McConnelsville, Ohio – Eight quarter horses, one of them a week-old foal, perished in a barn fire on Monday in what a fire marshal is calling arson but neighbors are calling an anti-gay hate crime. Brent Whitehouse, a gay insurance company owner who loved and trained horses, awoke late Sunday night to the roar of fire in his barn where his beloved horses were stabled. He immediately called 911, but it was too late to save them, according to the Zanesville Times Recorder. “I just don’t understand someone wanting to kill innocent animals,” Whitehouse said to Zanesville reporters. “It’s like killing a child. Those horses never did anything to hurt anyone.” He is still in shock about the horrible incident that took the lives of Elvis, Barney, Floyd, Love, Bella, Ethel, and Princess and her month-old foal, Buddy. Love was pregnant, and about to drop her foal, he said. Whitehouse tried to break open the door of the inferno, while he heard kicking and screaming inside the barn. It was impossible to free the horses. The heat was so intense, it melted a tractor inside the structure. Volunteer firemen from the M&M Fire Department in Morgan County responded to the 911 call and fought the flames for two hours before bringing the fire under control. Neighbors told the Times Recorder that they could see the flames licking the sky for miles away from the Whitehouse farm. A spokesman for the fire marshal’s office, Shane Cartmill, said that soon after arriving at the scene, they knew a crime had been committed. Ugly epithets were painted on what was left of the barn, “Burn in Hell,” and “Fags and freaks” could be made out on the smoldering walls still standing. The horses were valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the impact of the crime runs far deeper than economic loss. “The horses cannot be replaced,” Whitehouse said, because of all the love and training that went into each one of them. “Whoever did this had to walk right by all those horses, including the baby,” he went on to say, “and didn’t care that they were killing a gentle, loving animal.” His friends have no doubt this was a hate crime associated with Whitehouse’s sexual orientation. “They obviously don’t know him very well,“ his friend Bobbie Nelson said to The Advocate, “because he’s a sweet-hearted person and how he lives his lifestyle is nobody’s business but his own.” The Human Rights Campaign was alerted to the possibility of a hate crime early, according to Jeremy Penrod, Deputy Field Director. Penrod believes that the Matthew Shepard Act will likely not apply to this crime, because it was a crime against property, and not against someone’s life and limb. HRC is coordinating efforts to support Whitehouse through Stonewall Columbus and Equality Ohio. Citizens of Morgan County are responding with support of their own for a man loved and respected by his friends and neighbors. The investigation of the horrific crime is proceeding, with LGBTQ advocacy groups closely monitoring the responses of fire and police officials. Whitehouse still cries when he remembers the tiny foal, Buddy. As he told the Times Recorder, “He was only a week old. I just had him and his mother in the arena and he was coming up and smelling me and checking me out. He was cute as a button.”
Austin, Texas – Austin police have identified a second man involved in Monday night’s double murder of a lesbian athlete and her mother in Southeast Austin. KXAN reports that authorities made the announcement on Wednesday, and are currently trying to decide the role this second suspect played in the brutal shooting of the two women by José Alfonso Aviles, disgruntled father of the lesbian’s teenaged girlfriend. Both Norma Hurtado and Maria Hurtado, 24 and 57 respectively, died in the attack. Aviles was infuriated about the same-sex dating relationship his daughter had with Ms. Hurtado, and had threatened both Ms. Hurtado and her family with harm prior to the double homicide. As police reconstructed the killing, Aviles and the second suspect drove to the Hurtado home on Monday evening, knocked on the door of the residence, and as Ms. Hurtado and her mother answered the door, Aviles allegedly opened fire. Both suspects then fled into the night. At the time of the attack, Ms. Aviles, daughter of her lover’s assailant, was in the back of the Hurtado residence and heard the shots fired. She discovered the bodies on the floor, and called 911. Both daughter and mother were pronounced dead at the scene. José Aviles fled to the San Antonio area where U.S. Marshals arrested him on Tuesday. He has been charged with capital murder, and is being held in the Bexar County Jail without bond. We Are Austin reports that friends gathered at the Hurtado home Tuesday evening to comfort each other and to remember the slain women. Norma Hurtado was a renowned soccer player in the Millennium League, and was considered one of its best players. On Thursday, April 21, a Community Candlelight Vigil in memory of the slain women is planned at the offices of OutYouth, 909 East 49 1/2 Street in Austin, beginning at 8 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend. Speaking on behalf of the faith communities of Austin, Rev. Karen Thompson, senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Austin, decried the attack prompted by a father’s anger at the lesbian relationship between Ms.Hurtado and Ms. Aviles. “It is always, always heartbreaking when ignorance and hatred lead to this kind of violence,” she said. “But today, on this Thursday of Holy Week, the heartbreak and sadness are multiplied by a terrible irony. As our GLBTQ brothers and sisters gather together to mourn two more senseless deaths, Christians all over the world will be gathering to observe Maundy Thursday. Maundy Thursday, the day on which our tradition holds that Jesus had a last supper with his disciples and gave them a new mandate, ‘A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.'”
