Sarasota, Florida – The Associated Press carried this headline at 2 a.m. on September 11: Investigators Search for Man Who Set Fire at Gay Nightclub. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department officials say that neighbors of the popular gay nightclub reported it being on fire at approximately 9 a.m. this past Sunday. Officers are searching for a man in a dark, long-sleeved shirt and light colored shorts, carrying a gas can, who walked up the door of Throb Nightclub, and had his image captured by a surveillance video camera. He allegedly started the fire and ran from the scene. Authorities of the Florida State Fire Marshall’s Arson Unit and the sheriff’s office are asking the cooperation of the public in the search for a hate-filled perpetrator.
This troubling story caught the attention of Vicki Nantz, documentary film maker and LGBT advocate, who traces this anti-LGBT violence back to the speech and actions of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk jailed for contempt of court for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, and her attorney and co-founder of arch-conservative Liberty Counsel Mat Staver. Nantz, Producer/Director of films investigating violence against women and the LGBT community, warns her Facebook friends on this 9/11, “Be safe out there, everyone. Hate is in the air.”
What 9/11 has to do with an outbreak of anti-LGBT violence in southwest Florida fourteen years since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center Towers, the Pentagon, and the highjacking of United Airlines 93, drew the attention of Diana Butler Bass, the widely acclaimed commentator on the United States religious scene. Bass wrote on her Facebook wall for September 11, “One day, someone will write a book about how, in the early 21st century, we went from fearing and hating terrorists to fearing and hating people of differing political opinions. The sad and haunting legacy of 9/11 is thus.”
The disrubing irony of the heightened atmosphere of anti-LGBT rhetoric and violence on the 2015 anniversary of 9/11 noted by Nantz and Butler Bass is the courageous role openly gay heroes played on September 11, 2001. The Rev. Fr. Mychal Judge, Franciscan Chaplain of FDNY and one of the first firefighters to die in the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers, won his title as “the Saint of 9/11” that day. Avid rugby player Mark Bingham was one of the brave and desperate men who stormed the cockpit of UA Flight 93 over Pennsylvania, sacrificing himself to bring down the jet liner before its hijackers succeeded in crashing it into the White House or the U.S. Capitol Building. Both were openly gay men who threw themselves into the breach for their fellow human beings at a time of crisis and disaster. Both died sacrificially, not as any of the demeaning epithets being aimed at LGBT people by Cruz, Huckabee, Staver and their ilk since the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all fifty states, but as American heroes.
Butler Bass makes a convincing connection between the fear of terrorists stoked by politicians and pundits since the original September 11, and the demonization of persons of differing political views today. Fear not only twists the guts of the public. Its primitive energy offers craven haters with an ideological agenda to advance a ready vehicle to advance it. And she is also right that fear of the other has seeped so deeply into the American psyche that no community is immune from the temptation to spread rumor and innuendo against those who oppose them politically. Some LGBT people, for example, have indulged themselves in making cruel comments about the physical appearance of Kim Davis and her marital history. The vulnerability of LGBT people in America, however, calls for a reconsideration of post-9/11 manipulation of public fear.
Nantz helps us see that the threat of acts of violence against the lives and property of LGBT people is not simply another example of the political system in the Washington beltway gone awry. It has real consequences, from the arson at a gay nightclub to the epidemic murders of transgender women of color throughout the country. The hate in the air in post-9/11 America is a combination of the historical cultural loathing of LGBT people, and the cynical manipulation of a once-supreme white patriarchal group by the likes of presidential candidates and their legal and media henchmen. While they would deny any connection between their incitement of anti-LGBT sentiment and any outbreak of violence, their words and deeds are in the background of every hate crime perpetrated against the sexual and non-normative gender communities of America, and the reach of their cynical ideology is increasingly global. This anniversary of 9/11, our LGBT neighbors, families, co-workers, and friends are less safe in their persons, jobs, and property than they were even a year ago.
How we have declined from honoring the LGBT heroes of September 11 for their courage and sacrifice, to this 9/11 anniversary when anti-LGBT fear is being manipulated by calls for so-called “Religious Liberty” (read, “the re-imposition of oppression against gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people”), is the book that cries out for someone to write. Hate is in the air this 9/11, and what it portends is something every American should be worried about.
