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

Trans Woman Savagely Attacked in Atlanta’s Little Five Points; Details Still Emerging

Video capture of stomping attack on trans woman in Atlanta.  GA Voice image.

Video capture of stomping attack on trans woman in Atlanta. GA Voice image.

Little Five Points, Atlanta, Georgia – A trans woman yet to be identified was brutally stomped in an attack following a verbal engagement with a group of men in the Little Five Points section of Atlanta.  GA Voice reported the attack after videos appeared showing a shouting match between the trans woman and her unidentified attacker.  The video shows the explicit moment as the attacker, a much larger man than his victim, stomps on her repeatedly.  The extent of the victim’s injuries is unknown, but must have been severe.

Atlanta transgender people are on edge ever since two trans women were assaulted on the MARTA in May of this year. Two men were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct in the wake of that crime.  Now that another trans woman has been targeted for violence, the Atlanta transgender and social advocacy communities are up in arms.  Most disturbing to the trans community is that bystanders in both assaults did nothing to help.  Cheryl Courtney-Evans, founder of Transgender Individuals Living Their Truth (TILTT) told GA Voice, “If this person is not in the hospital, I don’t know why the Atlanta Police don’t know about it—she should have reported it. I’m sickened by the fact that people were once again standing around doing nothing, when this waste of DNA should have been detained and locked up for assault. As a community, transgender individuals are just tired of having to fear and worry about our safety at any given moment that we leave our homes,” she said. “While we understand that the LGB community has the same worry, we also know that they have reached a point in society where it is not so prevalent or common. Transgenders, on the other hand, particularly MTFs, must worry about ‘passing’ or they become instant possible targets for verbal or physical abuse.”

Jeff Graham, executive director for Georgia Equality, said, “That’s another horrific attack against a transgender or gender variant person. I hope that the person who has been attacked comes forward so that the police can fully investigate. It is also time to address the overall violence that transgender people live with every day through increased public education and enforcement of the policies that the city of Atlanta has put in place.”

Since the attack, the videographer who captured the brutal stomping and put it up on YouTube has said that the incident had nothing to do with transphobia.  Though the investigation is still proceeding, it is hard to believe that the victim’s gender variance and gender expression had nothing to do with the savagery of the assault.  The entire Atlanta LGBTQ community is awaiting word on the motive that caused a big man to move beyond slurs to inflict such horrific violence against a trans woman.  Robbie Medwed spoke for Atlantans in a tweet on Wednesday night: “Cringe is too soft a word for the visceral reaction I have when I watch that vine [referring to the video]. I can’t accept that this is Atlanta.”

July 3, 2014 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Georgia, Georgia Equality, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, LGBTQ, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Stomping and Kicking Violence, transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Trans Woman Savagely Attacked in Atlanta’s Little Five Points; Details Still Emerging

Gay America and Martin Luther King Jr.: Why LGBTQ Equality Is His Unfinished Agenda

mlkflag-719751Atlanta, Georgia – In the Sweet Auburn neighborhood of Atlanta, where Martin Luther King Jr. and his family launched an activist Christian movement that changed the world, preparations are in full swing for the national holiday that bears his memory.  What about Dr. King’s legacy and the human rights struggle today?  Would Dr. King consider the lives and liberties of LGBTQ people his own unfinished business?

During his own lifetime, Dr. King’s record of public support for gay and lesbian people in his own movement was neither courageous nor even positive.  Dr. King, for example, often considered Bayard Rustin, the gay, Quaker activist who proved indispensable to the organization of the 1963 March on Washington, to be a liability to his movement.  The New Civil Rights Movement relates how Rustin was smuggled out of Montgomery, Alabama during the 1956 Bus Boycott with the assent of MLK because Rustin was thought to be a liability to King, the nascent movement, and other African American civil rights leaders. Commenting on the documentary film, Brother Outsider, made to advance Rustin’s legacy, his life partner, Walter Naegle wrote: “A master strategist and tireless activist, Bayard Rustin is best remembered as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, one of the largest nonviolent protests ever held in the United States. He brought Gandhi’s protest techniques to the American civil rights movement, and helped mold Martin Luther King, Jr. into an international symbol of peace and nonviolence.  Despite these achievements,” Naegle went on to say, “Rustin was silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten, imprisoned and fired from important leadership positions, largely because he was an openly gay man in a fiercely homophobic era.”  According to Rev. Irene Monroe, an African American lesbian who writes for the Huffington Post, Rustin once offered to resign rather than be seen as a liability to the movement.  She notes that King did not refuse Rustin’s offer, saying of Rustin and another gay associate, “I can’t take on two queers at one time.”  Surely, Bayard Rustin and other faithful workers in the non-violent civil rights movement deserved better.

