Union City, New Jersey – “They thought they were going to die.” James Fine, attorney for a gay couple attacked in 2007 at the Union City Burger King, said to NJ.com, that the large award granted to his clients was more than justified, given the severity of the assault: “The manager and a group of angry restaurant employees chased the couple and then mercilessly kicked, beat and spat upon the two men while screaming hate-filled anti-gay invectives.” Peter Casbar, 43, and Noel Robichaux, 46, got into a dispute at the local fast food restaurant which turned ugly, and then escalated as the couple fled out into the street. What had begun as a disagreement over an order at the counter exploded into a full-blown gay bashing. LGBTQ Nation reports that the gay men refused to take the hate crime attack lying down, and filed a suit under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination against Food Service Properties Corporation and Union City Restaurant Corporation which own seven Burger Kings including the one at 3501 Bergenline Avenue where the crime took place. Two employees of the restaurant, Christopher Soto and Angel Caraballo, have pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated assault against Robichaux and Casbar. The harshness of the violence was compounded for the gay men because of the hatred expressed against their sexual orientation, as a psychologist testified in the civil court case. The multi-million dollar size of the monetary award, which included $1.7 million in punitive damages, indicates the gravity with which the jury took the attack. According to NJ.com, the jury returned the verdict and damages within three hours of entering the jury room last Wednesday. At first, the plaintiffs were overcome with emotion by the court action. Attorney Fine said they were unable to speak. Joseph R. Donahue, another attorney representing Robichaux and Casbar, said to reporters, “The jury took this beating of our clients very seriously. I think it is a very big case and we are very pleased.” Attorney Fine concurred, “Violence against anybody, including gay people, cannot be condoned. The jury spoke to the issue.”
Hickory, NC – In one of the grisliest murders the local Catawba County Sheriff’s Department can recall, a teen roommate uses the gay panic defense to justify his alleged ax-and-shotgun murder of an older gay man. Michael Anderson, 19, of nearby King’s Mountain, is accused of murdering 38-year-old Stephen Starr at about 4:45 a.m. on Monday in the Hickory house they shared. The Hickory Daily Record reports that Anderson, claiming he “turned straight” during alleged sexual advances by Starr, shot him with a shotgun and pistol, carved words into his body and wrote some others with a pen, before lodging an ax in the victim’s stomach. “He shot his roommate and took an ax to him,” Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid told the Daily Record. “It’s one of the nastiest crime scenes I’ve been to.” The words carved and written on Starr’s mutilated body were apparently so offensive that officials are not releasing what they were until the trial. Anderson announced the murder on his Facebook page between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., asking God to forgive him, and claiming that no one would be able to take him alive. In a bizarre twist The Box Turtle Bulletin says is reminiscent of the infamous “Twinkie Defense” used to deflect blame for the murder of gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk by a straight rival on the board, Anderson claims that he took too many doses of Mucinex DM, an over-the-counter congestion medication. In a 911 recording released to the Daily Record on Tuesday, Anderson says that the pills “drove me mad”: “I Od’d on Mucinex DM. Dextromethorphan makes me feel a little weird and I took too many.” Anderson told the telecommunicator that he shot his roommate three times with a shotgun and pistol, then mutilated the corpse with an ax so brutally that Starr would not be able to be identified: “You’re not going to know who it is,” Anderson says on the recording. When asked why he killed his roommate, Anderson then says that it was because Starr was gay, and he was heterosexual. “I met [Starr] and went to his house and he took me in and I turned straight again. And he wanted to touch me and stuff and I wouldn’t let him, and he kept trying. And I waited until he went to sleep and then I shot him three times. And I mutilated him very badly and I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Oh God, please help me.” Starr had likened his relationship to Anderson as a parental one, according to his Facebook page. On February 6, Starr posted that he had a “new son,” a person he was trying to make a better human being. So, Anderson’s account of being picked up at a gay bar and molested seems not to square with Starr’s understanding of the relationship, neither does Anderson’s suggestion that the encounter with his older gay roommate was recent and brief. The two men apparently lived together for several days. As the case continues to sort itself out, it is well to remember that homophobia is a crooked phenomenon that erupts into violence in a variety of seemingly-irrational ways. It is also important to remember that Starr is unable to answer charges of sexual advances. News reports are carrying only allegations from the self-interested point of view of the alleged killer. The Unfinished Lives Team sees enough in this story to indicate that a possible anti-gay hate crime was committed by a desperate young man who is ready to blame over-the-counter cold medications and the victim for his actions, but not himself.
