Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

DADT Repeal Certification Friday, July 22nd, But at What Cost to LGBTQ Americans? A Special Comment

Pfc. Barry Winchell's grave

Both CNN and the San Diego Union-Tribune are reporting tonight that final certification of DADT repeal will take place Friday in Washington, D.C.  But our celebrations are sobered at the Unfinished Lives Project by the magnitude of the cost to the LGBTQ community in servicemembers’ lives and careers in order to get to this landmark moment. When Secretary Leon Panetta signs the documents of certification at the Pentagon, signifying that the chiefs of the Armed Services have previously reported to him that full and open service by gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers, sailors, marines, airwomen and airmen, national guardsmen and women, and coast guardsmen and women poses no threat or harm to the morale, unit cohesion, or mission readiness of the Armed Forces, a giant step toward full equality for LGBTQ people will be made.  Seventeen years of the most oppressive and blatantly discriminatory anti-gay policy in contemporary memory will be over; but not before the incalculable cost of the lives of queer servicemembers who died before seeing this day dawn. At the Unfinished Lives Project, we have invoked the names and stories of some of them: Petty Officer Allen R. Schindler, U.S. Navy; Pfc. Barry Winchell, U.S. Army; Pfc. Michael Scott Goucher, U.S. Army Reserve; Seaman August Provost, U.S. Navy.  May they and all the others they represent rest in peace! These patriots died outrageous deaths at the hands of hatred and unreasoning bias, enabled by a military culture that either encouraged violence against suspected LGB servicemembers, or at the very least turned a blind eye toward such violence. Celebration of repeal is in order, and celebrate we will. The dead are honored by this act of justice, signifying that they have not died in vain. But we will also be mindful that no stroke of a pen, even one so powerful as the one wielded by the Secretary of Defense, will eliminate homophobia and heterosexism in the Armed Services. Ships, barracks, and foreign fields of service will be haunted with the hatred that has been passed down from generation to generation of American military personnel. Backlash is in full swing, as we have seen most graphically among right-wing conservative military chaplains whose appeals to exempt their anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and teachings as freedom of religion served to be the last bastion of “homophobia-masquerading-as-liberty” in the armed services. Thankfully, as certification on Friday shows, the vast majority of servicemembers of all ranks reject discrimination for what it truly is: un-American. In memory of all our LGBTQ servicemembers (of all faiths and faith-free, as the case may be) who have died in part or in full because of the ravages of hate crimes, we dedicate a portion of Fr. Thomas Merton’s most famous poem, written in memory of his brother, John Paul, killed in action in World War II, entitled, “For My Brother, Reported Missing In Action, 1943” [The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, New Directions, 1977, p. 35-36]:
:

When all the men of war are shot

And flags have fallen into dust,

Your cross and mine shall tell men still

Christ died on each for both of us.

For in the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain,

And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring:

The money of Whose tears shall fall

Into your weak and friendless hand,

And buy you back to your own land:

The silence of Whose tears shall fall

Like bells upon your alien tomb.

Hear them and come: they call you home.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Asian Americans, Bisexual persons, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Legislation, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, military, Military Chaplaincy, National Guard, religious intolerance, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, transgender persons, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, Vigils, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

