Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Lesbian Mutilated in Nebraska Hate Crime Speaks Out To Doubters

Charlie Rogers, victim of alleged anti-LGBTQ hate crime, speaks out for the first time.

Lincoln, Nebraska – “I am not a pawn in a game, you know. I am a person.” Charlie Rogers, the victim of an alleged hate crime mutilation in the Nebraska capital city spoke out for the first time in an extended interview on KETV Omaha on Thursday.  Rogers, a 33-year-old small business owner who lives openly as a lesbian, said she decided to grant the interview in response to media reports that police were investigating if her report was a hoax.

The five-minute interview shows the passion and hurt Ms. Rogers feels as the victim of a horrific home invasion, allegedly by three masked men early on Sunday who stripped her, bound her with zip ties, carved anti-gay slurs into her flesh, and then attempted to set the house on fire.  Her harrowing experience did not end with a stay in the hospital and then in a safe house where she has been recovering since the attack.  Now Ms. Rogers has to deal with the suspicions unleashed by doubts about her report of what happened to her in the dead of night in her own home. “It feels like a kick in the stomach,” she told KETV, even though she understands that there will always be doubters. “Being a victim in situation like this or a survivor and then having your integrity questioned, I guess, it feels very victimizing again,” Rogers said. “It makes an already difficult situation more difficult because my world has been changed forever by these events.” Lincoln Police Officer Katie Flood suggested to NBC  that they were investigating all aspects of the case, including whether Ms. Rogers made the whole thing up. The media seized on the suggestion of a hoax immediately, sensationalizing the story of this outrage into an inquest into the victim’s credibility.

Investigators found three spray-painted anti-gay epithets in Ms. Rogers’ home, including one that read, “We Found U Dyke!”  Coupled with the victim’s report that the attack was motivated by homophobia, and the slurs sliced into her skin, all these factors have led police to proceed as if this case was a hate crime based on sexual orientation.

But the hate crime investigation notwithstanding, Lincoln’s populace is reportedly plagued by doubts.  Speculation mounted in the days before Ms. Rogers’ interview–“what if…?”

Ms. Rogers’ attorney, Megan Mikolajczyk, told CNN that her client wanted to dispel as much of the doubt as she could.  Mikolajczyk said she wasn’t surprised that there were people who wondered if the attack really ever happened at all. She also said that Ms. Rogers was not answering any one person’s doubts in particular. “I don’t think it’s safe or necessary to point the finger at any one individual,” Mikolajczyk said. “I think it’s par for the course for any sort of high-profile incident for people to question what happened.”

Sadly, Ms. Rogers’ attorney is right: it is “par for the course” for doubts to be raised about the veracity, mental state, motives, and character of LGBTQ hate crimes victims whenever they are targeted by violent attacks.  Such suspicion may or may not aid investigators to arrive at the truth in cases like this one, but it surely re-victimizes the person wounded or killed in such attacks.  “We-doubt-you” stories in the press and on TV also rob many of these outrageous crimes of their news worthy power to draw badly needed national attention to the soaring increases in anti-LGBTQ hate crimes.  Blame and besmirch the victims of hate crimes is one of the leading ways heterosexist communities control gay people, as dozens of stories on the Unfinished Lives Blog show. One has to wonder whether statements of police officers to the media about hoaxes are less about the search for forensic truth than the desperation of the status quo to stay intact when revelatory events begin to disturb the public.

Ms. Rogers, an avid LGBTQ advocate, community volunteer, and former University of Nebraska basketball star, deserves a great deal of credit for coming forward to set the record straight, and to quell as much of the doubt as she can. Time will tell who is right, but time is also of the essence as the trail of the alleged attackers grows increasingly cold. Many in Lincoln, hundreds of not thousands, do believe Charlie Rogers, and support her full recovery even as they remain watchful that police investigators carry out a thorough, speedy search for the truth in this case, and expeditiously bring these hate criminals to justice.