Clayton, NC – A gay couple anonymously hiding in a motel out of fear for their safety, were burned out of house and home on Friday. Neighbors say the gay men suffered at least three deliberate acts of anti-gay harassment for over a year – but the neighbors are too scared to identify themselves, either. So Johnston County law enforcement, working from a state arson statute that doesn’t allow for violence against gay men as a hate crime, have determined that the burnout was “just arson.” Like 9/11 was “just some plane crashes.” Or like the murder of Ugandan gay activist David Kato was “just a robbery gone bad.” North Carolina has not seen fit to include sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression as protected classes in its existing hate crimes laws. So, an act of blatant hate crime terror that holds a gay couple and their whole neighborhood in fear is playing with matches. That is all this deed will remain officially unless the U.S. Justice Department invokes the Matthew Shepard Act to rectify neglectful conduct by the Johnston County Sheriff’s Department. WRAL.com interviewed a frightened, anonymous neighbor, who is sure that the three incidents of harassment were related to anti-gay hatred: “A note with derogatory language was left in the mailbox, an anti-gay slur was written on the house with marker, and the tires of a car parked in the garage were slashed.” The gay men’s friend and neighbor continued, “I felt sick to my stomach. I felt so sorry for the two gentlemen. They lost everything. We do believe that this is a hate crime.” The couple was out of town when other residents in the Winston Pointe subdivision discovered the fire belching from the brick veneer home at 1:30 a.m. Friday and called the alarm in. Flames quickly engulfed the structure, gutting it and destroying all the couple’s possessions. The American Red Cross has stepped in to offer food, clothing, and insurance contacts to the victims. Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell says that the investigation has turned up no suspects yet. Bizzell acknowledged that he knew of two out of the three incidents of harassment against the gay men this past year, but he would not say which two.
Opelika, Alabama – A 25-year-old lesbian was assaulted by a dozen assailants outside a local bar after a birthday party last week in an alleged hate crime, but law enforcement officers arrested only her. Laura Gilbert asserts that from the moment she went into The Villa, a bar on the outskirts of Opelika in Lee County, she felt uneasy. On February 2, Gilbert accompanied her friend from high school days, Sheila Siddall, to celebrate her birthday by singing karaoke. Gilbert told WRBL News, “As soon as we walked in the bar, I felt uncomfortable, I felt everybody staring at us, but you know, it was her birthday, I didn’t want to ruin it for her.” The victim says she had never been to the bar before, but had concerns that, as a lesbian, she would not be welcome there. Her fears were confirmed as the two women left the premises. According to Gilbert and Sidall, a woman approached them and started a fight. The altercation grew to include a gang of ten women and two men. One of the men shouted at Gilbert, “If you want to look like a man, you can get hit like a man!” Rather than being punched to the ground, Gilbert fought back to defend herself. Siddall immediately called 911, but the Lee County Sheriff’s Deputies who responded to the emergency call after the fight was over singled Gilbert out, arresting her for public intoxication and disorderly conduct. No one else has been charged or arrested. “They didn’t take our side of the story,” Gilbert told WRBL. “They took their side of the story, and then all of a sudden, they come up behind me and tell me to put my hands behind my back, that I’m going to jail.” Though witnesses reported that many other participants in the attack were just as intoxicated as Gilbert, she was the only person charged and taken off to jail. The victim was badly bruised, and her eye was severely blackened in the assault, as photographs taken at the time attest. Now Gilbert and Siddall are pushing back, saying that the attack was motivated by anti-lesbian bias, and that this prejudice against Gilbert’s sexual orientation is the motive for law enforcement siding with the attackers. Sidall, who is heterosexual, says that not only did the Lee County Sheriff’s Deputies neglect to take statements from her and her lesbian friend–the deputies were “laughing and cutting up” with the drunken perpetrators. Sheriff Jay Jones says that the “hate crime box” was not checked off at the time of the incident, so that must mean that no hate crime occurred. Alabama, however, is one of only five states in the nation that has no hate crimes protections for LGBTQ people. The Alabama hate crimes statute only recognizes bias against race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability. Sexual orientation and gender identity and expression are not protected under Alabama law, so it is doubtful that law enforcement officers would have acknowledged an anti-gay or lesbian hate crime that would not count in the state. Sheriff Jones, when questioned by WRBL reporters said that it was clear “something” had happened to the lesbian at The Villa, and belatedly offered to investigate further and issue warrants if he deems they are due. The Dallas Voice reports that both Siddall and Gilbert have since filed separate reports on the attack, but that no one in law enforcement has bothered to interview them. Gilbert,who is recovering from her injuries, summed up her situation to WRBL reporters: “I’m an American just like the rest of us are. I have rights. I have the same rights as y’all do, supposedly, but people from here don’t look at it that way.” States without protections for LGBTQ people typically report far fewer hate crimes incidents than those that do have such hate crimes laws. Comparable states in population like Alabama and Connecticut illustrate the point. In 2009, Alabama reported only nine hate crimes statewide. Connecticut, during the same period, recorded over 200. The Opelika bar attack is stirring debate on the need for “Sweet Home Alabama” to expand its hate crimes protections so that its residents may be justly treated–finally.