President Signs DADT Repeal: What This Means for America’s LGBTQ Community

Washington, D.C. – In a breakthrough moment for the LGBTQ community, President Barack Obama signed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell into law today.  The ceremony was held in the Interior Department to accommodate a large and emotional crowd of witnesses to the making of American history.  The meaning of this moment will unfold and grow over time.  But this much at least may be said now: LGBTQ Americans have moved one significant step closer to full equality because of this political victory.  The President noted that while the struggle to repeal DADT has gone on for nearly two decades, this day is a culmination of untold sacrifice and heroism on the part of LGBTQ servicemembers and their families for over 200 years.  From the American Revolution to the current Iraqi and Afghan conflicts, gay and lesbian patriots have fought for the freedoms they themselves have not fully known.  Most of their service has been hidden in the anonymity of history for obvious reasons.  To serve openly as gay was not tolerated in the American armed forces. The darker side of this history is the story of untold thousands who have been persecuted, harassed, harmed, and killed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender presentation.  The Unfinished Lives Project and other efforts have sought to chronicle some of these stories: Army PFC Barry Winchell, Petty Officer Allen R. Schindler, Seaman August Provost, and Army veteran Michael Scott Goucher, to name but a few.  Not only have the battlefields of the world been consecrated with the blood of LGBTQ American servicemembers.  The closets of the military in all branches of the service are likewise battlegrounds stained with queer blood.  The signature of President Obama should not become a coda to their memory.  If anything, this moment should give the LGBTQ community added impetus to remember and honor our war dead–both on the battlefield of honor and on the battlefields of American prejudice.  This moment is fraught with religious and theological significance, as well.  Now that this landmark legislation for human rights and dignity is the law of the land, the recalcitrant majority of conservative military chaplains must choose to fulfill their pledge of service to all the nation’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and guardsmen. Human rights and dignity are a prophetic dimensions of all the advance theologies of the world since time immemorial, but the savage side of religion has often displaced God’s favor for all people with a purist extremism that honors neither God or country. The crucial choice now is in the lap of the fundamentalist military chaplaincy, who have discounted the good service of LGBTQ women and men for decades, and the religious righteousness of their chaplaincy peers who have embraced LGBTQ servicemembers as children of God.  It is time for the fundamentalist chaplains in the armed services, including the chiefs of chaplains in the Army, Navy, and Air Force to either salute smartly and comply with the law, or take their pensions and go.  The choice is theirs.  The moderate and progressive religious communities in this nation are faced with another type of challenge.  They must re-evaluate their stance toward military service, and remove institutional and ecclesial impediments to honorable service.  Seminaries on the theological left will need to open their doors for training the next generation of military chaplains.  For the LGBTQ community generally, the call of this day is to become a more mature and reasoned community among the peoples of this nation.  Nothing has changed for military servicemembers yet, nor will it for quite some time, until the law can be implemented throughout the armed forces.  There will be continued bias and discrimination against queer folk in the military by the military.  But LGBTQ people are now offered a renewed sense of who we are: strong, proud, sacrificial, patriotic, and peace-loving–all at the same time.  This is a red-letter day in American history, and a rainbow-colored day in the struggle for full LGBTQ equality.

December 22, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, DADT, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), gay men, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Legislation, Lesbian women, military, Military Chaplaincy, Native Americans, Politics, religious intolerance, Remembrances, Repeal of DADT, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, transgender persons, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on President Signs DADT Repeal: What This Means for America’s LGBTQ Community

Repeal and Remembrance: Gay Military Martyrs and the End of DADT

Fallen Military Servicemembers

Washington, DC – On a red letter day when lawmakers voted to end the most notorious anti-gay policy in the federal canon, LGBT servicemembers and veterans who have been murdered because of their sexual and gender non-conformity must not be forgotten during the celebrations over passage of repeal of DADT.  In a historic vote in the history of the human rights movement, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to end the ban on LGBT patriots from serving openly in the armed services of the United States.  Saturday afternoon, 65 Senators voted for repeal with 31 in opposition. A simple majority of 51 was all that was required for passage of the Senate bill, which is identical to the one passed earlier in the week  by the House of Representatives. Eight GOP Senators joined their Democratic colleagues to pass the repeal of the 17-year-old discriminatory policy that ended the military careers of 13,500 women and men because of their sexual orientation. Joe Manchin, the freshman Senator for West Virginia, was the only Democrat not voting for passage.  According to the New York Times, his office informed the public that he had a “family commitment” he could not break.The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature to set the repeal in motion.  GOP opponents of the repeal criticized the Democratic leadership of the Senate for the vote in the lame duck session just before the Holiday recess.  Senator Carl Levin, the chair of the Senate Armed Service Committee, disputed the Republican claims that Democrats were ramming legislation through just to please the so-called “gay lobby.” In remarks to the New York Times, Senator Levin (D-Michigan) said: “I’m not here for partisan reasons. I’m here because men and women wearing the uniform of the United States who are gay and lesbian have died for this country, because gay and lesbian men and women wearing the uniform of this country have their lives on the line right now.” Yet it is not only for the living that this vote is significant. Our military dead are honored by this historic vote to end anti-LGBT discrimination, among whom are far too many gay servicemembers who were killed because of their sexual orientation. Our gay military martyrs, murdered because of homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia in the armed services loom large in the memory of the LGBTQ community today because they are both a sign of hope and caution. They are a sign of hope that no more women and men need lose their lives in the military because of their sexual orientation and gender presentation. They are a sign of caution, because the passage of DADT repeal in no way guarantees the end of anti-gay violence in the military.  We must name our LGBT military dead until violence against queer servicemembers ceases forever: Seaman Allen Schindler was beaten to death by shipmates in a public toilet in Sasebo, Japan. PFC Barry Winchell was murdered with a baseball bat in the Army barracks at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Seaman August Provost was shot to death on base in San Diego, and then his body was set afire in a guard shack in the vain attempt to destroy evidence of the murder. Army veteran Michael Scott Goucher was lured into a fatal ambush by local youths near his home in Pennsylvania. These four are representative of the many more slaughtered by ignorance and hate by fellow servicemembers and civilians. Pundits say that after President Obama signs the Repeal Act into law, it will still take at least sixty days for the military ban to be lifted for LGBT military personnel. Until that time, the current discriminatory law stays in effect. But the culture of violence that harasses and kills LGBT women and men who wear the uniform remains virulently poised to take more lives until the root of fear is eliminated in the armed services.  To that end, the historic passage of the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is simply the beginning of a new campaign, in the name of our gay military martyrs, to replace the fear and loathing of the sexual minority with education and respect.

