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.
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.
Orlando, Florida – A lone, heavily armed gunman has attacked a gay nightclub at 2 a.m. June 12 in what NBC News describes as “the worst mass shooting in American history.” Fifty are dead, fifty-three are wounded and in area hospitals. The gunman, who took at least one hostage, was killed in a shootout with SWAT Team members. One police officer was wounded in the gun battle.
Pulse Nightclub billed as “the hottest gay nightclub in Orlando” erupted in gunfire as approximately 320 patrons were enjoying Latin night. The carnage was horrific. Officials are still clearing the building of bodies and meticulously sweeping for evidence. Survivors describe barely escaping with their lives. Family members and loved ones are seeking their relatives, lovers and friends. Authorities are trying to reach the families of the victims, and HIPPA restrictions have been waived so that loved ones can be given information on the wounded and deceased.
The gunman is identified as Omar Mateen, born 1986, but living in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. He was married, with a three year old child. His father, contacted by NBC News, said that there was no religious motivation behind the attack. His son was outraged, he said, after seeing two gay men kissing in Miami recently in view of his wife and child. The anti-gay motive has yet to be confirmed by officials. He was armed with an automatic rifle and a hand gun. Police report that he was wearing body armor.
The siege lasted for three hours before Mateen was killed by law enforcement. Apparently he was named on a watch list of persons of interest by the FBI, but was not considered seriously, and his name was dismissed over three years ago. Mateen is reported to have an Associates degree in criminology. He may have had a security job. Officials have much more yet to reveal about him, but are not yet ready to reveal what they know and what they suspect.
A state of emergency has been declared for Orlando and Orange County. Blood donations are being called for by health authorities. Counseling is being provided for the gay community at the GLBT Community Center on Mills Avenue.
The Orlando LGBT community is in shock in the wake of this unfolding terror attack. Whatever the motivation, this attack is one of a long list of other hate driven acts of violence against gays, lesbians, bisexual people, and transgender persons. In terms of mass attacks driven by homophobia and heterosexism, this is the most serious in the nation’s history. It calls to mind the horror of the UpStairs Lounge arson in New Orleans in 1973. Gay and lesbian nightclubs across the nation will be on alert, as will Pride Month celebrations and observances.
Unfinished Lives expresses our sincere heartbreak at this awful, senseless loss of life. Coverage and analysis will continue.
Washington, DC – The Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued its 2013 hate crimes statistics today: Hate Crime Statistics, 2013, the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s first publication to present data collected under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2009. A snapshot of the findings may be garnered from the press release that may be accessed here. Hate Crimes against persons because of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender non-conformity comprised over one fifth of the total. 20.2 percent were targeted because of anti-sexual orientation bias, 0.3 percent for anti-gender bias, and 0.5 percent for anti-gender identity bias. 1,461 persons were victimized because of bias against sexual orientation.
To be a gay man, or to be perceived as a gay man, remains the most dangerous sexual orientation identification in the United States. 60.9 percent were victims of crimes motivated by their offenders’ anti-gay (male) bias. 22.5 percent were victims of anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (mixed group) bias. 13.1 percent were victims of anti-lesbian bias. 1.8 percent were victims of anti-bisexual bias. 1.6 percent were victims of anti-heterosexual bias.
Anti-sexual orientation hate crimes add up to the second largest hate crime category reported by the FBI this year. First in number are anti-racial hate crimes, and third in number are hate crimes based on antipathy of one’s religion. A staggering 7,242 persons in the United States were victims of hate crimes last year. Five murders and 21 rapes (15 from agencies that collected data using the revised rape definition and 6 from agencies that used the legacy definition) were reported as hate crimes. While FBI data are collected from cooperating law enforcement agencies around the country, most experts agree that the numbers of hate crimes reported are a severe undercount.
Most hate crime incidents (31.5 percent) occurred in or near residences/homes. More than 18 percent (18.1) occurred on highways/roads/alleys/streets/sidewalks; 8.3 percent occurred at schools/colleges; 5.7 percent happened at parking/drop lots/garages; and 3.5 percent took place in churches/synagogues/temples/mosques. The location was considered other/unknown for 13.2 percent of hate crime incidents. The remainder of hate crime incidents took place at other specified or multiple locations.