July 28, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Blame the victim, gay bashing, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, home-invasion, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Media Issues, Nebraska, Slashing attacks, Slurs and epithets, Torture and Mutilation, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Lesbian Mutilated in Nebraska Hate Crime Speaks Out To Doubters

A Prayer For the 2012 International AIDS Conference: A Special Comment

Washington, D.C. – As the International AIDS Conference convenes today amidst shocking statistics of the pandemic and hopeful advances toward a cure for this ravaging disease, the Unfinished Lives Project Team offers a Prayer for all who seek to overcome the death, horror and fear associated with HIV/AIDS. May the 20,000 top scientists, activists, policy makers, and everyday people who attend be challenged and inspired by this Franciscan Prayer as we have been [With thanks to Joe Stabile, Nathan Russell of Brite Divinity School, and Jennifer Jacobson who helped transmit the prayer to us].

“St. Francis ‘Neath the Bitter Tree,” by Fr. William McNichols

A Franciscan Blessing

May God bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships
so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
and turn their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in this world,
so that you can do
what others claim cannot be done.

Amen.

July 25, 2012 Posted by | Brite Divinity School, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS prevention, International AIDS Conference, LGBTQ, Social Justice Advocacy, transphobia, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Prayer For the 2012 International AIDS Conference: A Special Comment

Gay Couple Brutally Attacked in D.C.

Washington, D.C. – A gay couple was bashed by three men on the sidewalk near their home early on Sunday morning in NE D.C.  Michael Joel Hall (l), a popular yoga instructor in the District, and his partner, Michael Roike (r), were ambushed by three men, according to MYFOXDC.  The couple had been driven to their neighborhood at about 2 a.m. and were walking to their home on 3rd and T Streets NE when the attack materialized seemingly out of nowhere. Investigators say that the three bashers were yelling anti-gay slurs as they pressed their assault against the couple. Police are investigating the case as a probable anti-gay hate crime.

Both Hall and Roike were injured in the assault.  Hall’s injuries were by far the most severe, suffering a broken cheek bone and fractured face where one of the assailants struck him.  Roike’s mother says that the couple would surely have been killed if passers-by had not shouted at the attackers and rushed to the scene.  The thugs escaped with a cell phone belonging to one of the victims. Hall was rushed to Howard University Hospital where he underwent surgery to repair his shattered face on Monday.

Because Hall has no health insurance and lost his apartment in a recent fire, friends in the yoga community and Hall’s students have created a Facebook page, “Friends of Michael Joel Hall and Michael Roike,”  and established a fund to help defray his medical expenses. The response of the community has been heartening to the couple.  Cobalt/30 degrees is hosting a fundraiser for Hall on Thursday evening, and Flow Yoga in Logan Circle is hosting a “In the Name of Love” fundraiser on Friday night. The Facebook page has details about both these events and the MJH Fund on PayPal.

A local blog, dcist, reports that this hate crime attack is part of a disturbing pattern in the nation’s capital.  Numbers of anti-gay hate crimes have spiked alarmingly in recent months.  Of the 57 confirmed hate crime attacks in the District in 2011, 37 of them targeted LGBTQ people.  In March of this year, hundreds of members of the gay community and straight allies marched from Columbia Heights to Georgia Avenue to draw attention the issue and demand an end to the senseless violence.  As of this writing, there is no report of an arrest in the case.

July 24, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Metropolitan Police (D.C.), Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Unsolved LGBT Crimes, Vigils, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay Couple Brutally Attacked in D.C.

Gay Hate Crime in Nebraska Capital Draws Ire From Hundreds

Hundreds rally to protest alleged anti-gay hate crime at the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln. [Journal Star photo]

Lincoln, Nebraska – A woman’s report of a horrendous anti-gay hate crime has galvanized the progressive community in the Nebraska capital city to demand a stop to the violence.  Social media spread the news of a break-in at the woman’s Lincoln home on Sunday, drawing hundreds to the steps of the capitol building for a vigil in a show of support for all victims of LGBTQ hate crimes.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports that the woman was seized early Sunday morning in her home by three men in masks who stripped her, bound her hand and foot with zip ties, and proceeded to slice her skin all over her body. The victim told police that her attackers cut homophobic slurs into her flesh before splashing gasoline on the floor and setting it aflame.  As they fled the scene, the victim managed to flip and roll outside where her screams caught the attention of neighbors. Her name has not yet been released, and police are not yet speculating on a motive for the crime.