December 19, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Asian Americans, Bisexual persons, Bludgeoning, California, DADT, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), gay men, gun violence, harassment, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Illinois, immolation, Kentucky, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, military, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, Remembrances, Special Comments, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. Army, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Repeal and Remembrance: Gay Military Martyrs and the End of DADT

Breaking News: Senate Passes Key Procedural Vote Allowing for Repeal of DADT

Washington, DC – By a vote of 63-33, the U.S. Senate has voted to close debate on the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Democrats were joined by four GOP Senators in the vote. One Democrat, Senator Manchin of West Virginia, who is opposed to the repeal, sat the vote out. Overcoming the procedural opposition to Repeal clears the way for final passage of Repeal by a simple majority (51), a vote that may occur as early as today. An identical bill for repeal was passed earlier in the week by the U.S. House of Representatives. Presuming passage of the Repeal Act in the Senate, the bill will go on to the desk of President Obama who has vowed to sign it into law. In the 17 years since Congress voted DADT into law (the most discriminatory law in the federal canon), 13,500 service men and women have been drummed out of the armed forces for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

December 18, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Breaking News: Senate Passes Key Procedural Vote Allowing for Repeal of DADT

DADT Claims Another Victim: Gay Sailor August Provost

august-provostBeaumont, TX – East Texas is not what an informed person would call a hotbed of liberalism.  But the East Texas aunt of murdered gay sailor, August Provost, is speaking out against the investigation of the Navy into her nephew’s execution-style murder at Camp Pendleton, California.  Rose Roy of Beaumont claims that a full year before his murder, Seaman August Provost complained that he was being harassed for being gay.  Provost’s lover has corroborated the same story when he spoke out to the press on July 4.  Mrs. Roy and other family members encouraged Seaman Provost to document the incidents and inform his superiors in the Navy about them, but she found out that he was afraid to do so because of the military ban on homosexuality, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT).  She told reporters for KBMT News that he was discouraged by the possibility that the Navy would have launched an investigation into his private life, so he didn’t pursue the matter officially.  Now, the Navy is discouraging any suggestion that Provost, an African American patriot from Houston, TX, was murdered because of his sexual orientation.  A spokesman refuses to give any other motive for the killing.  Provost was shot multiple times, and his corpse was set afire in a guard shack in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence.  According to statistics kept by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), nearly 13,000 members of the U.S. Military have been discharged under the provisions of the 1993 DADT law.  That amounts to about one person each and every day.  Since President Barak Obama was inaugurated, 284 Americans have been discharged from the military thanks to DADT.  The untold story is the toll in lives lost because of murders that could possibly have been prevented were DADT not in place, not to mention the number of suicides among LGBTQ sailors, soldiers, airmen, coast guardsmen, and marines.

July 6, 2009 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, California, DADT, gay men, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, Law and Order, military, Texas, U.S. Navy | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on DADT Claims Another Victim: Gay Sailor August Provost

Gay Hate Crimes Blog Celebrates Fifth Anniversary

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Unfinishedlivesblog.com founder and director, speaks at Dallas Day of Decision Rally last week [Robbie Miller photo].

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Unfinishedlivesblog.com founder and director, speaks at Dallas Day of Decision Rally last week [Robbie Miller photo].

