Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Are Gay Suicides “Collateral Damage”? Gay Man Hanged From A Tree in Atlanta

Michael George Smith Jr., aka London Jermaine, found hanged in Atlanta's Piedmont Park.

Michael George Smith Jr., aka London Jermaine, found hanged in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park.

Atlanta, Georgia – Trapped between anguish over family disapproval of his sexual orientation and nationwide protests over the police killings of black men, a young man climbed a tree in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park and hanged himself. Police discovered the body of 22-year-old London Jermaine, aka Michael George Smith Jr., hanged by the neck near the Charles Allen entrance to the popular urban park early on July 7. Smith, a resident of Midtown and computer science student, had migrated from Hackensack, New Jersey to take up a new life in Atlanta. While there is no evidence of foul play reported by Project Q Atlanta, Smith’s death is a casebook of reasons why the suicides of young gay men may be “murder by suicide,” in which the victims are driven by despair to take their own lives after anti-gay shaming.

Because of his large social media footprint, we are able to trace the pressure that drove him to seek a way to stop the hurt he felt. On June 13, Smith posted a complaint and cry for help: “Being Gay in America is Hard. Being Black in America is Hard. Imagine being both #NoH8.” Family played a large part in browbeating Smith because of their extreme negative attitudes toward gays. On June 17, he posted a screen capture of a text message from a brother, and a sharp reaction to the disapproval of his mother: “God doesn’t born gay people. You make yourself gay.” Smith added this status to the duplicated message: “My mother is teaching my siblings to dispise Gays.. I’m done with Life. I’m Hurt To The Core.” According to posts on his Facebook page, he was also facing health issues.

Just minutes before his drop from the tree in Piedmont Park, Smith left this despairing message on Facebook: “I’ll see y’all in the next Life…Deadass [followed by emoticons] Father forgive me” 

Bossip.com reports the storm of criticism Atlanta Police and Mayor Kasim Reed faced following the discovery of Smith’s body. Widespread speculation about a possible “modern lynching” dogged the investigation, and put bulletins to the public on the fast track. With the nation aflame with anger and confusion over the apparently unjustifiable shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota, Atlanta officials feared that the public hanging of a young black man could cause an outbreak of violence in their city. The APD reported finding a tall rolling trash receptacle beside the scene of Smith’s death with a footprint on its top corresponding to his shoe. They also found pollen on his clothing indicating he climbed the tree to the limb where the rope that asphyxiated him was tied. There were no signs of struggle, the police reported.

"London Jermaine" via Instagram

“London Jermaine” via Instagram

The FBI were called in to carry out an investigation separate from the APD, and spokesperson Special Agent Stephen Emmett issued this statement to Project Q confirming the conclusion that Smith carried out his own death: “A review of the findings of the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s report by both APD and the FBI failed to indicate any signs of foul play or other evidence that would support going forward with a federal hate crime based investigation.”

Young gay men are under severe pressure due to the tension over advances in LGBTQ rights in the U.S., especially young gay men who are African American. Michael George Smith Jr. faced an almost perfect storm of difficulties from family, the culmination of too many deaths of young black men at the hands of unaccountable police officers, and questions about his own health. Too many young men, both those of color and white alike, have succumbed to despair, underlining the epidemic numbers of suicides in the LGBTQ community, compared with the rate of suicide for the dominant ethnic population. The Trevor Project, the nation’s leading anti-suicide hotline, details the grim suicide statistics for lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. While suicide is the greatest cause of death in the U.S. for young people from 10 to 24, gay youth are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, and gay youth from highly disapproving families are 8.4 times more likely to attempt to take their own lives than children of families that are accepting.

The degree of hostility towards LGBTQ Americans, especially young gay men of color, is exacting a terrifying cost from the ranks of the nation’s youth. Whether from opposition rooted in conservative religious traditions, ignorance, or backlash against newly minted rights for the LGBTQ community, the loss of young lives like Michael George Smith Jr.’s is not simply tragic. It is a national health emergency.

July 18, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crimes, Atlanta Police Department, FBI, Georgia, GLBTQ, Hanging, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, suicide, Trevor Project | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Transgender Black Woman Murdered in Tampa, Tenth Trans Hate Killing of 2015; Where is the Cisgender Outrage?

Image by Lexie Cannes

Image by Lexie Cannes State of Trans

Tampa, Florida – The lifeless body of trans woman India Clarke (25) was found near a community center basketball court this week. Cause of death is unknown as of this writing, though her upper body bears signs of bludgeoning with a blunt instrument. Clarke is the 10th transgender person murdered this year, according to some sources. If the past experience of the transgender community is any suggestion of the real number of hate crime homicides against trans people, especially trans women of color, 10 is probably a severe undercount, just the tip of a deadly ice berg. With social outrage over the unjust deaths of so many cisgender Americans over the past year, all of it so very necessary to spur fundamental change on matters of racial injustice, the absence of outcries against the decimation of the transgender community is so obvious as to be revelatory. Where is the cisgender outrage over transphobic hate crime murders?