Omaha, Nebraska – A 23-year-old man sits in jail today, charged with felony arson for burning his Lesbian neighbors’ Rainbow flag, and for resisting arrest after he stole the flag from their porch Sunday morning. WOWT reports that Cameron Mayfield, who lives down the street within eyeshot of Ariann Anderson and Jess Meadows-Anderson, grabbed their pride flag, set it afire, and drove down the street in an act the couple says was a hate-filled attack on them.
Around midnight Sunday morning, the two spouses were awakened by what they first thought was an attempt to break in their home. They checked to see that their daughter was unharmed, and then caught sight of the source of the commotion. Looking out their window, they say a familiar van racing down the street with someone brandishing what looked like a burning stick out of the van’s driver side window. It took some moments before the Meadows-Andersons realized that the “burning stick” was once their Rainbow pride flag they flew from their porch.
The women say that the crime rattled them, not so much because they feared the act of burning their pride flag itself. It was the hate behind the act that continues to disturb them. “It goes beyond vandalism or a threat,” they said to WOWT. “That’s a direct attack.” In another interview with KETV, Jess Meadows-Anderson said, “The actual act itself isn’t terrifying or anything like that, but the intent is.”
“That flag has been hanging on the back of our house, on the back deck, for five years,” Meadows-Anderson told KETV News. “In light on the ruling that we are all waiting for, we decided to move it to the front porch as of last Thursday. This is the first time we’ve had anything like this happen.”
The ruling that they are awaiting, of course, is for the judicial system to strike down Nebraska’s same-sex marriage ban, making it legal for a same-sex couple to be married in the Corn Husker State. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Joseph Batailon issued an injunction striking down the state’s ban enacted in 2000, according to LGBTQNation. In 2011, the Meadows-Andersons were legally married in a large ceremony in Iowa, but they intend to marry in Nebraska when it becomes legal to do so.
The couple’s focus on love and happiness makes the flag theft and burning by their young neighbor all the more unsettling to them. Ariann Anderson says she has no recollection of any run in with Cameron Mayfield before, but his father told WOWT News that his son had mentioned a previous encounter with Anderson that bothered him. Mayfield’s father also said that the night before his son burnt the flag, the young man was drinking heavily and dwelling too much on losing his job.
The Lesbian couple say they almost feel sorry for their young neighbor, since this felony will follow him for a long time, and complicate his life. But, on the other hand, they also say that this act of discord and hate makes them wonder who else out there has it in for them and their family. Rather than be intimidated by the attack on their personhood, the couple has replaced the destroyed Rainbow flag with an even larger on that now proudly waves from their front porch in the same bracket the other one occupied before Sunday morning.
The good news in all of this is that the Omaha police acted quickly, and within 45 minutes they had located Mayfield’s van and made the arrest. Though the District Attorney has not yet said that this incident was a bias-motivated crime, police are investigating as if it were one. Mayfield’s father, on the other hand, says that he can’t imagine that his son would act out of hatred against neighbors who live only 10 houses down the street.
In the meantime, the Meadows-Andersons have the more pressing problem of explaining to their daughter why this happened on their quiet street. And Cameron Mayfield awaits trial for the charge of 2nd degree felony arson.
Was this an anti-LGBT hate crime, or a stupid mistake under the influence of alcohol? We at Unfinished Lives Blog suspect it is pretty much equally both. Anti-LGBTQ hatred is far from over in this country, no matter what surveys may say. People in Omaha know that, now.
Fresno, California – Two gay men well-known in Fresno as drag artists say the arson attack on their vehicle was a hate crime solely because of their sexuality. Local law enforcement authorities are investigating the possibility that they are right. ABC Action News 30 reports that Brandon Jackson and his partner Chris Ruiz rushed to stop the fire that had been set to their SUV, but too late to save thousands of dollars of wigs and costumes they use in one of the most successful drag shows in Fresno County.