Liberal Christian leaders disagree on whether Martin Luther King Jr. would have evolved into a human rights advocate, had he lived. Irene Monroe is convinced that he would not, fearing the loss of support in the Black Church. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush thinks that King would have eventually become an outspoken ally of gays and lesbians.  Raushenbush, heir to the mantle of his ancestor’s leadership as a progressive Christian, argues as Senior Editor for Religion in the Huffington Post that King’s attitude toward LGBTQ people, while drawing major aspects of the anti-gay ideology of his day, was surprisingly temperate.  Contemporaries among black and white ministers, such as Rev. Adam Clayton Powell and Rev. Billy Graham, were decidedly more negative toward “homosexuals” than Dr. King.

Mrs. Coretta Scott King [Equality Matters image]

Mrs. Coretta Scott King [Equality Matters image]

King’s own family is divided over the question, as well.  His niece, Alveda King, and his youngest and only surviving child, Rev. Bernice King, strongly deny that he would have supported the LGBTQ rights movement in any form.  In 2004, the cousins marched together in an Atlanta demonstration against same-sex marriage and gay rights. But King’s now-deceased widow, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, unequivocally affirmed that her martyred husband would have championed the rights of all people, including those of LGBTQ people.  In a famous remark made near to the 30th anniversary of the death of Dr. King, Mrs. King asserted, “I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice.  But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’  I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”

Mrs. King understood that in order for her late husband’s dream to remain vital over the passage of the years, it had to be made relevant to the emerging struggles of modern oppressed minorities.  She, more than anyone else, reveals the genius of Dr. King’s Beloved Community: every generation enlarges it with new citizens of a freer, better, more perfect union.  With uncommon perception and insight, Mrs. King said to the audience at the 25th Anniversary Luncheon of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, “Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Georgia, and St. Augustine, Florida, and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement.  Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own.”  Speaking vicariously for her husband, Mrs. King concluded, “And I salute their contributions.” 

As Mrs. King perceived and advocated, the struggle her husband gave his life to pursue runs parallel to the LGBTQ rights movement.  Racial justice, world peace, justice for workers and the poor, and the cause of non-violence are all still unrequited in the world today, and are the continuing responsibility of the Civil Rights Movement.  But as surely as her husband championed the cause of social change for the betterment of all, LGBTQ equality is just as surely Dr. King’s legacy and unfinished business.

Happy MLK Day from the Unfinished Lives Project Team!

January 21, 2013 Posted by | African Americans, Bayard Rustin, Civil Rights Movement, Coretta Scott King, Georgia, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Social Justice Advocacy, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Anti-Gay Hazing Aboard Nuclear Submarine Leads To Top Non-Com Dismissal

USS Florida already had a “culture of homophobia” prior to the harassment of a crew member suspected of being gay.

Norfolk, Virginia – With little or no privacy, and nowhere to escape from his anti-gay torment, a sailor targeted for harassment aboard nuclear submarine USS Florida (SSBN/SSGN – 728), became the center of a homophobic hazing case that has created a public relations nightmare for the U.S. Navy. The Associated Press revealed that the Navy released its report in March detailing months of anti-gay taunts against the unnamed submariner–leading to the dismissal of the Chief of the Boat, the submarine’s top non-commissioned officer.  Master Chief Machinist’s Mate Charles Berry was fired by Captain Stephen Gillespie “for dereliction of duty” related to his failure to report and advise the commanding officer of the boat on issues arising among enlisted men.