The story line of murders perpetrated against transgender women of color is monstrously similar. In its press release on the killing of Ms. Clarke, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), headquartered in New York City, recounted the names of the 2015 victims of transphobic hatred we currently know:

1) Papi Edwards, black transgender woman, shot to death in Louisville, Kentucky, January 9.

2) Lamia Beard, black transgender woman, shot to death in Norfolk, Virginia, January 17.

3) Ty Underwood, black transgender woman, shot to death in Tyler, Texas, January 26.

4) Yazmin Vash Payne, black transgender woman, fatally stabbed in Los Angeles, California January 31.

5) Taja Gabrielle de Jesus, latina transgender woman, stabbed to death in San Francisco, California, February 1.

6) Penny Proud, black transgender woman, shot to death in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 10.

7) Kristina Gomez Reinwald, latina transgender woman, found murdered in Miami, Florida, February 15.

8) London Chanel, black transgender women, stabbed to death in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 8.

9) Mercedes Williamson, anglo transgender woman, fatally stabbed in George County, Mississippi, May 30.

Two other gender-non conforming persons have been murdered during the calendar year, anglo Bri Golec, stabbed  to death in Akron, Ohio, and black Maya Hall, shot to death in Fort Meade, Maryland. The NCAVP is still investigating these killings to determine whether a transphobic motive lay behind their deaths.

NCAVP spokesperson Chai Jindasurat, decried India Clarke’s savage murder:

“India Clark’s death is a tragedy, which is made worse by egregious misgendering by local police and media. We must honor India Clarke, and all of the transgender women, especially teams women of color,” Jindasurat continued, “killed in this epidemic by supporting the leadership of transgender women, public awareness and respect campaigns, speaking out against this violence, and protecting transgender people from harassment and discrimination.” 

Trans blogger Lexie Cannes notes the pattern playing out in Ms. Clarke’s homicide, made familiar by the well rehearsed outline of reports of transphobic murder in the mainstream media. She echoes the troubling findings of bloggers Monica Roberts and Carlos Maza who misguidedly, perhaps intentionally misidentifying the gender expression and identity of the victims as “men in dresses.” Cannes quotes Maza at some length:

“The cycle at its worst seems to be the same: a transgender person is found dead,” Maza writes, “law enforcement officials fail to acknowledge the victim’s gender identity, and local news outlets follow law enforcement’s lead, misgendering the victim despite often knowing how the victim wished to be publicly identified.

But failing to report the way Clarke is publicly identified,” Maza continues, “deprives audiences of the information they need to understand her death in the broader context of violence against transgender women. In instances where misgendering is intentional, it’s a statement that her gender identity is little more than a deceptive costume, not worthy of being taken seriously.” 

So, where is the outrage from cisgender activists, ministers, and other citizens? Sadly and tellingly, the larger context of the way transgender victims of hate violence are misidentified and hammered in the mainstream press betrays a cultural dehumanization unworthy of the American spirit. Are trans people, especially trans people of color, partakers of a common humanity with us all? Until cisgender America faces their own transphobia, the brutality and dehumanization of our sisters and brothers will continue. This, in the opinion of the Unfinished Lives Project Team, is every bit as wrong as racism, and is racisms secret ally in staining the American conscience.

July 23, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Beatings and battery, cisgender people, Florida, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Latino and Latina Americans, LGBTQ, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Arc of Justice Bends Like A Rainbow: Heartbreaks, Memories, Dreams

Dallas, Texas – To contribute to the spiritual discussion about the events of this June: the outrageous attack on Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and the victory of Marriage Equality in the U.S. Supreme Court, here is the text of my Sunday sermon for 6/28/15:

The Arc of Justice Bends Like a Rainbow: Heartbreaks, Memories, Dreams
A Sermon for Pride Sunday, June 28, 2015
The New Church – Chiesa Nuova
Dallas, Texas

Psalms 85:7-12
Hebrews 11:29-40
Luke 4:18-20

The Rev. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Professor of Practical Theology, Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas

The Rev. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Professor of Practical Theology, Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas

“They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.” These words are among the phrases of Friday that are imprinted into my consciousness and yours, too, I suspect. You will recognize them as the conclusion of the Majority Opinion of Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision striking down the bans that forbade marriage to millions of same-sex Americans in 14 states, including our own. “It is so ordered . . .”