Ruiz told Fresno County Sheriff’s Deputies that as he ran out of the house to help douse the flames consuming their vehicle, a former lover of his partner’s mother confronted him with a torrent of anti-gay slurs. According to Ruiz, Chuck Bullock Jr. yelled at him, claiming to have set the blaze, “I’m lighting your f***ing car on fire f****t!” Jackson and Ruiz also say that Bullock, whose father was a Christian minister, demeaned them with a flood of Bible verses, condemning them for being abominations. The use of anti-LGBTQ slurs is a prime marker suggesting that the attack was bias motivated, and Deputies are investigating for a hate crime dimension.
After the attack, Bullock allegedly took responsibility for the crime in text messages sent to Jackson’s mother, his ex-lover. He used more anti-gay slurs in the texts and accentuated his profanity with the threat, “I’m going to burn you down!” Officers went to Bullock’s father’s home Tuesday looking for the suspect, but were unsuccessful.
ABC 30 videoed the wreckage of the totaled SUV: the melted interior, the charred remains of gowns and wigs, and even the imprints of Jackson’s hand on the hood where he vainly attempted to put the fire out with his bare hands. Jackson managed to put out the fire with a garden hose. “The smell was god-awful and then it just looked as if it was melting – waxworks — it just looked like it was melting,” he told ABC 30 reporters. “And this was because, simply because of my sexuality.” Thankfully, the loss of the vehicle, while costly, could have been far worse, and Jackson and Ruiz know it. Their SUV is a total loss, but they were the real target. They could have been immolated in their own home.
McConnelsville, Ohio – Eight quarter horses, one of them a week-old foal, perished in a barn fire on Monday in what a fire marshal is calling arson but neighbors are calling an anti-gay hate crime. Brent Whitehouse, a gay insurance company owner who loved and trained horses, awoke late Sunday night to the roar of fire in his barn where his beloved horses were stabled. He immediately called 911, but it was too late to save them, according to the Zanesville Times Recorder. “I just don’t understand someone wanting to kill innocent animals,” Whitehouse said to Zanesville reporters. “It’s like killing a child. Those horses never did anything to hurt anyone.” He is still in shock about the horrible incident that took the lives of Elvis, Barney, Floyd, Love, Bella, Ethel, and Princess and her month-old foal, Buddy. Love was pregnant, and about to drop her foal, he said. Whitehouse tried to break open the door of the inferno, while he heard kicking and screaming inside the barn. It was impossible to free the horses. The heat was so intense, it melted a tractor inside the structure. Volunteer firemen from the M&M Fire Department in Morgan County responded to the 911 call and fought the flames for two hours before bringing the fire under control. Neighbors told the Times Recorder that they could see the flames licking the sky for miles away from the Whitehouse farm. A spokesman for the fire marshal’s office, Shane Cartmill, said that soon after arriving at the scene, they knew a crime had been committed. Ugly epithets were painted on what was left of the barn, “Burn in Hell,” and “Fags and freaks” could be made out on the smoldering walls still standing. The horses were valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the impact of the crime runs far deeper than economic loss. “The horses cannot be replaced,” Whitehouse said, because of all the love and training that went into each one of them. “Whoever did this had to walk right by all those horses, including the baby,” he went on to say, “and didn’t care that they were killing a gentle, loving animal.” His friends have no doubt this was a hate crime associated with Whitehouse’s sexual orientation. “They obviously don’t know him very well,“ his friend Bobbie Nelson said to The Advocate, “because he’s a sweet-hearted person and how he lives his lifestyle is nobody’s business but his own.” The Human Rights Campaign was alerted to the possibility of a hate crime early, according to Jeremy Penrod, Deputy Field Director. Penrod believes that the Matthew Shepard Act will likely not apply to this crime, because it was a crime against property, and not against someone’s life and limb. HRC is coordinating efforts to support Whitehouse through Stonewall Columbus and Equality Ohio. Citizens of Morgan County are responding with support of their own for a man loved and respected by his friends and neighbors. The investigation of the horrific crime is proceeding, with LGBTQ advocacy groups closely monitoring the responses of fire and police officials. Whitehouse still cries when he remembers the tiny foal, Buddy. As he told the Times Recorder, “He was only a week old. I just had him and his mother in the arena and he was coming up and smelling me and checking me out. He was cute as a button.”