Dallas, Texas – Unfinishedlivesblog.com, the premier amateur academic blog dealing with anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in the United States, marks its fifth birthday today.  Conceived on the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in 2008, the blog and its umbrella parent movement, The Unfinished Lives Project, sought to change the national conversation on acts of physical violence against the queer community.  A part-time labor of love, written as time permits between teaching responsibilities, speaking opportunities, and educational events around the nation, this cyber effort continues to widen and deepen the circle of readers worldwide who remember  and advocate for LGBTQ hate crimes victims. With nearly 500,000 visitors to date, Unfinished Lives Blog has reached more minds and hearts than its originator, Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, could have possibly foreseen half a decade ago.

“Adding the responsibility of writing, monitoring networks of news sources, and updating the blog seemed daunting at first,” Sprinkle admits.  “Nevertheless, communicating with such a wide audience of concerned people on the injustice of murder and assault against LGBTQ people simply because of irrational prejudice and hatred, has become an enormously energizing dimension of my life’s work. And, we at the Unfinished Lives Project have learned how to do this as we went along,” Sprinkle noted.  “Remembering the victims of homophobic and transphobic violence must become second nature to the LGBTQ community if it ever is to become a People among the Peoples of this country, and of the world family of Peoples.  We like to think that we are making some contribution to the maturation of the LGBTQ community by our work.” 

Five years on gives the Unfinished Lives Project a chance to revisit some of its more notable achievements.  Since 2008, the blog has:

  • Posted 564 articles to date on hate crimes and told the stories of hate crimes victims throughout America and the world
  • Contributed to the struggle to enact the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act into federal law in 2009
  • Provided local coverage of the Raid on the Rainbow Lounge and the events stemming from it in the summer of 2009
  • Pressed for the Repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (DADT) in 2010
  • Covered the alarming rise in transgender hate crimes, with a special focus on transgender youth of color
  • Chronicled the alarming stories of LGBTQ youth bullied in schools throughout the nation
  • Gained readership in more than 183 nations, principalities, territories, and protectorates worldwide
  • Built and maintained a searchable website available free of charge for research on anti-LGBTQ hate crimes
  • Supported the publication of Dr. Sprinkle’s award-winning book, Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Murder Victims (Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications, 2011)
  • Provided coverage of Unfinished Lives events in 9 states and the District of Columbia

1UnfinishedLivesSprinkle has continued to be Director and main writer for the blog, but says that he is indebted to the ongoing contributions of members of the Unfinished Lives Project Team.  “We could not be the player in the cyber world we are today without the hard work of friends like web masters Todd W. Simmons, Adam D.J. Brett, and the invaluable support of Sandra Jean Brandon,” Sprinkle said.  He also thanks the loyal readership that has lent their voices and advocacy to the struggle to eliminate hate crimes violence from society. “They are helping to change the national conversation on hate crimes,” Sprinkle said. “We are moving beyond dry statistics.  The stories of real human beings give life and passion to the ongoing effort to make our neighborhoods safe for love and life to bloom and flourish.”

The future offers opportunity to Unfinished Lives Blog as it enters its second decade of service.  LGBTQ hate crimes continue unabated in the United States, rising to record high numbers of murders each year since 2010.  Worldwide human rights efforts are spreading at breakneck speed, and the forces of repression and irrational hatred are mounting to squash them.  Unfinished Lives Blog intends to meet the challenges with creativity and passion.  In October 2013, the Unfinished Lives Project will visit the Republic of South Korea where Dr. Sprinkle’s book is being published in the Korean language by Alma, a division of Munhakdongne Publishing Group, to spread the word on hate crimes and hate crimes prevention. As Sprinkle says every time he is offered the chance, “We who believe in justice cannot rest.  We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes!”

Happy Fifth Anniversary, Unfinished Lives Blog!  Here’s to many more!

June 30, 2013 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Brite Divinity School, Bullying in schools, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Independent Book Awards (IPPYs), LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Rainbow Lounge Raid, Social Justice Advocacy, South Korea, Texas, transphobia, Unfinished Lives Book, Unfinished Lives Project, Unfinishedlivesblog.com | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay Hate Crimes Blog Celebrates Fifth Anniversary

Gay Activist Attacked in Wave of Hate Crimes Against New York City’s LGBTQ Community

Graphic created by Memeographs Studio protesting the latest gay bashing victim in NYC, Eugene Lovendusky.