But these are not the only words that won’t go away from my mind. Words from cries, and joyous shouts, and eulogies, from late last week and from the recent events of our lives that have culminated upon us this very June like “a thunderbolt” as our President, the Honorable Barack Obama said when he made his historic remarks in the White House Rose Garden celebrating the victory of Marriage Equality for all 50 states.
Here are some other stunning words our President used just this past Friday, 6/26/15, the same day LGBTQ people and our allies danced on the steps of the United States Supreme Court, and at the crossroads of Oak Lawn and Cedar Springs right here in Dallas. Immediately following his Rose Garden remarks, he boarded Air Force One to fly down to Charleston, SC beside our First Lady Michelle, to eulogize slain Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the other eight members of his flock, cut down by hatred in a Bible Study/Prayer Meeting at Mother Emanuel AME Church. Do you feel the whiplash of it? Having to deliver words of celebration at one moment, and then words appropriate to the outrageous deaths of Black Americans because of race hatred, as best we can tell—All in the same day?
Our President tried to make sense of it all from the stage of the University of Charleston, to find a way forward for the nation:

“Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete” he said. “But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.
“Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual. That’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society.”

President Obama continued:

“To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change, that’s how we lose our way again. It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong, but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.
“Reverend Pinckney once said, ‘Across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history. We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.’”

History, you see, is hard to make sense of when you are in the middle of it, like we are this morning—When we are struck by a two-sided thunderbolt of history, one side damp with tears of joy for decades of struggle to win against homophobia and heterosexism for LGBTQ human equality, but the other side wet with the tears of unfathomable grief because of America’s “original sin,” the sin of racism.

You and I and our President are not alone in trying to make sense of it all, trying to sort out our emotions about the events of 6/26/15. On Friday, my friend Professor John Blevins who teaches at Emory University put it this way on his Facebook wall:

“Not sure” Dr. Blevins wrote, “how to temper the feelings of the Supreme Court ruling with the reminder that today in Charleston, SC there is a funeral for an African-American man and local church pastor who would have supported and cheered this ruling were he not gunned down in cold, calculated, hate-filled violence. We progress and regress. But I want to believe– have to believe– that Love Wins. Yes, the Supreme Court ruling offers some sense of that but so does the testimony of Reverend Pinckney– both in his life and in his death. We should remember that.”

Whatever else and whoever else we are this morning, we are the Church, and we are called upon to remember our heartbreaks, to dance with our dreams in our hearts around the Table of Jesus Christ, and to learn with appreciation from the history of others. We are the New Church, the Chiesa Nuova, founded on the memories and merits of St. Francis of Assisi. We are straight, bi-, and gay, trans- and cisgender, multiracial and multilingual, and we share something vital and living with Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston. We have been given a common task: to speak the truth alongside one another until all the bad news comes to redemption in the Amazing Grace of God. We, Mother Emanuel and New Church together, are called by the God of Life to remember the steadfast love of Jesus Christ, and to set all events of celebration and sorrow in the context of a future in which LOVE WINS, not just for some of us, but for ALL of us!

The Church must engage the events of these jumbled up, joyous and heartbreaking days, and re-tell them to a hurting society both in words and deeds of effective love. We are the storytellers! Who else besides the Community of Faith remembers and re-tells the stories of the justice prophets of Israel and the evangelists of the early Christian movement? Who else remembers and re-tells the stories of the Underground Railroad, and Jim Crow, and the struggle for women’s right to vote and equal pay; who else remembers and re-tells the breathtaking saga of the time of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, and the first brave voices of the sexual minority here in North Texas, of the lesbian Lavender Menace, and the life-and-death struggle against HIV/AIDS, of Harvey Milk’s famous call, “I’m Here to Recruit You!”, and of the first legal “I Do’s” spoken on the steps of the Records Building right here in Dallas between Lesbian couples and Gay couples set on letting the whole Lone Star State know that LOVE Wins!

If others want to tell the stories of our times in differing ways, let them. We welcome the stories and the histories of others, and we must grow in appreciation of those histories because we are all members of the One Human Family. But, in humility, and with our knees trembling from awe and joy, we of the Community of Faith must continue the tradition of telling the Good News in the midst of a world were goodness is not so obvious an outcome at all. Like our grieving sisters and brothers at Mother Emanuel, in English, Español, and the other tongues of our languages, the Church has this task: to interpret the events of everyday life, great and small, in the harmonies of the love of God. It is our responsibility to pull together the threads of the rulings of the Supreme Court, and the horror of the slayings at home and abroad, and to weave out of them a roadmap of justice and mercy so the human race can see a way forward in the storm, and find rivers of cool water in dry places—sweet destinies of deliverance and Amazing Grace for all the sorts and conditions of our fragile humankind.

Put succinctly, it is our mandate to follow the example of Jesus the Christ: to read aloud the ancient stories of God’s people, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, good news to the poor, deliverance to the captives, freedom for all those oppressed, recovery of sight to the blind, and then to roll up the scroll, and announce: “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Justice KennedyDid you ever in your wildest dreams imagine that you would live into a world where Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would be repealed? Where DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, and Proposition 8 would be overthrown? Where Marriage Equality would become the law of the land in all 50 states of the USA, and Justice Anthony Kennedy could pen these words on behalf of the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court?