Police informed reporters for KVNO News that the victim was treated at a local hospital and released. The Lincoln LGBTQ community, who believe she was singled out because of her sexual orientation, has rallied to the victim’s support.  One local source, frustrated at the foot-dragging of the police on naming  hate crime as a motive, claims that the message, “We found you, Dyke!” spray painted in the basement of the victim’s home.

At the “Vigil Against Violence” Sunday night at the State Capitol, leaders of the LGBTQ and straight-allied community, already empowered by the recent Star City Pride Festival and a vigorous debate on the “Fairness Amendment” that would ban discrimination in housing and employment against LGBTQ people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, came out to let their voices be heard in droves–over 300 by the start of the vigil, according to the Star Journal.  Tyler Richard, president of Outlinc, a group that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Lincoln, called upon the community to support the investigation with calm and resolve.  “We are shocked and saddened by the report of an alleged hate crime involving a member of the LGBT community early Sunday morning,” Richard said. “Our hearts go out to the victim, her family and close friends. Many in our community are understandably experiencing a great deal of sadness, anger and confusion. We look to our entire community to pull together in this difficult time.”

No one has been arrested as of late Sunday night in connection with the crime.

July 23, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, home-invasion, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Nebraska, Outlinc, Slashing attacks, Slurs and epithets, Unsolved LGBT Crimes, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Gay Religious Pioneer Honored as Hero of Hope in Dallas

Rev. Dr. William R. “Bill” Johnson will be celebrated as the 2012 Hero of Hope by Cathedral of Hope on Sunday, July 22.

Dallas, Texas – Rev. Dr. William R. “Bill” Johnson is Cathedral of Hope’s 2012 Hero of Hope. Dr. Johnson will be honored at both the 9 and 11 a.m. services at CoH Dallas on Sunday, July 22. Congratulations, Bill!

The Rev. Dr. William R. Johnson (born June 12, 1946 in Houston, Texas) was the first openly gay person ordained in the United Church of Christ and the first such person ordained in the Christian Church in modern times. The historic ordination took place on June 25, 1972, at the Community United Church of Christ in San Carlos, California. His ordination is the subject of the documentary film, “A Position of Faith” (1973; released on video in 2005). Throughout his career, Bill has provided counsel and support to hundreds of LGBT seminarians and clergypersons in the United Church of Christ and ecumenically. ~ From Religious Archives Network

The Cathedral of Hope, a congregation of the United Church of Christ, is the world’s largest liberal Christian church with a primary outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning people, with 52,000 worldwide constituents, more than 4,000 members and 1,200 weekly attendees.  The Senior Pastor of the congregation is the Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson.

Commenting on the news that Bill Johnson will be honored as this year’s Hero of Hope, Rev. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Theologian-in-Residence of the Congregation, said, “Bill Johnson’s courage and faith mark him out as a leader and ground-breaker for the LGBTQ community, and for the cause of American religious liberty.  No one has opened more doors for LGBTQ people of faith than Bill Johnson.  This honor is richly deserved.”

July 21, 2012 Posted by | Cathedral of Hope, gay men, GLBTQ, Hero of Hope, LGBTQ, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay Religious Pioneer Honored as Hero of Hope in Dallas

President Obama Calls for Prayer, Solidarity, and Justice in Wake of Aurora Massacre

“We are committed to bringing whoever was responsible to justice, ensuring the safety of our people, and caring for those who have been wounded. As we do when confronted by moments of darkness and challenge, we must now come together as one American family. All of us must have the people of Aurora in our thoughts and prayers as they confront the loss of family, friends, and neighbors, and we must stand together with them in the challenging hours and days to come.”  ~ President Barack Obama

We at the Unfinished Lives Project join with Americans everywhere in support and solidarity for the families and loved ones of the fallen in Aurora, Colorado.

July 20, 2012 Posted by | Colorado, Condolences, gun violence, President Barack Obama, Vigils | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on President Obama Calls for Prayer, Solidarity, and Justice in Wake of Aurora Massacre

Teen Lesbian Attacked “Just For Being Gay” in Louisville

Teenage Lesbian victim of brutal hate crime attack showing her split lip and knocked out teeth. Her jaw was broken in multiple places by three adult males yelling anti-gay epithets [WAVE 3 News image].