Graphic created by Memeographs Studio protesting the gay bashing of the latest hate crimes victim in NYC, activist Eugene Lovendusky.

New York, New York – A direct action protest leader of the the gay community in New York City was attacked Monday night in yet another anti-gay hate crime attack as the city’s Gay Pride celebrations approach.  Eugene Lovendusky, co-founder and organizer for the LGBTQ activist organization, Queer Rising, was attacked by a group of 9 to ten people shouting “faggot” as they beat and punched him. His jaw was severely injured in the assault.  Reports from friends say that the beating took place in the Theater District.  The list of areas now demonstrably unsafe for LGBTQ people now include, besides the Theater District, Midtown Manhattan near Madison Square Garden, East Village, West Village, SoHo, Chelsea, and Greenwich Village.  Lovendusky, a teacher of young children in New York, is well-regarded as an unapologetic voice for human rights. The New Civil Rights Movement reports that Lovendusky’s friends spread the word throughout the internet world almost as soon as the attack occurred.

Outrage throughout the New York Queer community spread rapidly upon news of the homophobic attack.  Scott Wooledge, founder of Memeographs Studio, wrote on his Facebook page: “This hits home as I know this man personally. There have been a spree of anti-gay hate crimes in New York City this month. As people are unable to enforce their bigotry by laws and policies, they will turn to expressing their impotent hate on the streets.”

Wooledge went to to address the perpetrators of the rising crime wave of violence against LGBT people in New York and around the nation: “I can’t do much to help make the world safer for my friends. But I have a platform, and I’m sending out this message to gay bashers: ‘You can kick us. You can punch us. You can shoot us dead as you did Mark Carson and Harvey Milk. But the LGBT community will not go back to the days before Stonewall Riots and DADT repeal. We will not abandon our righteous claim to be treated equally under the US Constitution and the laws of our states. You will lose eventually. And eventually we LGBT people will meet our respective Gods with our hands clean of blood.'”  

Another Facebook contributor,Tasha Wiegand, vented her frustrations, as well. “I cannot begin to express my feelings of disgust, anger, frustration, and horror for the kind of behavior that leads some people to express hate and violence towards others,” Wiegand posted.

Daniel Lawson, a political activist involved with President Obama’s re-election and now Organizing for America, wrote on his Facebook wall: “So it turns out that the latest victim of the antigay violent crimewave is someone whom I know personally and have worked with at queer demonstrations/events around NYC. Unf—ingbelievable. This has all gone miles beyond the limit. Shit just got real. Lookout homophobes, you have some very angry NYC queers on your hands.”

Using social media, a group of LGBTQ people led by Alan Leo Bounville, founder of the In Our Words Project,  rallied for and informational protest against the attacks on Lovendusky and others on Friday night at the corner of 7th Avenue and 34th Street. The peaceful protest engaged passers-by and answered their questions about what it is like for queer people in the city to live through this mounting tide of dehumanizing attacks.  Members of the rallying group carried signs saying, “I’m a Homosexual.  #Ask Questions.”

queer risingThe irony of this latest attack has not been lost on many in the New York City Queer community.  Lovendusky helped organize the first street protest against the outbreak of anti-LGBTQ violence in the city, including ongoing protests by Queer Rising against the murder of openly gay man, Mark Carson, who was fatally shot in the face last Saturday at point blank range by man who laughed and bragged about his actions.  As co-founder of Queer Rising, Lovendusky leads his peers and allies throughout the metro area to direct action in support of extending full and equal rights and protections to queer people of ever description.  As Lovendusky wrote on the Queer Rising blog site, “Formed in late 2009 by people tired of watching LGBTQ rights put on the back burner or given no attention at all, Queer Rising vows to continue to pressure legislators and the public until all queer people are equal.”

The spate of recent attacks in the cradle of the Gay and Queer Rights movement challenges members of the LGBTQ community and officials of the City of New York to act decisively, both to win the hearts and minds of average citizens to non-violent acceptance of queer folk, and to secure all residents from bias motivated acts of terror such as these.