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Did you ever imagine that 150 years after the Civil War, that 52 years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech, and 50 years after the Voting Rights Act, you would still be living in a world where young Latino/Latina “Dreamers” are still in peril of being deported from the land that has become their home, where a black teenage girl in a bikini could be wrestled down and choked at a pool party in McKinney, Texas, where we must confront that reality over and over again that, no matter what we say, black, brown, female, and transgender lives mean less than white male lives? Or that the peaceful welcome of a church sanctuary could be desecrated by the cold, violent hand of hatred?

Well, that is the world we have, isn’t it? Filled with joys and sorrows. Where by the grace of God we must rededicate ourselves to bending the moral arc of the universe toward justice in this time and place we have been given. That is what the Community of Faith must be about in our lifetime. President Obama, standing squarely in the tradition of the Black Church, concluded his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, saying:

“…History can’t be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. It must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the cycle, a roadway toward a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind. But more importantly, an open heart.
“That’s what I felt this week — an open heart. That more than any particular policy or analysis is what’s called upon right now, I think. It’s what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls ‘that reservoir of goodness beyond and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.’
“That reservoir of goodness. If we can find that grace, anything is possible. If we can tap that grace, everything can change. Amazing grace, amazing grace.”

Since Love Wins, since Love must win for everybody, let us throw a party where everyone is invited to celebrate with us, where everybody is somebody and nobody is nobody, and then roll up our sleeves and get to the work at hand!
Love Wins! Thanks be to God! Amen.

June 30, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Brite Divinity School, Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, Justice Anthony Kennedy, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Mother Emanuel AME Church, President Barack Obama, Racism, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Transwoman Murdered in East Texas; Transphobic Hate Crime Suspected

Ty Lee Underwood, 24, shot to death in a suspected transphobic hate crime in Tyler, Texas.

Ty Lee Underwood, 24, shot to death in a suspected transphobic hate crime in Tyler, Texas.

Tyler, Texas – The Dallas Voice and multiple Texas news sources report that a 24-year-old transgender woman was shot to death January 26 in Tyler, an East Texas city 90 miles southeast of Dallas. Police detectives have few leads on the murder of Ty Lee Underwood, and none of them are substantial, according to KYTX Channel 19, the local CBS affiliate.

Tyler Police spokesperson, Detective Andy Erbaugh said that a woman called 911 early Monday morning to report that her children heard shots fired in the Twenty-fourth Street area of North Tyler. Investigators arrived to find Ms. Underwood dead at the scene. She was either in or near her automobile at the time shots were fired at her, and three of them found their mark. She tried to escape her attacker(s) by driving off, when the auto got stuck in a grassy area, according to Erbaugh. Her vehicle had jumped several curbs and had broken off one of its mirrors, finally colliding with a telephone pole. Tyler Police are seeking help from the public to apprehend those responsible for Ms. Underwood’s death. “We will follow any leads that come in, we will follow them completely because this was a senseless murder,” Erbaugh said.

Ty Underwood was a nursing assistant at a local rest home facility, and had been recently accepted by the nursing program at Kilgore College in Longview, Texas, according to The Advocate.

While investigators are not publicly speculating about a motive for the murder, Ms. Underwood’s friends suspect that her killing was a hate crime targeting her for being a transgender woman. Her roommate, Coy Simmons, said, “This has to be a hate crime, this has to be a hate crime, nothing else because that was an upstanding person with a good heart.” Simmons went on to describe his friend as well regarded throughout the community. “She was lovely, just a lovely person. Very real, down to earth person who didn’t deserve this, did not deserve this at all,” he said to KYTX reporters.

Transgender rights advocates throughout the region are angered and on high alert, following Ms. Underwood’s brutal shooting. Leaders of the East Texas PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and TAG (Tyler Area Gays) are calling on police to bring this case to a swift, decisive conclusion. North Texas transgender activist Nell Gaither, President of the Trans Pride Initiative, says everyone in the Metroplex LGBT community should be aware that the level of violence against trans people is alarmingly on the rise. Ms. Underwood’s murder is the 15th homicide of a trans person of color since June of last year. Ms. Gaither posted on Facebook, “The increase in violence is really disturbing. And this is just the murders. If there is an increase in murder, there is likely an increase in harassment, assault, sexual assault, and other violence as well.”

Should this murder prove to be an anti-LGBT hate crime as suspected, it will continue a string of bias-related violence in Tyler commencing with the horrendous slaying of Nicolas West in October 1993. West, 23 at the time of his murder, was kidnapped at a Tyler city park, then driven out to a remote area of Smith County where he was force to strip and kneel in a clay pit where he was tortured and finally shot to death, as reported by Unfinished Lives Blog. The medical examiner’s report found West had been shot 15 times. It took seventeen years for Tyler to recognize West and acknowledge the injustice done to him. In 2010 a plaque was belatedly placed in the park where he was abducted. Perhaps local outrage will mount sufficiently that Ty Underwood’s murder will not be ignored for so long in the Rose Capital of Texas.