The targeted sailor whose identity and sexual orientation have not be released in the investigative report, suffered incessant anti-gay jokes, was subjected to anti-gay epithets and nicknames, and was the victim of an alleged attempted rape at knife point by a  man while the Florida was in a foreign port of call–Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Prior the the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the sailor was constantly taunted to “come out of the closet” as a gay man and jeered at for having a Filipino boyfriend, the ethnicity of the attempted rapist. He was labeled “Brokeback” for the famous gay-themed motion picture, Brokeback Mountain. The Navy report said that the sailor endured the harassment because he thought it would cease at some point.  After eight months of constant homophobic harassment in 2011, the sailor finally passed along a note for help, saying that the combination of the attempted rape, the hounding, and the constant pressure put on him by crew members was driving him to suicide, or to an act of violence against his tormentors.

The Navy report says that sailors who participated in the hazing did not appreciate the psychological harm their actions caused their shipmate. The report also states that Chief Berry did not participate in the anti-gay hazing of the sailor, but did not report what was going on to his superior officers, either. As background to the embarrassing revelations of anti-gay abuse, the report also detailed that the Florida had developed a whole culture of heterosexist and homophobic prejudice, and detailed a number of examples.

In response, the Navy ordered training and counseling up and down the line to prevent anything like this from happening again. Besides the chief of the boat, several junior crew members who participated in the anti-gay harassment have also faced disciplinary actions, including loss of rank and pay.  In its March 30 statement to the public, the Navy said: “The Navy’s standards for personal behavior are very high and it demands that sailors are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. When individuals fall short of this standard of professionalism and personal behavior, the Navy will take swift and decisive action to stop undesirable behavior, protect victims and hold accountable those who do not meet its standards.” 

This week, Vice Admiral John Richardson who commands the Norfolk-based submarine force, issued a blog post in response to the scandal this incident had created in the submarine service in which he focuses attention on the importance of character in Navy life. “A violation by one seems to be a violation against all,” the admiral wrote.

The USS Florida, an Ohio-class nuclear submarine homeported at Naval Submarine Base King’s Bay, Georgia, participated in action against Libyan forces loyal to Col. Muammar Gaddafi in March 2011 by launching scores of Tomahawk missiles, the only one of the four Ohio-class SSGNs available to serve in Operation Odyssey Dawn. Apparently, the senseless anti-gay torment of the sailor in question was going full tilt during the period of combat operations.

June 25, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), Georgia, GLBTQ, harassment, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, military, rape, Slurs and epithets, U.S. Navy, Virginia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Atlanta Gay Bashing Victim Indicts Homophobic “Monsters” for Brutal Attack

Homophobes attack gay 20-year-old Atlantan, Brandon White, Saturday, February 4 (Surveillance video capture).

Atlanta, Georgia – Brandon White was going to stay silent about the brutal attack of three, epithet-screaming attackers who assaulted him in broad daylight–until his assailants posted a video online bragging about what they did to him.  Three members of a gang named “1029 Jack City” took their homophobic rage out on Brandon White, 20, outside a southwest Atlanta convenience store on February 4.  Yelling “No Faggots in Jack City!” the trio threw a tire carcass at White, knocked him to the sidewalk, and repeatedly slapped and kicked him–all in the the presence of several bystanders who can be heard laughing and encouraging the assault in the video’s soundtrack.  The attack was a set-up so that the assault could be captured on video to allow the homophobes to revel in their barbarity.  But though tens of thousands have viewed the short clip on YouTube (which may be accessed here), the incident sparked outrage around the world at the unprovoked hatefulness of the assault.

White felt compelled to overcome his embarrassment and humiliation when so many began speaking out against the crime done him.  At a press conference called this Wednesday by leaders of the Pittsburgh area of Atlanta where the attack took place, White called for justice for himself and for all victims of anti-gay hate crimes.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that White called his attackers “monsters,” and said, “”If a straight person walks into a store and I have a problem, I should be able to do the same thing. I shouldn’t have to worry about if I should have to look over my shoulder, or if this person is going to attack me, or if that person is going to attack me, for just being a gay male.”  Encouraged by newfound support, White went on to urge victims of hate crimes to come forward the report them.  “Don’t wait until it’s too late to report it. Don’t hide it.”  White acknowledged that the beating made him fear for his life, and still does.  “The scars run deeper than anyone will know,” he said. “The physical pain, I can get over that. My thing is: Who’s to say they won’t come after me again? Who’s to say they won’t kill me?”

Three men were identified as the assailants, and one of them, Christopher Cain, was arrested on February 11 in DeKalb County and charged with aggravated assault and robbery. Cain is being held in the Fulton County Jail pending his arraignment. A $15,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the other two attackers.  The FBI is co-operating in the investigation under the provisions of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, since Georgia does not have a state statute making anti-gay hate crimes punishable.  Activists and lawmakers see this widely-known outrage as an opportunity to introduce hate crimes protections in the state.

February 13, 2012 Posted by | African Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, FBI, Gang violence, gay bashing, gay men, Georgia, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hate Crimes and Capital Punishment: A Special Comment

Lawrence Russell Brewer, on the day he was booked for the murder of James Byrd Jr.

Huntsville, Texas – On September 21 at 6:11 p.m., before witnesses whom included his hate crime victim’s family and his own, Lawrence Russell Brewer, 44, was injected with lethal drugs in the execution chamber of Huntsville Prison.  Ten minutes later, he was pronounced dead.  Sentenced to death for the 1998 dragging murder of James Byrd Jr., there was no doubt about the convict’s guilt.  Brewer and two accomplices, John William King and Shawn Allen Berry, abducted Byrd, a 49-year-old African American, in Jasper, Texas, beat him, bound him with a log chain attached to the backend of a pickup truck, and dragged him three miles down a rough East Texas road until his head was detached from his body when it hit a culvert.  The racially-motivated murder made the nation shudder–and marked a decisive moment in the hate crime justice movement for LGBTQ people as well as for African Americans. But the justice of capital punishment for hate crime murders is still up for serious question, even after the execution of a bigoted man who displayed no remorse for his crime.  Brewer had even urinated on Byrd before dragging him to his death.

In Texas, the racist murder of James Byrd Jr. was quickly equated with the anti-gay murder of young Matthew Wayne Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, that occurred barely four months later.  After abortive attempts to get a state hate crimes statute naming gays and lesbians as a protected class, the Byrd family agreed to sign on with Shepard’s family to achieve a landmark Texas law including African Americans and LGB persons as protected classes from prejudicial murder.  Governor Rick Perry, who today is the notably anti-gay Republican front runner for President, signed the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act into law back in May 2001, inclusive of “sexual preference” as a protected category.  It took the federal government eight more years to enact a comprehensive hate crimes law inclusive of LGBT people in the United States. The James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act, was signed into law by President Obama in October 2009.  The families of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. were honored guests at the presidential signing ceremony in the White House.

Can state-sanctioned execution remedy anti-gay or racially motivated hate crime murders?  Brewer’s death by lethal injection, in the same week as the hotly contested execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, brought that issue to a head for the national media, human and civil rights activists, moral theologians, and the families of victims alike.  Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC anchor of “The Last Word,” opined that the only way to prevent the execution of putatively innocent death row inmates like Davis is to outlaw the execution of even the most unrepentant of guilty killers like Brewer.  Dick Gregory, the fabled comedian and human rights activist, was present in Huntsville protesting the execution of James Byrd Jr.’s murderer for just that reason.  The Houston Chronicle quotes Gregory as saying, “Any state killing is wrong. If Adolph Hitler were to be executed,” he said, “I would be here to protest . . . I believe life in prison is punishment. Execution is revenge.”

Ross Byrd, James Byrd’s son, who is now 32, spoke out to Reuters the night before Brewer’s execution for the murder of his father. “You can’t fight murder with murder,” Byrd said, representing his family. “Life in prison would have been fine. I know he can’t hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn’t what we want.”  The Reuters article concludes by presenting Ross Byrd’s position that for the state to execute Brewer is no more that a continuation of the cycle of violence that destroyed his father’s life on that lonely road in the dead of night in 1998. Byrd believes that all people, the government included, should decide not to perpetuate that cycle of death. “Everybody’s in that position,” he said. “And I hope they will stand back and look at it before they go down that road of hate. Like Ghandi said, an eye for an eye, and the whole world will go blind.”

Dennis Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s father, took a similar position on the day his son’s second killer was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison.  Speaking to Aaron James McKinney, the roofer who beat Matt into a fatal coma with a pistol, Shepard said that Matt was not opposed to the death penalty. As a matter of fact, at a family meeting, Matt had said that heinous murders like the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. deserved capital punishment. “Mr. McKinney,” Shepard said, “I, too, believe in the death penalty. I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. To use this as the first step in my own closure about losing Matt. Mr. McKinney, I am not doing this because of your family. I am definitely not doing this because of the crass and unwarranted pressures put on by the religious community. If anything, that hardens my resolve to see you die. Mr. McKinney, I’m going to grant you life, as hard as that is for me to do, because of Matthew.”  Shepard concluded, “Mr. McKinney, I give you life in the memory of one who no longer lives. May you have a long life, and may you thank Matthew every day for it.”

Admittedly, all other hate crimes victims’ families do not necessarily agree with Mr. Byrd and Mr. Shepard.  Some support capital punishment as justice for the heinous nature of the crimes committed against their loved ones.  But Lawrence Russell Brewer’s Texas execution is not so cut and dried as the most ardent supporters of capital punishment would like to believe.  The world is far grayer than any black-and-white wishes for closure can achieve in a culture where bigotry kills innocent people everyday, and where the state can and does execute anyone it deems legal to terminate. What is right and what is wrong about capital punishment for hate crimes murder perpetrators?  What is just for the victims and their families, and for the society the killers have also grievously wounded by their deeds of hatred?  We at the Unfinished Lives Project do not claim to have the final truth about these monumental issues.  But we do agree with Ross Byrd and Dennis Shepard.  Until our fallible knowledge is replaced by the divine in some other world than this and some other time than ours, we will err on the side of mercy.  Honor the dead.  Break the cycle.  Stop the killing.

September 27, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, capital punishment, Dragging murders, Execution, gay bashing, gay men, Georgia, GLBTQ, gun violence, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, President Barack Obama, Racism, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, Texas, transgender persons, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Hate Crimes and Capital Punishment: A Special Comment

Gay Georgian Nearly Roasted Alive As He Slept

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.”

February 5, 2011 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Arson, death threats, FBI, gay men, Georgia, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, Law and Order, Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay Georgian Nearly Roasted Alive As He Slept

Atlanta Eagle Gets $1m for Bogus Police Raid

Atlanta, Georgia – The Altanta City Council has voted 14-0 to award the Atlanta Eagle Bar $1 million in response to a federal lawsuit filed by a private attorney on behalf of 19 clients unjustly arrested in a botched police raid last September, according to a report by WTVM News 9 and the Associate Press. The night of September 10, 2009, four-dozen police crashed the Underwear Night special event at the Atlanta Eagle, slamming patrons to the floor, using homophobic slurs, and arresting and detaining 62 people. Police targeted the gay bar on the pretext of illicit sex and drugs, allegations that were never proven. The owner of the Eagle, Richard Ramey, went immediately on the offense against the raid, saying to the Atlanta Journal Constitution on September 12, 2009, “Our problem is with the way our customers were treated,” Ramey told the Journal-Constitution in a Sept. 12, 2009 article. Nick Koperski, a bar patron present at the time of the raid, said in the same article, “I’m thinking, this is Stonewall. It’s like I stepped into the wrong decade.” The Atlanta Police Department refused to cooperate with an investigation by the Atlanta Citizens Council. Charges brought against employees and patrons either  failed to win convictions, collapsed for lack of evidence, or were otherwise dismissed, according to a report by EDGE.  Last March eight employees of the bar were found not guilty of trumped up charges by the Atlanta Police Department in a ruling handed down in Municipal Court. Investigations into the raid found that the Atlanta Police Department did not have a warrant to raid the bar on the night in question. Mandatory revisions to police procedures will be carried out in response to the settlement. The vindication of the Atlanta Eagle stands in sharp contrast to the outcome of the Fort Worth Police Department’s infamous Raid on the Rainbow Lounge just months before the Atlanta debacle. Like the Georgia raid, all charges against patrons arrested at the popular Fort Worth gay bar have been dropped without comment from the city. Unlike the Atlanta outcome, however, the Fort Worth Police Department has never issued a sufficient apology (in our opinion) or formally admitted any wrongdoing in the illicit raid on the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, nor has the action of the FWPD ever been deemed wrong by an outside investigation. This has been in spite of the public action disciplining officers of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) for their part in the raid, and a formal apology issued by the executive of the TABC. What exempted the FWPD from disciplinary actions similar to the TABC?  Factors contributing to the non-resolution of the Fort Worth police raid may include a less-than-robust defense of bar patrons by the Rainbow Lounge ownership at the time of the bust, and the less aggressive approach Fort Worth gay leaders employed to bring the city and the police department to account. While there have been laudable actions in response to the Rainbow Lounge Raid, such as the establishment of a police liaison with the local LGBT community, and transgender protections added to municipal protection statutes, honesty about the motives and motivators behind the Fort Worth raid remain unspoken and unacknowledged. While we are glad the city of Fort Worth dropped charges against patrons charged in the arrests the night of the raid, including public intoxication and groping, the harm done by the raid in Cowtown has not been acknowledged by the powers that be, and therefore the LGBTQ community, and the individual Texans directly wronged remain unjustified. Justice for Atlanta, but how about for Fort Worth? We guess the mayor of Fort Worth has more control over the courts, the press, and the gay establishment in North Texas than the mayor of Atlanta. A good thing? You be the judge.

December 7, 2010 Posted by | Atlanta Eagle Bar Raid, Atlanta Police Department, Fort Worth Police Department, Gay Bar Raids, gay men, Georgia, harassment, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Media Issues, police brutality, Politics, Protests and Demonstrations, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Stonewall Inn, Texas, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Atlanta Eagle Gets $1m for Bogus Police Raid

Osteen Cannot Mask His Homophobia on ABC’s “The View”

Houston, Texas – Joel Osteen met his match on ABC Television’s The View as he tried to peddle his brand of “soft-homophobia” to the nation.  The Advocate reports that Joy Behar took Osteen to task for denigrating lesbians and gay men as “not God’s best,”  a statement he made on the program last year.  Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, a megachurch boasting an average weekly attendance of 43,500 and a national television outreach, responded to Whoopi Goldberg that like God, he loved “everybody,” but while some of his friends were gay (“the nicest people in the world”), he couldn’t agree that God did the right thing creating people with a homosexual orientation (a remark he struggled to take back later in the broadcast).  Osteen claimed a single biblical message on homosexuality, and when pressed by Joy Behar, classed gays and lesbians with “drunkards” and “people on drugs.”  When Osteen was asked about his position on whether fellow megachurch pastor Jim Swilley, founder of the Conyers, Georgia Church in the Now, should remain as leader of the church, Osteen retreated into his anti-gay theology.  Swilley, married twice to women and the father of four children, came out as a gay man recently in response to the rash of LGBTQ teen suicides, confessing that he could no longer remain in the closet while so many gay youth were dying.  The death by bullycide of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University freshman, particularly affected Swilley, who says he knew he was gay since youth, but tried to live as a heterosexual person.  As reported in thespreadit.com, Swilley said of his sexual orientation, “At a certain point, you are who you are.”  Osteen said that scripture would prohibit a gay man from pastoring a church (though the Bible never mentions the subject of pastoral leadership and homosexuality).  Still, Osteen labored to convince the women on The View that his church was welcoming to gays.  Asked again about his inflammatory contention that homosexuality “is not God’s best,” he said to co-host Barbara Walters, “I should finish that sentence. I should make it clear. I don’t think it’s God’s best for your life. I don’t think it’s not God’s best making us.”  Joy Behar pointed out that Osteen, who above all wanted to come across on national television as a nice person, was left with “a conundrum”: either God created homosexual people good (Genesis says that God pronounces all creation “good”), or God made a mistake by creating people as “less than God’s best.”  Osteen hesitated to comment about the conundrum his soft brand of heterosexism and homophobia poses for church leaders who truly want gays and lesbians to attend their churches and contribute their money, but who disapprove of their existence as God created them to be.  While less overt than many Christianist anti-gay positions, Osteen’s form of bias is perhaps the most insidious in American life today.  While maintaining a smooth, pleasing public persona, such soft anti-gay prejudice feeds the internalized homophobia of LGBTQ people who yearn for church blessings, and grants a green light to homophobic exclusion from circles of “normalcy” and from church leadership positions (which are the true test of any church’s feelings toward LGBTQ people).  Osteen further claims a simplistic “Bible-based” set of anti-gay teachings that plays well to the mob, which serious biblical scholars have debunked for decades.  Osteen claimed in an exit interview that he “loved” being on The View, that he had “a great time.”  The success of his appearance will be determined, to paraphrase President Abraham Lincoln a bit, by whether a charlatan can, indeed, “fool all of the people all of the time.”

November 17, 2010 Posted by | Church in the Now, gay men, gay teens, Georgia, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Internalized homophobia, Lesbian women, LGBTQ suicide, Media Issues, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, soft homophobia, Texas, The View | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Execution-Style Murders Plague Atlanta Black Gay Pride

Atlanta, Georgia – Two gay black men attending last weekend’s Atlanta Black Gay Pride were found shot to death “execution-style” on Sunday night in southeast Atlanta.  The Advocate reports that  the victims, Calvin Streater, 26, of Atlanta and Samuel Blizzard, Jr., 21, of Spring Cove, Virginia, were discovered by a friend at the Richmond Hill Apartments at approximately 10 p.m..  Blizzard was a student at Georgia State University.  Atlanta police said that one man was found in a front room and the other in a bedroom in the apartment.  Both of the victims had been shot in the back of the head.  At this point in the investigation, the Atlanta Police Department is not yet ready to classify the murders as hate crime killings.  As an investigator for the APD told The Examiner, “The men were at a Black Gay Pride event at some point during the day…We do not know if their sexual orientation played a role in the shooting deaths.”  Police surmise that the men knew their killer, since there was no evidence of a break-in, and Richmond Hill is a gated facility.  Others suggest that the killer or killers could have gained entrance to the complex on foot when a car was buzzed in by other residents.  The Atlanta Black Gay community is up in arms, and is demanding answers.  In the days prior to Atlanta Black Pride, one of the major organizers of the event, Durand Robinson, also a gay black man, was gunned down on a street in southwest Atlanta. His body was found in the middle of the street with a gunshot wound to his chest.  EDGE reports that Robinson’s murder has not yet been classified as a hate crime killing, since police are operating on the theory that Robinson was murdered in a car-jacking incident.  The slayings of three gay men associated with Atlanta Black Gay Pride have marred the Labor Day weekend event, which is billed as the largest gathering of LGBTQ black people in the world.  The state of Georgia does not have an anti-LGBT hate crimes law on the books.  These recent murders have made the debate over such legislation more urgent.  No arrests have been made in any of these cases.  Commenting on the lack of hate crimes legislation in the state, Carlos Campos, spokesperson for the Atlanta Police Department, told the Examiner, “In March 2006, the Georgia Senate reinstated a hate crime bill in the state, but after much debate, the House deleted provisions that specified hate crimes as those committed because of the victims’ sexual orientation, race, gender, religion or ancestry to naming the only offenses committed “because of bias or prejudice.”   Vigils have been held in memory of the victims, and more activism on their behalf is sure to follow.

September 8, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, gay men, Georgia, gun violence, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, multiple homicide, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Social Justice Advocacy, Unsolved LGBT Crimes, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Execution-Style Murders Plague Atlanta Black Gay Pride

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