Clayton, NC – A gay couple anonymously hiding in a motel out of fear for their safety, were burned out of house and home on Friday. Neighbors say the gay men suffered at least three deliberate acts of anti-gay harassment for over a year – but the neighbors are too scared to identify themselves, either. So Johnston County law enforcement, working from a state arson statute that doesn’t allow for violence against gay men as a hate crime, have determined that the burnout was “just arson.” Like 9/11 was “just some plane crashes.” Or like the murder of Ugandan gay activist David Kato was “just a robbery gone bad.” North Carolina has not seen fit to include sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression as protected classes in its existing hate crimes laws. So, an act of blatant hate crime terror that holds a gay couple and their whole neighborhood in fear is playing with matches. That is all this deed will remain officially unless the U.S. Justice Department invokes the Matthew Shepard Act to rectify neglectful conduct by the Johnston County Sheriff’s Department. WRAL.com interviewed a frightened, anonymous neighbor, who is sure that the three incidents of harassment were related to anti-gay hatred: “A note with derogatory language was left in the mailbox, an anti-gay slur was written on the house with marker, and the tires of a car parked in the garage were slashed.” The gay men’s friend and neighbor continued, “I felt sick to my stomach. I felt so sorry for the two gentlemen. They lost everything. We do believe that this is a hate crime.” The couple was out of town when other residents in the Winston Pointe subdivision discovered the fire belching from the brick veneer home at 1:30 a.m. Friday and called the alarm in. Flames quickly engulfed the structure, gutting it and destroying all the couple’s possessions. The American Red Cross has stepped in to offer food, clothing, and insurance contacts to the victims. Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell says that the investigation has turned up no suspects yet. Bizzell acknowledged that he knew of two out of the three incidents of harassment against the gay men this past year, but he would not say which two.
Carrollton, Georgia – A 43-year-old, disabled gay man was targeted by arsonists as he slept in his bedroom. Christopher Staples, affectionately called “Brother” by acquaintances in this Appalachian foothills community, was lucky to escape with his life on Sunday, January 23, when his house was set ablaze in the predawn hours by charcoal fluid squirted into water pipe access holes in the home’s kitchen area. The victim called the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department to report that about 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, while he was watching television and finishing a cigarette, someone threw a heavy rock with a note attached threatening his life for being gay. Staples and his family sounded the alarm for the Sheriff’s Department again at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, reporting that he had nearly burned alive, and that his small house was engulfed in flames. Staples, who has been open about his gay orientation for thirty years, told WSBTV 2 that the note read: “We know you’re gay. And God hates gays. You won’t be raping anybody in the county and God’s going to make sure that you burn in hell . . .My daddy will make sure you burn in hell.” Staples revealed further details on the note to the Georgia Voice. The note, he said, had algebra homework written on one side, and “On the other side in pencil, it called me an ‘AIDS infested faggot’ and ‘God hates gays’ and ‘God will make sure all gays burn in hell.” After Staples had gone to sleep, he was awakened by a repetitive “popping” noise which made him think someone was throwing rocks at the house again. When he pushed back the covers, his comforter was already melting, and the bed was wreathed in thick smoke. “The house was black. And all I could see was an orange glow behind my head,” Staples said in the WSB interview. Staples believes God “held his hand” led him to safety, according to the GA Voice. The Sheriff’s Department is heading the investigation, assisted by the FBI. Possible hate crimes angles are being considered, but the case for what most anywhere else would be automatically considered an anti-gay hate crime will prove difficult to make in Georgia, one of only five states that has no LGBTQ protections in its laws. The only way the crime could be prosecuted as a hate crime would be by invoking the federal Matthew Shepard Act, something unlikely in rural west Georgia. The Times-Georgian reports that a $10,000 reward has been offered for information leading to arrests and convictions in the Staples case from the Georgia Arson Control Program. Initially, a Christian hate group was reported to have carried out the hit on the Carrollton native, but as the investigation proceeds, the identification of the perpetrators becomes less clear. Some local church groups have actually reached out to assist Staples, but whether out of a sense of Christian solidarity with the gay man, or in order to counter anti-Christian publicity is a matter of interpretation. On the whole, according to Staples’s family, gay outreach from around the country has outstripped the response of local straight groups and individuals. Now, two weeks after the attack, Staples is trying to put his life back together, and cope with the idea that someone tried to kill him in his sleep. “I know it happened, you look out there at my place and you see that,” Staples told the Times-Georgian. “But the severity of it hasn’t hit me. The fact that someone threw a rock through my window, told me they were going to kill me and then tried to do it is what doesn’t seem possible. I hear that whoever did this could get life in prison and I think, no way. But then my friends are like ‘Dude, someone tried to burn you alive.’ I mean, I still can’t grasp the thought of that. Why? I just don’t understand.”
Vonore, Tennessee – The home of a Monroe County, Tennessee lesbian couple was burned to the ground and their garage defaced by anti-gay graffiti in what is believed to be a hate crime. On Saturday, September 4, the house was set ablaze, and the word “Queer” was spray painted on two sides of the family garage, which was left standing. WATE, Channel 6, Knoxville reports that the couple, Carol and Laura Stutte, had been threatened in August by a neighbor who said he was going to burn their house down because they were lesbian. He also threatened their lives, according to Stutte. They reported the threat to the police, but there is no report as to the status of the complaint at this time. The couple, who have been together 15 years, moved to Vonore from Oklahoma. The crime occurred while the Stutte’s were celebrating their fifth anniversary in Tennessee with friends in Nashville. At present, the couple is in a safe house in Nashville while the investigation is going forward. They have no plans to return to the property, and are staying away out of prudence and fear. Other neighbors have defended the couple, saying that lesbians make good neighbors, and are welcome in Vonore. Members of the community, especially PFLAG of Maryville, and the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church are responding with funds and household goods, since the couple has lost everything. As Becky Lucas, president of PFLAG Maryville said, “We are hopeful that the authorities will investigate it fully and that this couple will get justice. I think this happens every day to people in this community and many times they don’t speak up because they are afraid. Everybody deserves basic human rights.” Lucas went on to say to reporters, “We want to send a message to this couple and other couples like them — you do have many allies in this area. Many people in the community are just as outraged as I am.” Care2.com reports that no determination has yet been made by local authorities about whether the incident will be classified an hate crime. According to Care2, “Detective Travis Jones, with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, has confirmed that the department is investigating the arson with the aid of the state Bomb and Arson Squad, that there are ‘people of interest’ in the case.” The lesbians say that they would like to remain in the area, but they would never rebuild on the same site.
Brewster County, TX – Two men have been arrested and charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 19-year-old man in Terlingua, Texas on Sunday, December 6 in what is unfolding into a possible anti-gay hate crime story. While the sexual orientation of the victim remains officially undisclosed, local sources allege that the teenager is gay. Daniel Martinez, 46, has been charged with sexual assault and is being held on $35,000 bond. Kristopher Buchanan, 27, is being held on outstanding warrants from other counties. The suspects are expected to face additional charges. Pink News summarizes reports from Texas saying that the victim ,whose name has not been released by law enforcement, was abducted outside a bar in Terlingua, a town on the Texas-Mexico Border, and driven in his own car to a remote area in southern Brewster County. The Big Bend Gazette reports that the youth was sexually assaulted by the pair before his car was set afire. He was forced into a private residence where his attackers sexually assaulted him again. He managed to escape, running three miles across the desert to a highway where a Brewster County Sheriff’s Deputy spotted him and took him to a hospital for treatment. Officials say that the victim is currently recovering in an undisclosed location. Law enforcement has been tight-lipped about the crime, but both local and LGBT press have speculated that the assault was an anti-gay hate crime. Some have gone so far as to equate the attack with the fatal pistol-whipping of hate crime victim Matthew Shepard. When questioned about the investigation, Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson told reporters that the case is being treated as a kidnapping, sexual assault and auto arson. “Everybody’s in jail,” said Dodson. “That’s the best part.” A rally was held last night in support of the victim.