Smith County is offering a $1,000 reward for a tip leading to the apprehension and arrest of those responsible for Ty Underwood’s murder. Anyone knowing of a lead should report it immediately to the Tyler Police hotline at (903) 531-1000 or Tyler-Smith County Crime Stoppers at (903) 597-2833.

January 30, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, East Texas, East Texas PFLAG, GLBTQ, gun violence, LGBTQ, Nicolas West, Texas, Trans Pride Initiative, transgender persons, Transgender women, Transgender women of color, transphobia, Tyler Area Gays (TAG) | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Gay Panic Defense” Outlawed by California

California Governor Jerry Brown signed gay panic defense ban into law, making it the first in the nation.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed gay panic defense ban into law, making it the first in the nation.

Sacramento, California – The Golden State has outlawed the notorious “gay panic defense” as an excuse for violence against the sexual minority. Defendants in California can no longer claim their deeds of physical harm against gay and transgender victims were triggered by alarm at a person’s sexual orientation or gender expression. Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation into law on September 27.

As Gay Star News reports, Rick Zbur, Equality California Executive Director, said in a statement to the press on Sunday, “The ‘panic defense’ is a homophobic and transphobic ploy that blames the victims of horrific acts of violence for the crimes committed against them.” Zbur went on to commend Governor Brown for signing the bill making this infamous legal dodge based on fear illegal: “[Such a ploy] has no place in California’s legal system, and we applaud Gov. Brown for signing this groundbreaking, first-in-the-nation legislation.”

The law, according to California Legislative Information, entitled “AB-2501 Voluntary manslaughter,” now bans the excuse from use in California courts that “the victim made an unwanted non-forcible romantic or sexual advance towards the defendant” or “the defendant and victim dated or had a romantic or sexual relationship.”

Some defendants in horrendous cases of physical violence against transgender or gay/lesbian victims succeeded in playing upon the fears and latent biases of juries with the gay panic defense, and winning lesser sentences and penalties from the courts as a result. The most widely covered California case in which the gay panic defense was effective in reducing a sentence was the execution-style gunshot murder of teen ager Larry Fobes King of Oxnard by his teen age classmate, Brandon McInerney. In the 2011 trial, defense attorneys argued that the real offender was the murdered King, who allegedly flirted with McInerney, a youth who had been deeply influenced by Neo-Nazi ideologies and prejudices. The court reduced McInerney’s charges to second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter after trying him as a juvenile, in contravention of California law that clearly mandated McInterney, though a teen, must be tried as an adult because of the heinous nature of the crime, and the premeditation exhibited in King’s execution in their morning computer classroom. King was, of course, unable to defend himself against the charges and allegations made by defense attorneys, since he was dead and buried. Because of a plea bargain deal, McInerney received a 21-year sentence instead of a longer, more appropriate term, solely because of the gay panic defense.

Larry King and his murderer, Brandon McInerney (AP photo).

Larry King and his murderer, Brandon McInerney (AP photo).

Reflecting on the King/McInerney case, SF Weekly carried an op-ed article arguing that “It’s a heinous defense tactic that banks on a judge or jury’s own homophobia, apportioning some blame onto victims in order to get a murder charge downgraded to manslaughter. Leaning on a ‘heat of passion’ line of thinking deliberately turns a trial into something out of a pulp novel. Gay panic benefits from anti-LGBT bias, and adds to it as well, by dredging up ancient stereotypes of gays as sexual predators who can’t be trusted not to curb their appetites.” 

Now, such legal queer-baiting is out of bounds in California and has become a model for other states to emulate.

October 1, 2014 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Brandon McInerney, California, gay panic defense, gay panic defense ban, GLBTQ, Governor Jerry Brown, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Larry King, LGBTQ, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on “Gay Panic Defense” Outlawed by California

Alarming Rise in Transgender Murders, NCAVP Reports

Mia Henderson, 26, slain transgender woman in Baltimore this week.

Mia Henderson, 26, slain transgender woman in Baltimore.

Baltimore, Maryland – The discovery of the body of Mia Henderson, slain transgender woman of color, in Northwest Baltimore signals an alarming increase in the numbers of violent attacks on gender variant and transgender persons.  The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) and TransGriot, a blog dedicated to raising issues pertinent to the African American transgender community, note that Ms. Henderson’s murder this week is the fifth report of a trans person murdered since June nationally, and the second for Baltimore during the same time span.

Henderson, 26, the sibling of NBA star Reggie Bullock of the Los Angeles Clippers, was found dead in an alley Wednesday morning.  Gay Star News reports that her body had suffered “severe trauma,” according to Baltimore Police Department sources, resembling the savagery that took the life of Kandy Hall, 40, in early June, also in Baltimore.  No suspects have yet been identified in either of the homicide investigations.

