling him “derogatory names” concerning his sexual orientation intended to start a fight, according to 1011now. As the target of the abuse tried to leave his antagonist, Stevens allegedly punched him in the face, and moved in to continue the fight. A police officer on the scene was drawn to the noise of the altercation, saw the punch thrown, and wrestled Stevens to the ground. The victim of the assault remains unidentified to the press. He was treated on the scene and released to return home. “The victim and several witnesses reported that Luke Stevens did not know them,” Officer Katie Flood, spokesperson for the LPD, told reporters. “He started calling them derogatory names based on their sexual orientation.” Stevens was charged with assault, disturbing the peace, and failure to comply. Because Nebraska has hate crimes legislation on the books, Stevens may be charged with bias crime, which would make his situation much more grave. If proven guilty of a hate crime, the enhancement would hike the misdemeanor assault charge to a felony. The Journal Star reports that the Nebraska hate crimes statute covers offenses carried out due to the victim’s “race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, or disability.” Travis Garrett, 19, a friend of Stevens, was also charged with disturbing the peace. Stevens and Garrett were in Club Q together earlier in the evening, as well as Stevens’s victim. Witnesses and friends of the accused UNL student say that he is straight. That evening he was extremely upset at having been turned down by a girl. The contrast between the response of authorities in Lincoln and a similar anti-gay assault in Greenville, South Carolina three years earlier could not be starker. Both involved punches thrown at a gay man after verbal anti-gay harassment outside a bar. But in the case of Sean William Kennedy, 21, who was hit in the face outside Croc’s Bar in Greenville, an upstate South Carolina college town, both the outcome and the legal repercussions were outrageous. As Unfinished Lives has reported, Kennedy was hit by Steven Moller, an 18-year-old straight man spoiling for a fight with a gay person, in May 2007. Kennedy fell to the curb, hit his head on the concrete, and died. Moller was arrested and charged with manslaughter, since the Palmetto State did not have an anti-gay hate crimes law (and still resists passage of such legislation). While Nebraska police and prosecutors stand ready to investigate the assault in Lincoln as a hate crime, South Carolina officials refused to do so in the Kennedy case, giving Moller (who admitted attacking his victim) every benefit of the doubt. In the end, with time served, Moller received less of a sentence for killing Sean Kennedy than if he had been found guilty of killing a dog. For more up-to-date information on Sean Kennedy, see Sean’s Last Wish. We at Unfinished Lives only wish some of the same conscientious law enforcement had been available to the family and friends of young Sean. Moller is now a free man for lack of the will to bring anti-gay attackers to justice. What a difference a hate crimes law makes!
Oxnard, CA – The Los Angeles Times reports that jurors must be imported to Ventura County from Santa Barbara County to insure a fair trial for a teenager accused of shooting his gay classmate to death. Brandon McInerney, now 16, was 14 in February 2008 when he allegedly shot his gay middle school classmate to death during a morning computer class at E.O. Green School in Oxnard. According to reports from eyewitnesses, McInerney walked up behind Larry King, 15, an openly gay person of color, aimed a pistol at the back of his head, and shot him twice. King lingered in hospital with no evidence of brain function, and died some time later. McInerney was charged with felony murder, and a judge in Ventura County determined he would stand trial as an adult. Though the youth of the defendant made the ruling controversial, there was enough evidence of planning and premeditation on McInerney’s part that justice demanded he stand trial as an adult. The pistol he allegedly used belonged to his grandfather. King was a gender non-conforming boy who wore women’s accessories, used make up, and affected a gay demeanor. He was living in a youth home because of trouble at home with his parents. McInerney, who also came from a difficult home life, was said by classmates to be macho and troubled by the openness of King’s sexual identity. Some claim that King had an obvious crush on McInerney, who took the attention badly. The case has drawn national attention for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the youth of both boys. Conservative pundits have argued that the shooting was prompted by King’s aggressive sexualized behavior. LGBTQ activists have countered that no such evidence exists, and in any case nothing warrants the murder of a femininely presenting youth because of the discomfort of a classmate. Defense attorneys contended that their client could not receive a fair trial in Ventura County because of the extensive media coverage given the case. The Santa Barbara Independent reports that Ventura County prosecutors agreed that media saturation made it unlikely they could find an unbiased jury in their jurisdiction, but disagreed that the trial should be moved to another venue as the defense wished. Instead, jurors from Santa Barbara County will be imported to the trial which will still be held in Ventura County Superior Court. If McInerney is found guilty of first-degree murder with a hate crime sentence enhancement, he could conceivably be in prison for 53 years to life.