The complete FBI report may be accessed here, complete with tables and commentary.
New York, New York – Violence against LGBTQ people soared beyond 2,000 reported incidents in 2013, according the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Statistics released in the NCAVP annual report on Thursday showed queer folk living at the intersection of homophobia and other forms of discrimination such as race, gender, and citizenship status are most at risk of being targeted for harm in the United States.
The Advocate reports that the level of violence remains consistent with 2012’s statistics, varying little in either direction–still registering one of the highest numbers of anti-LGBTQ violent crimes since the NCAVP has kept records. For example, though the number of murders of LGBTQ people fell to 18 reported homicides in 2013 from the all-time high of 25 in 2012, those most likely to die because of their sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender identity were people of color and transgender women. 89 percent of the victims were people of color, and 72 percent were transgender women. “What emerges clearly in the findings of this year’s report is that many of the people at risk for the most severe hate violence are at the intersection of multiple forms of oppression and discrimination including racism and citizenship status,” said Aaron Eckhardt of the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Region. “Anti-LGBTQ hate violence can no longer be viewed in isolation from other forms of violence that our community members are experiencing based on their identities.”
Generally speaking, the NCAVP Report shows:
- A substantial increase in the severity of the violence reported against LGBTQ people
- Transgender people, especially transgender women, undocumented people, racial and ethnic minority people, and gay men face the most savage violence
- Transgender women, people of color, and gay men face the greatest risk of hate crime murder
- While danger from bias driven violence is still a public matter for many, occurring in the streets of our cities, other places once thought to be “safe” have begun to show alarming increases in attacks, such as private residences, workplaces, and shelters
- Fewer victims of anti-LGBTQ violence are reporting crimes to the police, and those who do report increased hostility toward them by the very law enforcement organizations pledged to protect them
On this final alarming finding, Christopher Argyros of the Anti-Violence Project of the Los Angeles LGBT Center says, “For some of our most impacted communities, especially transgender people and transgender people of color, the hostility and violence faced at the hands of the police [when they do report crimes] is at an alarming level.”
These statistics should be read in the context of a severe undercount of bias driven violent crimes against all those living at the intersection of anti-LGBTQ and other minority forms of discrimination. Every agency and expert charged with reporting the number of hate crimes against the queer community in the United States, including the FBI, acknowledges that the statistics on report are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the actual experiences of violence against LGBTQ people. For example, the current NCAVP annual report, Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities in the United States in 2013, recognized as the most comprehensive snapshot of anti-LGBTQ violence in existence, is based on data from no more than 14 anti-violence programs in 13 states across the country and Puerto Rico. States reporting were: Ohio, Illinois, Colorado, California, Michigan, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Minnesota, and Arizona. Reportage is voluntary, with many law enforcement organizations neglecting to report anything, either from bias, apathy, lack of funds to do so, or a combination of these passive aggressive motives.
Hillsboro, Oregon – A bizarre anti-gay crime case at a busy highway street crossing has attracted national attention as Federal prosecutors issued hate crimes charges against a man whose homophobic rage was sparked by the sight of a pink poodle. The assailant, George Mason Jr., 22, was charged this week with a violation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act for attacking a gay man with a heavy bolt cutter and screaming anti-gay slurs during a peaceful, midday stroll with his boyfriend and their pink-dyed poodle on March 1. Multiple witnesses say Mason shouted slurs at the gay couple from his SUV, did a U turn, raced back to the intersection, and allegedly attacked David Beltier with his fists and the bolt cutter. Beltier sustained blows to the upper arm, and to the back of his head. The assault could very nearly have cost Beltier his life.
Portland, Oregon court documents record the hate crime in legal language, but preserve the horror of the assault, coming from a complete stranger: “(Mason) willfully caused bodily injury and, through the use of a dangerous weapon, attempted to cause bodily injury to (Beltier), who is gay, because of (Beltier’s) actual and perceived sexual orientation.” The Associated Press, in a story carried by the Columbus (IN) Republic, also reports that Mason faces Oregon state charges including second-degree intimidation, second-degree assault, unlawful use of a weapon, and reckless driving. The intimidation charge is a bias-motivation charge in the Oregon state code. Mason’s wife, Saraya Gardner, who was in Mason’s vehicle at the time of the attack, has also been charged in the case for obstructing justice.