 

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, gay bashing, gay men, Gay Pride Month, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, New York, New York City, Protests and Demonstrations, Queer, Queer Rising, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay Activist Attacked in Wave of Hate Crimes Against New York City’s LGBTQ Community

DOMA Discrimination Against Lesbian Army Veteran Challenged in Court

Tracey Cooper-Harris, highly decorated Army veteran, denied spousal benefits because she is lesbian

Los Angeles, California – A highly decorated lesbian veteran of the U.S. Army is being denied disability benefits because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and today the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed an important lawsuit to challenge DOMA on her behalf. Tracey Cooper-Harris served with honor in the U.S. Army for 12 years, and received an honorable discharge in 2003 after having received more than two dozen medals and commendations.  But because she married a person of her own sex in California, a perfectly legal marriage still in force, the United States government is denying her and her spouse Maggie equal disability benefits to those heterosexual spouses are receiving.

Cooper-Harris, who achieved the rank of Sergeant for her service in Kyrgyzstan and Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, was diagnosed in 2010 with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disabling disease of the brain and central nervous system for which there is no known cure. Government doctors determined that Cooper-Harris contracted MS as a result of her military service. Faced with a daunting future, she is trying to get her affairs in order as any responsible spouse would. Cooper-Harris received individual disability benefits, but since DOMA is still federal law, the government says that she and her spouse are not eligible for the spousal benefits her service truly entitles them too–all because of anti-gay discrimination, even after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT).

Cooper-Harris said, “I dedicated 12 years of my life to serving the country I love. I’m asking only for the same benefits the brave men and women who served beside me enjoy. By refusing to recognize our marriage, the federal government has deprived Maggie and me of the peace of mind that such benefits are meant to provide to veterans and their families.”

The federal lawsuit, Cooper-Harris vs. United States, filed February 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, challenges the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the laws governing the Veterans Affairs policy that denies equal treatment before the law for Cooper-Harris and other married same-sex persons in the nation. Christine P. Sun, Deputy Legal Director of the SPLC, said, “The government’s refusal to grant these benefits is a slap in the face to the gay and lesbian service members who put their lives on the line to protect our nation and our freedoms. Especially given the recent repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it’s shocking that the federal government continues to demean Tracey’s years of service and the service of many others in this way.”  The case is being litigated on Cooper-Harris’s behalf pro bono (at no charge) by the SPLC.

February 1, 2012 Posted by | African Americans, California, DADT, DOMA, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Social Justice Advocacy, Southern Poverty Law Center, U.S. Army | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on DOMA Discrimination Against Lesbian Army Veteran Challenged in Court

Happy Queer New Year 2012! Time to Be Yourself!

Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta (l), and Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell (Brian Clark, Virginia Pilot)

“Be yourself no matter what they say!” ~ Sting, lyrics from “An Englishman in New York.”  In the New Year 2012, our wish for all our loyal supporters of the Unfinished Lives Project is for each and everyone of us to be ourselves–in hope and joy, need or plenty, LGBTQ and GenderQueer and Intersex, from every walk of life, ability or the lack thereof, and in the audacity of the queer imagination.

It has been a tough, heartbreaking, wonderful year, as the photo of the first official lesbian kiss for the U.S. Navy post-DADT testifies. Virginia Pilot photographer Brian Clark caught on the the most striking LGBTQ images of the year when Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta kissed her girlfriend, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell December 21 at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Hampton Roads, Virginia.  Petty Officer Gaeta had just completed a tour of duty that took her and the crew of the USS Oak Hill to Central America.  Officials acknowledged that the kiss, an iconic tradition in the Navy, is the first done by a same-sex couple in U.S. naval history.  The couple won a raffle to decide who would get the opportunity to carry out the tradition when the ship docked. From the Virginia Pilot:

Until September, when the military’s ban on openly gay service was lifted, they worked hard to keep their relationship secret. When Snell came home from her last deployment in August, kissing on the pier wasn’t an option.

“This is the first time we can actually show who we are,” she says.

Adds Gaeta, “It’s nice to be able to be myself.”

Yes.  It is nice.  And groundbreaking.  Every time LGBTQ people act according to their power, no matter what others may say, the world changes just a little bit more in favor of diversity.  That is worth celebrating!  From all of us at the Unfinished Lives Project Team to all of you, a wish for an authentically, joyously, fulfilling New Year!

December 31, 2011 Posted by | DADT, GLBTQ, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, U.S. Navy, Virginia | , , , , , | Comments Off on Happy Queer New Year 2012! Time to Be Yourself!

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is History: We Must Not Forget Its Cost

Washington, D.C. – Today marks the advent of full repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the 1993 law making gay and lesbian servicemembers liable for discharge if they admitted their sexual orientation.  While there will be celebrations and night watch parties throughout the nation marking this historic day in the struggle for LGBTQ equality, we cannot afford to forget the terrible cost anti-gay discrimination has wrought in the Armed Forces of the United States.  So, today, we lift up the lives and patriotic service of four gay men who died because of the ignorance and bigotry of other servicemembers, and the systemic bigotry of the services themselves which at best permitted these murders, and at worst encouraged them.

Seaman August Provost of Houston, Texas, was shot to death on duty in a Camp Pendleton guard shack, and his remains were burned to erase the evidence of the deed on June 30, 2009 in San Diego, California. He had recently complained to his family that a fellow servicemember was harassing him because of his sexual orientation.  He feared speaking with his superiors about the harassment because of the threat of discharge due to DADT.  His partner in life, Kaether Cordero of Houston, said, “People who he was friends with, I knew that they knew. He didn’t care that they knew. He trusted them.”  Seaman Provost joined the Navy in 2008 to gain benefits to finish school, where he was studying to become an architectural engineer.

Private First Class Michael Scott Goucher, a veteran of the Iraq War, was murdered near his home in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, on February 4, 2009 by an assailant who stabbed him at least twenty times. Known locally as “Mike on a Bike” by neighbors and friends, Goucher was an assistant organist for a congregation of the United Church of Christ, and Captain of the neighborhood Crime Watch.  He also was a selectively closeted gay man, hiding his sexual orientation from his community. Goucher survived deployment in Iraq, only to meet death at the hands of homophobes back home.

Private First Class Barry Winchell of Kansas City, Missouri, was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat as he slept in his barracks by a member of his unit at Fort Campbell, Kentucky on July 6, 1999.  Winchell had fallen in love with a transgender woman, Calpurnia Adams, who lived in Nashville, Tennessee.  In the fallout from his murder, President Bill Clinton ordered a review of DADT, which resulted in the addition of a “Don’t Harass” amendment to the policy, but little else. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, who represented Winchell’s parents in litigation with the U.S. Army, demanded to know who in the upper ranks of Fort Campbell knew of the murder and its subsequent cover up.  The commandant of the fort was promoted over the objections of many human rights advocates. Winchell’s story has been immortalized by the 2003 film, “Soldier’s Girl.”

Petty Officer Third Class Allen R. Schindler Jr. of Chicago Heights, Illinois was murdered on October 27, 1992 in a public toilet on base in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan. His killer was a shipmate who despised Schindler for being gay. He had been outed while on board the U.S.S. Belleau Wood, and was supposedly under the protection of his superiors until he could be separated from the service.  Schindler had called his mother to tell her to expect him home by Christmas.  Instead, the Navy shipped his savaged remains home to Chicago Heights before Thanksgiving.  The only way family members could identify his remains was by a tattoo of the U.S.S. Midway on his forearm.  Otherwise, he was beaten so brutally that his uncle, sister, and mother could not tell he was their boy.  Schindler’s murder was presented as a reason DADT should never have been enacted, but authorities in Washington brushed his story aside and enacted the ban against gays in the military anyway. Schindler’s story is told at length in Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims, authored by the founder of the Unfinished Lives Project, Dr. Stephen Sprinkle.

We at Unfinished Lives celebrate the repeal of DADT tonight with thanksgiving for the courage of lesbian and gay servicemembers who chose to serve their country in the military though their country chose not to honor them.  More than 13,500 women and men were drummed out of the service under DADT.  But in addition to the thousands who faced discharge and shame, we cannot forget, we must not forget, the brave souls who died at the hands of irrational hatred and ignorance–the outworking of a blatantly discriminatory policy that never should have blighted the annals of American history.  The four lives we remember here are representative of hundreds, perhaps thousands more, whose stories demonstrate the lengths to which institutions and governments will go to preserve homophobia and heterosexism.  We will remember with thanksgiving our gay and lesbian dead, for to forget them would be to contribute to the ills wrought by DADT.

September 20, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, Bludgeoning, California, DADT, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, gun violence, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Illinois, immolation, Kentucky, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, military, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Protests and Demonstrations, Remembrances, Repeal of DADT, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Slashing attacks, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, Stomping and Kicking Violence, Tennessee, Texas, transgender persons, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, Vigils, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is History: We Must Not Forget Its Cost

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