The most recent annual NCAVP report on anti-LGBTQ violence in the United States signals a troubling spike in the number of violent attacks on transgender persons, especially male to female transgender women (M to F), and persons of color. The 2013 report details that “almost three quarters (72%) of  [LGBTQ] homicide victims were transgender women, and more than two-thirds (67%) of homicide victims were transgender women of color, yet transgender survivors and victims only represent 13% of total reports to NCAVP.”  The report goes on to say that transgender victims are more at risk of  injuries, and ethnic/racial minority transgender persons were more likely to be harmed in shelters than the population at large.  From the report: “Transgender men were 1.5 times more likely to experience injuries as a result of hate violence and 4.3 times more likely to be the target of hate violence in shelters when compared with other survivors. Transgender people of color were 1.8 times more likely to experience hate violence in shelters.” 

July 18, 2014 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, LGBTQ, Los Angeles Clippers, Maryland, National Basketball Association (NBA), National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), transgender persons, TransGriot, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Transgender Sibling of NBA Player Murdered in Baltimore; Second Trans Murder in Two Months

Transgender murder victim Mia Henderson, 26, was the sister of Los Angeles Clippers player Reggie Bullock, pictured here.

Transgender murder victim Mia Henderson, 26, was the sister of Los Angeles Clippers player Reggie Bullock, pictured here.

Baltimore, Maryland – The “severely traumatized” body of a transgender woman was discovered in Northwest Baltimore early Wednesday, and a National Basketball Player is grieving the death of his sister.  WJZ CBS TV is reporting that Mia Henderson, 26, died brutally in a manner reminiscent of another transgender homicide that took place in Baltimore just last month.  Her stricken brother, Reggie Bullock of the Los Angeles Clippers, tweeted his grief Wednesday, saying that his sibling “taught me how to live [my] own life. Love you so much.”  Bullock continued, “[She] never cared what others thought. Always tried to keep people smiling and would do anything for me.”

Baltimore Police who have an aborning epidemic of transgender murders in their city (three now since April 2013) were quick to address the public, and particularly the transgender community whose nerves are on edge at the news another of their number has been savagely killed.  Major Dennis Smith speaking for the Baltimore Police Department said that officers discovered Ms. Henderson’s body while serving an arrest warrant. “We do know that there was trauma to the body to indicate that there was a homicide,” he said.  Police Commissioner Anthony Batts pledged to find the killer, saying, “I will not slow down. I will not allow us to not stay on top of these. We will push extremely hard.”

While investigators do not know if the June 3 slaying of transwoman Kandy Hall is related to Ms. Henderson’s murder, members of the Baltimore transgender community have no doubt that it is–and they are alarmed.  Speaking to WJZ, Jaqueline Robarge said, “They are connected in that the vulnerability of the women are being preyed on.”  Lasaia Wade agreed, “It’s another trans woman, another sister of mine that’s died. And I’m afraid to even walk out the door.”  Mark McLaurin, another member of the Baltimore LGBT community, explained, “We are a small tight-knit collaborative community. so, it’s a very frightening time.”  The body of Ms. Hall was found stabbed to death in a Northeast Baltimore field just weeks ago.

The Baltimore Sun reports that Police Commissioner Batts answered questions from “a roomful” of concerned LGBT leaders Wednesday.  “We want to be strong partners with our LGBT community,” he sad. “Not by talk but by action.”  He pledged that detectives were working hard on both murder investigations.  But some members of the transgender community are not co-operating with police for fear of being targeted as prostitutes.  Equality Baltimore advocacy and programs director Keith Thirion weighed in, “It’s clear the community is concerned about the continued violence against transgender women, and we need to see action.”

A neighbor of Ms. Henderson who refused to give her name to The Sun out of fear of retribution said she believes she saw the killer walk down the alley where the victim’s savaged body was later found.  Around 5 a.m., the woman said, she saw a light skinned African American man lurking around the neighborhood.  He approached the woman and her friend and offered them $10 for “a date.”  She described the man as young, wearing a white T-shirt, a white baseball cap, and a pair of jeans.

July 16, 2014 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Equality Baltimore, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, LGBTQ, Los Angeles Clippers, Maryland, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Transgender Sibling of NBA Player Murdered in Baltimore; Second Trans Murder in Two Months

Florida Transwoman Discovered Burned to Death Behind Garbage Cans; Media Disrespect Her in Her Death

Transwoman Yaz'min Shanchez, 31, immolated to death behind a trash dumpster down a private road in Fort Myers {Facebook photo).

Transwoman Yaz’min Shanchez, 31, immolated to death behind a trash dumpster down a private road in Fort Myers {Facebook photo).