Austin, Texas – A lesbian and her mother were gunned down in Southeast Austin Monday evening by a teenager’s father, furious over his daughter’s queer relationship. Norma Hurtado, 24, and her mother, Maria Hurtado, 57, were shot to death in their home, while Norma’s 18-year-old lover, the gunman’s daughter, was in the back of the house. José Alfonso Aviles, 45, and an unidentified second man, allegedly knocked on the door of the Austin residence in the 7100 block of Dixie Drive, and when the Hurtados answered the door, Aviles opened fire. Witnesses told police they saw two men flee the scene in a Nissan. Both Norma and Maria were killed in the hail of bullets. Aviles was apprehended in the St. Hedwig section of San Antonio on Tuesday where he surrendered to officers of the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force. An investigation of a green Nissan turned up a pistol thought to be the murder weapon. Aviles has been charged with capital murder and is being held in the Bexar County Jail without bond. Details of the murder are slowly coming to light as the investigation proceeds. Norma Hurtado and the Aviles girl (whose name is not being released ostensibly because of her age) had been in a dating relationship for several months, much to the chagrin of Aviles. According to an arrest affidavit made available to KVUE News, witnesses testified to police that Aviles had threatened Norma Hurtado and her family over the lesbian relationship. Lt. Gena Davis of the Austin Police Department told KVUE, “We do know that the father had threatened harm toward Norma previously. This has been a dispute between these two individuals and subsequently we have suffered a horrific act of violence in our community.”
The Dallas Voice broke the story in North Texas. The Austin Police have not classified this case as a hate crime. Reporter John Wright opined that though Austin has a lesbian District Attorney, she is unlikely to pursue a hate crime angle in the double homicide. Although Texas has a hate crime statute on the books that lists “sexual preference” as a protected class, it offers no sentence enhancement in cases of capital murder. Texas is notorious for leaving its gay/lesbian hate crimes law uninvoked in seemingly obvious cases of homophobia such as this one. Texas D.A.’s reason that the hate crimes law raises the bar of proof, burdening a prosecutor who is likely going for the death penalty anyway. An attempt is being made to tamp down the story, reminiscent of other LGBTQ hate crimes investigations where the authorities want to minimize the sexual orientation motive for a murder that otherwise bears all the classic marks of an anti-lesbian honor killing. Your News Now (YNN) reports APD’s Lt. Davis as saying, “This was a very isolated incident. There is no fear to the community.” Austin, long considered “safe” for LGBTQ people, has in recent months experienced a spate of anti-gay and lesbian violence, including attacks on gay softball players and on gay community leaders outside popular gay bars. The nature of murder aimed at lesbians and gay men by straight killers may seem “isolated” as the police wish to portray it, but the brutality, rage, and callousness of the crimes bespeak a message to the whole LGBTQ community of Travis County and Central Texas. The Unfinished Lives Project Team would be very surprised if lesbians and gay men in Austin are buying the line the APD is trying to sell them. Austin is no longer safe and secure for its LGBTQ population.
Our Project Director, Steve Sprinkle, is out on his book tour in North Carolina this week. However we don’t wish to live y’all bereft of content so here is an incredible guest post by Mary our dear friend and supporter:
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NB – Mary is a dear friend and, as you will see, a powerful writer. This is an essay she has given me permission to post, and it is a moving testimony to queer life. Read, marvel, and enjoy! ~ Steve Sprinkle