In an interview in Komonews.com, Beltier and his partner, Jeremy Mark, recounted that they were crossing the street with their pink-dyed poodle, Beauty, when the attack occurred. Beauty, explained Beltier and Mark, had been harmlessly dyed pink with Kool-Aid for a bit of pre-Easter fun, and to match their two other pastel-dyed dogs. The sight of the pink poodle proved too much for Mason, who screamed profanities at the couple from his moving vehicle. The intersection was filled with witnesses who blared their horns in protest of the attacker. Beltier credits the witnesses with saving his life. “If I didn’t hear all the other people honking, all the people seeing what was going on, he could have probably severely hurt me, maybe even killed me right there and then,” he said. The New York Daily News reports Mark’s account of the slurs Mason hurled at his boyfriend. “[Mason] was saying, “Your poodle is a weird color and that’s just un-American” and “f— you, you f–s” and shouting,” Mark said.
Beltier then picked up the story for Komo News: “After that, [Mason] turns around, he goes back to his car, runs back to his car and brings out this long wrench-looking crowbar tool or something like that, and he comes back after me.” Mason then struck Beltier on the upper arm and in the back of the head. Beltier’s boyfriend was frantic with fear for his lover’s life. “I just couldn’t believe it,” said Mark. “I was shouting at the guy to stop. There’s no need for violence. There’s nothing to provoke him. … I was fearing for his life.”
As Mason raced away from the scene of the crime, witnesses tried to block his vehicle, and one witness took off after him, capturing Mason’s license plate number. The information led to the arrest of Mason and his wife, Gardner.
Though officials advised the gay couple to eliminate the bright pink color from his pet’s fur, Beltier and Mark remain adamant. They say that they did nothing wrong, and they are not going to let fear dictate their lives. They just allowed Beauty’s fur to grow out naturally over time.
Memphis, Tennessee – A lesbian suffered a brutal beating Sunday, June 24 at a Memphis bar and restaurant while casually speaking with a former high school classmate, WMC-TV 5 reports. Jackie Lloyd told reporters that the attack which broke her nose in two places and left her face severely swollen came out of the blue. “I think it has everything to do with my sexuality,” Lloyd said.
Brandon Hooper, 28, boyfriend of Lloyd’s classmate, charged across the patio of Celtic Crossing, shouting gay slurs. According to Lloyd, Huffington Post reports the moment of the unprovoked violence: “This guy says you f**king dyke and slams me right in the nose and I fell back about three feet… he called me a f**king lesbian, [he said] ‘problem solved, you f**cking lesbian.'” Police apprehended Hooper and charged him with aggravated assault for the attack. When questioned by the press about possible hate crimes charges in the case, the Memphis District Attorney said that such charges would have to come from the FBI. Lloyd says her contacts in the Memphis Police Department indicate that an FBI investigation into her case may be pending.
Lloyd says she had never met Hooper before the assault. She believes that his homophobia triggered the brutality simply because she was speaking to Hooper’s girlfriend. Lloyd wants her chance to confront her attacker, and give him a piece of her mind. “You know, I’d like to say to him I want to live a normal life just like everybody else,” Lloyd said to WMC-TV. “And what you did is terrible,” she added.
For Lloyd and the besieged Tennessee LGBTQ community, intolerance is an everyday fact of life. Right wing politicians in the legislature of the Volunteer State have tried to ban the use of the words “gay” and “lesbian” in Tennessee public schools (Don’t Say “Gay” Bill), worked to make bathrooms off limits to transgender persons (Bathroom Bill), and have attempted to protect bias driven speech against LGBTQ school students when the perpetrators claim a religious motivation (License to Bully Bill).
The attack against Lloyd marks the second grave anti-lesbian incident in recent weeks. Two teenage lesbian lovers were shot near Corpus Christi, Texas on June 10, leaving one girl dead and the other seriously wounded.