Fort Myers, Florida – A 31-year-old transgender woman of color was found burned to death in Fort Myers behind a garbage dumpster, according to the Naples News.  Yaz’min Shanchez who identified as a woman since 2004 was found on June 19 behind a Budget Truck Rental site on a dead-end road in an industrial part of the city. The victim’s father arrived at the scene to find his child’s body charred and bloody, according to reports in the media. Lt. Jay Rodriguez said that hate crime is not a dimension of the investigation as things now stand. Though authorities wish to rule out anti-transgender hatred as a motive, fire is often used as a weapon against LGBTQ people, and is often a tip off to homophobic and transphobic hate crimes.

“We have no indication at this time to say this was specifically done because it was a male living as a female or anything like that,” Lt. Rodriguez said. “If you really think about it, a hate crime is killing someone for a specific reason, being black, Hispanic, gay. We’re investigating as we would any other homicide.”  Yet, recent reports from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) show that while numbers of other bias-driven crimes are declining slightly, anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, especially those perpetrated against transgender people of color, are escalating.  The reports document that:

  • Transgender women, especially transgender women of color, were two to three times more likely to experience physical violence, police violence, and discrimination than victims who were not transgender women.
  • LGBTQ people of color were 1.8 times more likely to encounter hate-motivated violence than white LGBTQ people.

The Center for American Progress is sounding the alarm about the precipitous increase in anti-LGBTQ and anti-gender variant hate crimes in the U.S. by calling on law enforcement states like Florida to strengthen the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act by passing local and state protection statutes for transgender people, and by aggressively educating law enforcement agencies and the general public.

The immolation of Yaz’min Shanchez indicates that the work it will take to educate the media and law enforcement about the nature of transphobia and racism will be immense.  News reports quoting Shanchez’s family show that while they loved her, they had never reconciled themselves to her chosen way of identifying herself as a woman.  After ten years, her father was still referring to her as “he,” and “him.”  The police report led with the identification of the victim by a cisgender name, Eddie James Owen, though the family acknowledged to police repeatedly that she had identified as a transgender woman.  Naples News does little or nothing to redress this problem in their report of the murder. While how a person is identified within a family is a matter they must resolve themselves, there is no excuse for media and law enforcement to add disrespect of the victim’s self-identification by insisting on cisgender language.  The transgender community and its allies are already in enough pain, fear, and turmoil without compounding the problems surrounding Ms. Shanchez’s murder.

EDGE on the Net quotes GLAAD spokesperson Ross Murray as saying that whether Shanchez died of a transphobic hate crime or not, “no one deserves to be violently murdered and set on fire and put behind a Dumpster.” Murray added, “Particularly transgender women of color, face the most violence against them. I think that transgender people are still marginalized and stigmatized in our society. We tend to talk about transgender people in a way that discounts their experience and makes them a butt of a joke or deviant or suspicious and doesn’t take (their) whole life into account.”

Over 200 people participated in a Sunday vigil organized by The Southwest Florida Equality Coalition and the Center of Southwest Florida for Ms. Shanchez.  Naples News reports that Heather Lunsford, a founder of The Center, told the crowd, “We’re here to show unity. We’re in support of any community members, especially on the LGBT spectrum. [We’re here to bring awareness] especially because of the nature of the crime committed against [Shancez].” In a poignant moment, attendee Jenna Satterfield said to a reporter, “The amount of violence in this crime screams the perpetrators were trying to send a message. In spite of the fact we’re lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgendered, we’re no different than anybody else … We’re no different and we mean no harm.”

June 23, 2014 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Burning and branding, Center for American Progress, Florida, GLAAD, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, immolation, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Media Issues, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), Racism, Social Justice Advocacy, Southwest Florida Equality Coalition, The Center of Southwest Florida, transgender persons, transphobia, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Florida Transwoman Discovered Burned to Death Behind Garbage Cans; Media Disrespect Her in Her Death

New York Gay Man Attacked by Hasidic Jewish Safety Patrol Members; Five Arrested So Far

Taj Patterson, 22, gay man savagely attacked by Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg, NY shouting anti-gay slurs (NY Post images).

Taj Patterson, 22, gay man savagely attacked by Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg, NY shouting anti-gay slurs (NY Post images).

Williamsburg, New York – A gang of Hasidic Jews, some identified as members of the Satmar Hasidic Shomrim (Safety Patrol), shouted homophobic  and racial slurs as they brutally beat a gay black man in Williamsburg on December 1.  The victim, 22-year-old Taj Patterson, suffered multiple injuries including a crushed eye socket, a torn retina, and cuts to his right knee and hip.  This week, five hasidim were arrested for the attack by the New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force.  They have been charged with Gang Assault in the First Degree and a variety of other charges, though at this point a hate crimes charge has not been lodged, even considering the report of witnesses that a barrage of homophobic slurs accompanied the assault.  The charges carry a maximum sentence of 25 years for each assailant proved guilty.  Failed Messiah, a blog covering news in the Hasidic community since 2004, identified those arrested as  Pinchas Braver, 20, Aharon Hollender, 28, Abraham Winkler, 39, Mayer Herskovic, 21, and Joseph Fried, 25. Two of the alleged assailants fled from the United States to Israel immediately following the incident, but were apprehended there.