Louisville, Kentucky – A 16-year-old lesbian and her two young male friends were viciously attacked by men shouting anti-gay slurs as they beat the teeth out of the girl’s mouth.  Early on Tuesday morning, the young Hornback brothers, 13 and 15, who had accompanied their lesbian friend to a local store, desperately called their mother as the attack commenced.  They told their mother that a group of four “grown-ups” were harassing their friend for being gay, and then cut the call short when one of the men struck the girl. Ms. Andi Hornback told WAVE 3 News that she could hear one of her sons scream as the adult men knocked the young lesbian to the ground, broke her jaw, and repeatedly kicked her in the stomach as they yelled hatefully.  Police are now investigating the violence as a hate crime that has shattered the peace and calm of the Wyandotte Park community in Louisville.

One of Ms. Hornback’s sons suffered a concussion as he jumped in to rescue his friend. With her voice trembling from emotion, Ms. Hornback told reporters how she felt when she heard her child cry out in fear and pain.   “I can’t even describe it to you,” she said , “I’m getting ready to cry, hearing my child scream and know that they were hurt and they were scared and I couldn’t get there fast enough.”  EMS personnel and police were already on the scene by the time Ms. Hornback arrived.

The young lesbian who was the focus of the attack was lying on the pavement with blood gushing out of her mouth. Speaking on behalf of the girl’s family, Brenda Hickerson detailed her injuries for WCSH 6 News: “Her jaw is broken in several places and she has to have a plate put in her jaw. She has teeth knocked out of her mouth and she has scrapes and bruises.” Shaking with frustration and anger, Hickerson said, “She was on the ground with blood just pouring out of her face. These grown men put her on the ground, kicked her in her stomach, kicked her in her face and punched her in the face and kept going until a bystander yelled stop and called 911.”

The four adults in the group that attacked the teens included two white men, one African American man, and a woman whose race has not been identified in the press.  The Hornback boys say that the woman played no part in the attack on their lesbian friend.  Brenda Hickerson believes that the woman’s conscience will plague her until she comes forward.  Hickerson says she is convinced this was a vicious hate crime. “Otherwise, you are saying that this is right to hate,” she said, “and it’s just not right!” 

In an ironic twist, Louisville churches figure prominently in the background of this anti-lesbian attack.  The adults pressed their attack on the teenager in front of two Wyandotte Park area churches.  The pastor of St. James Church, a self-described non-denominational and evangelical congregation, has decried the crime.  According to other clergy, the young lesbian who was the focus of the attack is a member of a local Baptist Church that openly welcomes and affirms gays and lesbians.

Hickerson, wearing a rainbow PRIDE shirt in her television interviews, said she has no doubt as to why this attack was so brutal. “This was a hate crime,” Hickerson said, “There were hate slurs and this was not a robbery because they didn’t take anything from them.” She continued, “I think she was targeted for being a strong lesbian young girl.”

July 19, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, gay bashing, gay teens, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Kentucky, Lesbian teens, LGBTQ, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Teen Lesbian Latina Released From Hospital Care After Head Shot

Mary “Kristene” Chapa behind the wheel of her car. Released after three weeks in intensive care since a possible hate crime shooting, she assisted police in sketching the likeness of the man who attacked her and killed her lover [NBC Latino photo courtesy of Hilario Chapa].

Portland, Texas – Pink News, a well-connected LGBTQ news source from Great Britain, reports that the lesbian teen victim of a possible hate crime has been released from hospital three weeks after she was shot in the head.  Mary Kristene Chapa, 18, was attacked along with her girlfriend, Mollie Olgin, on June 22 at Violet Andrews State Park in the Texas Gulf Coast city of Portland. Olgin, who was also shot in the head, died at the scene.  Chapa, known to her family and friends as Kristene, was rushed to an intensive care facility at Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital where she was treated for grave injuries to her brain.

According to her brother, Hilario Chapa, Kristene is now in rehab and is “doing awesome.”  NBC Latino reports that Hilario, a tech sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, is astounded at the progress his little sister has made since someone attempted to kill her with a high caliber hand gun, and left her for dead in the tall grass of the state park. Hilario relates that in the last days of her hospital care, friends were allowed to visit her, and “she lit up” when she saw them. Kristene faces a long medical recovery, and just as challenging a recovery from the loss of her girlfriend, Mollie.  “She’s in neurological rehab, getting her speech and her way of thinking better,” Hilario told NBC Latino. “She also is in physical therapy to help strengthen her left side and mental therapy as well.”

Initially reluctant to let Kristene know that Mollie had not survived the attack, the family finally let her know that Mollie was dead. Police specialists and Mollie’s family were present to help break the news to Kristene. “With that support group we passed the info to my little sister,” Hilario said. “She was brokenhearted, very upset.”  Hilario went on to say how difficult it was to know how to comfort his sister. “They told us you have to let her cry. I didn’t want to tell her not to cry. But Mollie’s father (Mario) is a very good man, considering he lost his daughter.” Grateful for Mr. Olgin’s support for his sister, Hilario says, “He comes to visit her and when he does she gets emotional but he is supporting her. He wants to go visit her in rehab.”  

Portland Police released the information that Kristene was the previously unidentified eyewitness who aided them and the Texas Rangers in creating both the first and second renderings of the attacker’s likeness.  She was reportedly eager to help authorities apprehend the person who killed Mollie. The suspect is a 5-feet-8-inches tall, 14o pound Anglo male, with brown hair and a scruffy beard.  Kristene’s assistance with the sketch has prompted great public interest in finding the man who shattered the Portland community’s peace of mind, and set the South Texas LGBTQ community on guard against a possible hate crime.  Police authorities have repeatedly said that the attack did not appear random, but they have declined so far to support an anti-gay hate crime motive for the shooting. According to friends and family, Kristene and Mollie had been in a five-month love relationship at the time of the assault.

July 17, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, gay teens, GLBTQ, gun violence, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Texas, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Teen Lesbian Latina Released From Hospital Care After Head Shot

Lesbian Shooting Survivor Helps Police ID Lover’s Killer

Mary Kristine Chapa, lesbian shooting survivor, assisted Texas Rangers artist to sketch a 2nd likeness of the killer who took Mollie Olgin’s life and left Chapa with severe brain injuries on June 22.

Portland, Texas – The survivor of a deadly attack on a lesbian couple in South Texas has recovered sufficiently to help a Texas Rangers forensic artist sketch an accurate likeness of her lover’s killer.  Mary Chapa, 18, shot in the head in the same vicious attack that left her 19-year-old lover, Mollie Olgin, dead beside her at a popular state park, has recovered her sight and her communication abilities enough to guide the artist through a refinement of an earlier sketch of their assailant. ABC World News reports that Chapa is eager to help with the arrest of Olgin’s killer. The horrifying shooting took place on June 22 in Violet Andrews State Park in the city of Portland, near Corpus Christi on the Texas Gulf Coast.

The second sketch is more detailed than the first, which was released to the public on July4.  Chapa herself asked to have the Rangers artist come to her bedside so that she could refine the original likeness she had helped construct.  The new representation shows a young Anglo make in his 20s with a scruffy set of whiskers.  Portland Police say they are searching for any information leading to the apprehension and arrest of the man who is reportedly five-feet-eight-inches tall, 14o pounds, with brown hair and beard. Police Chief Randy Wright told news media that Chapa has been making an “exceptional recovery” from the brain injury she sustained from the shooter.

Though police officials have repeatedly said this case of homicide and aggravated assault does not appear to be “random,” they are still unwilling to discuss any motive for the savagery that has shaken this Texas coastal community to its core since late June. The initial suspicions of the LGBTQ community and allies, that this was an anti-lesbian murder and assault, have only deepened.  National and state human rights agencies, such as the Human Rights Campaign, Truth Wins Out, and Equality Texas, have called upon investigators to pursue the hate crimes possibility with all the resources at their disposal. NBC U.S. News and MSNBC.com are reporting that the FBI are also assisting with the investigation. For the FBI to be involved in the investigation of a local homicide and aggravated assault suggests to some observers that law enforcement is taking an anti-gay hate crime dimension to the case with considerably more seriousness that has publicly been acknowledged by authorities.

July 15, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Equality Texas, FBI, gay teens, GLBTQ, gun violence, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Human Rights Campaign, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, Texas Rangers, Truth Wins Out | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Lesbian Shooting Survivor Helps Police ID Lover’s Killer

“Why We Fight”: Fallen Gay Activist’s Fierce AIDS Speech Remembered on His Birthday

Vito Russo delivering his powerful AIDS activist speech, “Why We Fight,” as part of the ACT-UP protest against callous government neglect of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Vito Russo (1946-1990) would have been 66 today, had the AIDS pandemic not robbed us of him. As a gay activist and groundbreaking film historian, Russo is best remembered for authoring the 1981 book, The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the MoviesBut Russo’s impact on LGBTQ equality and American culture and politics reached farther.  He was a participant in virtually every landmark gay and lesbian rights effort since the Stonewall Rebellion in the streets of New York City in 1969–where he was actually present, protesting in the crowd who fought back against police oppression in what has come to be known as the birth date of the gay rights movement. He became a leader in the Gay Activists Alliance in the aftermath of Stonewall, and a co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) because of his concern about how gay people were portrayed by the media. In the 1980s, Russo became involved in ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) out of deepening frustration over federal and state governmental refusal to take the HIV/AIDS epidemic seriously.  In 1990, he died of complications from the disease, but his legacy became secure after HBO aired a documentary film version of The Celluloid Closet narrated by comedy great, Lilly Tomlin. Russo’s family authorized a biography in 2011 published by the University of Wisconsin Press, Michael Shiavi’s Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo. On July 23, HBO will premier a new documentary film, Vito

On the anniversary of his birthday, July 11, we at the Unfinished Lives Project join Jeffrey Schwarz, the Producer/Director of Vito, to recall Russo’s powerful AIDS activism, and to remember the multitudes of women, men, and youth cut down so senselessly by a pandemic the U.S. government would not acknowledge until it began to affect the heterosexual population of this country. As Schwarz says in the Huffington Post: “During the AIDS epidemic Vito watched the world he loved crumble beneath his feet. By the time Vito received his AIDS diagnosis in 1985, the epidemic was well into its first decade, and thousands had already died. Vito had long been involved in empowering his community, so he found a way to channel his rage and grief into effective and history-making activism. ‘Why We Fight,’  Schwarz goes on to say, “was a fiery 1988 speech given before a tumultuous crowd of angry ACT UP demonstrators at the New York State Capitol in Albany.” The Queer Rhetoric Project records that the speech was delivered first in Albany as a part of the “9 Days of Protest” demonstration, and then later in Washington, D.C. at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Why We Fight,” in its entirety, can be found here.  Toward the climax of his fierce indictment of a medical and political regime in the U.S. marked by footdragging and homophobia, Russo said, almost prophetically:

“Someday, the AIDS crisis will be over. Remember that. And when that day comes, when that day has come and gone, there’ll be people alive on this Earth, gay people and straight people, men and women, black and white, who will hear the story that once there was a terrible disease in this country and all over the world, and that a brave group of people stood up and fought and, in some cases, gave their lives, so that other people might live and be free. So I’m proud to be with my friends today and the people I love, because I think you’re all heroes, and I’m glad to be part of this fight. But, to borrow a phrase from Michael Callen’s song, ‘all we have is love right now. What we don’t have is time.'”

The wrack and ruin of the AIDS pandemic is still with us, and the disease as dangerous as ever.  The Unfinished Lives Team asks you to join us in honoring Vito Russo on the anniversary of his birth by advocating for increased research funding, effective education, and regular testing until this horrible disease is finally defeated.  For now, like Russo, we must continue the struggle–remember the fallen–and do the work of hope.  Happy Birthday, Vito!

July 11, 2012 Posted by | ACT-UP, gay men, GLAAD, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS prevention, LGBTQ, New York, Protests and Demonstrations, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Vito Russo, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on “Why We Fight”: Fallen Gay Activist’s Fierce AIDS Speech Remembered on His Birthday

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