The five suspects and a number of other hasidim who allegedly participated in the attack are all members of the Satmar Hasidic Jewish community, a large and influential ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect with pre-World War II roots in Hungary.  According to A Life Apart: Hasidism in America, the Satmar Hasidim number at least 45,000 in Williamsburg today.  The Shomrim is a volunteer neighborhood watch drawn from the Satmar community.  Activists in Williamsburg quickly denied the involvement of the Shomrim in the attack, but according to the Brooklyn Paper, the denials left room to conclude that some of the attackers were indeed members of the watch group.  An Orthodox rabbi who decried the attack did not mention the  participation of the Shomrim in the December attack.  Rabbi David Niederman, president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, said, “The bedrock of the Williamsburg community is tolerance for one and another. Any act of violence by any individual, against anyone, for whatever reason, is condemned in the strongest possible terms.”  

EDGE on the Net reports that Patterson is a fashion student studying at the New York City College of Technology.  While he says he does not remember much from the attack that occurred with swift savagery, he clearly recalls at least one of his assailants shouting, “Stay down, faggot, stay the fuck down,” as he kicked Patterson in the face.  Since the horrific incident, Patterson has undergone surgery to repair his torn retina.

The true heroine of the whole bloody affair was the driver of Bus 57 who slammed on her brakes and stepped out of her bus snapping pictures of the assault with her cell phone, according to the New York Post.  The NYPD say that the attacking gang fled the scene when they realized she was taking their pictures.

April 25, 2014 Posted by | African Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Brooklyn, Gang violence, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hasidic Jews, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Israel, LGBTQ, New York, New York City, Racism, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Murdered Lesbian Couple: Did Daddy Do It?

James Cosby, father of  murdered lesbian Britney Cosby, and suspect in her murder along with her spouse, Crystal Jackson.

James Cosby, father of slain lesbian Britney Cosby, and suspect in her murder and that of her spouse, Crystal Jackson.

Galveston, Texas – The father of a lesbian has been arrested by the Galveston authorities in relation to the murder of his daughter and her spouse.  The bodies of the two young women  were dumped outside a Port Bolivar convenience store and discovered early on March 7, according to KHOU News.  James Larry Cosby, 46, father of Britney Cosby, has been arrested by Galveston Sheriff’s officers and charged with two counts of tampering with evidence related to the murder of his daughter and her life partner, Crystal Jackson.  Officials say that the charges may be shortly upgraded to murder.  KTRK 13 reports that incriminating evidence linking the murders of the lesbians led investigators to arrest Britney Cosby’s father, an ex-con and sex crime offender, and hold him in the Galveston County Jail on $500, 000 bond pending other charges.

The suspect was part of a large crowd of friends and family at a community vigil held on Wednesday for the two young women, and investigators interrogated him at the conclusion of the vigil.  “His house was a secondary crime scene, from the evidence that we saw when we went to interview him and we did recover certain parts of evidence that are here at our sheriff’s office now to be sent to the lab,” Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said to reporters.

Autopsy reports say that Britney Cosby died from blunt force trauma, and that Crystal Jackson was shot to death.  Investigators believe the two women, both 24, were killed at another location, and then transported to the quiet coastal town and left beside a garbage dumpster as if they were no better than trash.

KHOU’s reportage uncovered Cosby’s violent past.  His ex-wife Loranda McDonald said that she left him because he was so violent, and she and other Cosby family members say that he was “unhappy” about his daughter’s being a lesbian.  “He said it to me a few times that he did not like the idea of her being gay,” said McDonald.  Detectives indicated that, in addition to blood stains in Mr. Cosby’s home, they found a copy of the Holy Koran open to a passage some fundamentalist Muslims use to denigrate and condemn homosexual conduct.  Mr. Cosby is not cooperating with his interrogators, and since no motive has been officially established, no hate crime has yet been charged against him–but anti-gay hate crime charges are definitely on everyone’s mind who knew of Mr. Cosby’s animosity towards gays and lesbians.

Vigils and commemorations are being planned throughout Texas. Later in the coming week, a vigil is being organized in Dallas by c.d. kirven, a local advocate for LGBT justice and equality.  On a Facebook post, c.d. said, “I still plan to hold vigils next week and will keep those interested update! Please pray for families!”  The couple leaves a 5-year-old daughter behind to face life without her moms.

While the language of caution and hesitation is still being used in relation to this heinous crime, should the allegations against James Larry Cosby prove true, there should be little doubt of the horrific potency of heterosexism, patriarchy, and homophobia–powerful enough to invade the most sacred and intimate of human relationships, that of a father and his daughter, and to leave a small child parentless.

March 14, 2014 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bludgeoning, GLBTQ, gun violence, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Koran, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, religious intolerance, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

%d bloggers like this: