Greensboro, NC – A gay veteran of Iraq who was savagely attacked, beaten, and set on fire by a younger man who checked into a hotel with him finally succumbed to his injuries on Saturday. Stephen Patrick White, 46, a well-regarded member of the gay community in Piedmont North Carolina and a patron of Club Chemistry, a popular gay bar in Greensboro, was fatally assaulted by Garry Joseph Gupton, 26, a city employee of the Water Services Department. The two met, according to witnesses at Chemistry, and left the club together late on November 8, as this blog previously reported. They checked in to the Battleground Inn.
White’s injuries were horrendous. He suffered burns over 52 percent of his body, and had large portions of his arms amputated in an attempt to save his life. Gupton was arrested on the scene and charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. The City Water Services Department subsequently fired Gupton from his job as a consequence of the investigation. Now, Gupton is charged with first degree murder. Q Notes reports that the Greensboro police are saying that there is no evidence of a hate crime in this case. The Q Notes report includes this statement from a Greensboro PD spokesperson:
“He (Gupton) never verbalized to us that he intended to kill somebody,” said Susan Danielsen, a Greensboro police spokeswoman. . . . There’s absolutely no evidence to indicate that this is a hate crime.”
She added: “We’re not sure what caused Mr. Gupton to act so violently. This is not a crime motivated by hate.”
But Danielson could not refrain from adding that while the Greensboro PD are “sure this is not a hate crime,” they have no other explanation for Gupton’s heinous acts, including his use of fire in his deadly attack on White. “We’re not sure what caused Mr. Gupton to act so violently,” Danielson went on to say to Q Notes. Then, as if she had opened a door she did not want to open, Danielson concluded, “This is not a crime motivated by hate.”
At this point, all the public has to go on is the assurance of the police that a brutal attack against a gay man who was naked in a hotel room that included a weapon often reserved particularly for the “purification” of “sodomites,” fire, was not a hate crime. Police in the Tarheel State are not permitted to investigate bias-motivated crimes of violence against LGBT people anyway, since the state has refused to include them in its hate crimes statutes. Nonetheless, the police seem eager to rule out hate crime in this instance.
Let us say for the time being they are correct. There was no hate against homosexuality expressed in this crime, explicitly. This, the police are suggesting, was a consensual sexual situation gone terribly bad. Still, the public is left to ask who brought the flammable material into the room? Why was fire used in this case–a give-away for extreme passions and, yes, hatred of the victim targeted in attacks involving burning someone, in this instance as in the instances of thousands of other gay men and lesbians, to death?
However this crime went down in the Gate City, an entire LGBT community is left fearful, shocked, and wondering. Chris Srgo, Executive Director of Equality North Carolina, vocalized the anguish of the statewide community in a statement on Saturday:
“Stephen White’s death is a tragic loss for the Greensboro community and North Carolina. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Stephen’s family. Equality NC promises to follow this investigation closely to ensure that it is thorough and justice is served. The loss of a community member is always tragic, but this loss is unacceptable. As fellow citizens of Greensboro, my husband Ryan and I mourn tonight and stand in solidarity with the LGBT community in Greensboro.”
Of course, it is wrong to suggest that an obvious marker for homophobia (perhaps internalized homophobia), the use of the torch to burn a gay man (where the despicable term “faggot” originates–the burning at the stake of gay men as if they were dry wood), inevitably leads to the conclusion that Stephen White was attacked so savagely because of his sexual orientation. Yet, is it not also a mistake of equal magnitude to conclude that because the suspect, Gupton, never verbalized that he intended to kill someone that night, he simply went berserk, and finding flammable liquids at hand, thought to use fire as a way to punish his naked pick up for the night?
The North Carolina state motto is “Esse Quam Videri” (“To Be Rather Than To Seem”). Perhaps it would do investigators and lawmakers in Tarheelia well to move beyond what they seem to want to believe in this instance-to the point that they refuse to investigate or legislate even the possibility of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes-, and to answer the nagging question about the motive for the use of fire to kill another gay man the Old North State.
Greensboro, NC – A decorated gay veteran wounded in Iraq was beaten with a phone, pieces of furniture, a large television, and then set afire by a city employee he met at a local gay bar. 46-year-old Stephen White, a regular customer at Greensboro’s popular gay venue, Chemistry, was discovered naked, savagely beaten, and burned over 52% of his body at the Battleground Inn at approximately 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, November 9, according to Q Notes. Garry Joseph Gupton, a 26-year-old Greensboro city employee, was arrested at the scene and charged with the near-fatal attack. Police are saying that assault was carried out “with intent to kill.” Employees of the bar say that Gupton met White Saturday night and they took a cab from the club. Since White is a well-known patron of Chemistry, everything seemed “normal.” In the aftermath of the attack, the gay community is left speculating that Gupton came hunting for an openly gay man to kill. White’s hand and a portion of his arm had to be amputated because of the severity of his burns at Wake Forest Medical Center in Winston-Salem. He remains in critical care. Hospital officials say that White faces months of surgery, skin grafting, and rehabilitation.
WFMY Television reports that Gupton, a member of the Greensboro City Water Resources crew, has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon, and inflicting serious injury with intent to kill. He was initially being held on $150,000 bond pending further charges. At his first court appearance on Wednesday, Gupton’s bond was increased to $250,000, and he asked for a court appointed attorney to be assigned to him.
White’s friend, Riki Dublin, told WFMY that the brutality of the attack on the Iraq War veteran staggers her imagination. “I am just in awe of the magnitude of the hate that is involved and I truly do not believe this man has a soul. Cause you, I just couldn’t ever imagine any human treating another human like that,” she said. After announcing a fundraiser for White, who does not have insurance, Dublin went on to say, “It’s hard. When you send your son off to war and he comes back, and he comes back injured but he comes back alive and then he is brutally attacked… here on our own dirt, it’s hard to fathom.” The fundraiser was scheduled for the following Saturday to defray White’s massive medical bills.
The owner of Chemistry, Drew Woffard, also stepped up, calling upon the Greensboro community to support White, according to The Advocate. In a statement issued to Q Notes, Woffard announced a November 15 benefit at the club, and said, “Stephen has a long road ahead of him but he is a fighter and he is definitely not alone. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we are all fighting for him. Also I remind you to please use caution when leaving our bar or any bar with someone you don’t know. I never would have dreamed something like this would happen here in Greensboro… but let’s make sure it never happens again.”
The Advocate went on to report that no agency yet plans to charge Gupton with a hate crime, and investigators are not bothering to do so. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force notes that North Carolina’s hate crimes statutes do not include LGBT persons as a protected class. Victims of anti-gay violence like White are left exposed, since North Carolina’s law does not address violence perpetrated against persons because of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
If there ever was a case that screamed “hate crime,” this horrific attack does. The use of fire as a weapon in anti-LGBTQ violence has a long and fearsome history, dating back to the Spanish Inquisition. Scholars have noted a decided uptick in cases of bias-driven hate crimes against lesbians and gay men incorporating fire as a deadly weapon. As Stephen White struggles to recover from this heinous act of violence, and Garry Gupton awaits justice to be meted out as it can be in a state that ignores anti-LGBT crimes, the gay community in the Tarheel State is left to ponder what form of murderous intent would set a young man like Gupton to stalk and purge one of their own with fire.
Oakland, California – An 18-year-old teen who identifies as “non-binary” or “gender-neutral” was set on fire Monday evening as he slept soundly in the rear of an AC Transit bus. Luke “Sasha” Fleischman, a popular student at Berkeley’s Maybeck High School, suffered second and third degree burns on his legs when a 16-year-old assailant set a skirt Fleischman was wearing alight. Passengers on board the bus aided Fleischman in extinguishing the stubborn flames. The attacker, Richard Thomas, who was arrested Tuesday on the campus of Oakland High School, now admits that his feelings of homophobia led him to try and burn the sleeping teen alive.
NBC Bay Area News reports that anger at the attacker and compassion for Fleischman emerged quickly as news of the attack spread throughout the East Bay area. Fleischman, whose mother told the Bay Area Newsgroup that her child felt comfortable wearing female-identified clothing such as a skirt, has long understood himself to be gender neutral. “My son considers himself agender,” Debbie Fleischman said. “He likes to wear a skirt. It’s his statement. That’s how he feels comfortable dressing.” The teenager’s cousin, 25-year-old Tara Young, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, said “I don’t care what he was wearing, You don’t light someone on fire.”
Rushed to the Burn Center at San Francisco’s St. Francis Memorial Hospital, Fleischman underwent surgery on his legs Wednesday. Donations have poured in to help defray the cost of his medical care, topping $20,000 in a matter of hours. Hospital officials confirmed that the teenager will need to undergo painful skin grafts and “several surgeries.”
Meanwhile, his attacker, 16-year-old Richard Thomas, who had been arrested and initially charged with assault with a deadly weapon and mayhem, is now being fully charged for each count as a bias-motivated hate crime after admitting his intense homophobic feelings motivated him to set his victim’s clothing on fire. KQED News reports that Alameda County law enforcement officials, who acknowledge the attack on Fleischman was motivated by anti-queer hatred, are charging Thomas as an adult. The Oakland Tribune interviewed lead Police Investigator in the case, Anwawm Jones, who confirmed, “During (the) suspect interview, the suspect stated he did it because he was homophobic.” Oakland District Attorney Nancy O’Malley told The Tribune that Thomas’s “violent and senseless criminal conduct resulted in severe and traumatic injuries to a young and entirely innocent victim,” and went on to say, “The intentional and callous nature of the crime is shocking and will not be tolerated in our community. Our thoughts remain with the victim and the victim’s family in wishing for a full recovery from the extensive burns suffered as a result of this crime.”
Felony aggravated assault carries a possible life sentence with a possibility of parole, the assault charge has a maximum penalty of eight years in prison, and each count of hate crime enhancement adds a year in prison, according to the Alameda District Attorney’s Office.
“Sasha” Fleischman represents an emerging group of youth who do not fit into the male/female binary, some of whom consider themselves gender-neutral, agender, or genderqueer. According to his parents, Sasha came out as agender two years ago, and became politically active in order to carve out a place in American consciousness for youth like himself. He gathered over 27,000 signatures on a petition with which he attempt to draw President Obama’s attention to the issue, as reported by the San Jose Mercury News.
Paris, Texas – Hate crimes charges were dropped against an East Texas man in the notoriously savage bashing of a gay man in Reno, a community in Lamar County, last Halloween weekend. The Paris News reports that Daniel Shawn Martin, 33, arrested along with two other suspects on November 1 for attacking 26-year old gay man, Burke Burnett on the night of October 30, 2011, is now free with all charges dropped. Martin contended that he was not present at the Halloween Party where Burnett was slashed and stabbed with a broken beer bottle, beaten, and then thrown bodily into a lit burn barrel while his assailants yelled anti-gay slurs. The Lamar County District Attorney, Gary Young, announced that all charges have been dropped against Martin.
KETR Radio reports that several witnesses came forward to corroborate Martin’s claim that he was not at the Reno party when Burnett was brutalized. Burnett himself affirmed that Martin was not a party to the assault that nearly cost him his life, leaving him with over 30 stitches and second-degree burns.
Two other suspects, James Mitchell Laster III and Mickey Smith, were found guilty of carrying out the homophobic attack, and are now serving prison terms.
Reno, Texas – A gay man attending a private party in Reno, a town near Paris, Texas, was brutally attacked with a broken bottle and then thrown bodily into a flaming fire barrel on Sunday because he was gay. The Dallas Voice broke the story, quoting 26-year-old victim Burke Burnett as saying on Monday, “They knew I was gay. I’m convinced they were trying to kill me.” Burnett told John Wright of the Voice. Four men shouting epithets like “gay bitch,” “cock-sucking punk,” and “pussy-ass faggot,” lunged at Burnett, stabbing him with a broken beer bottle, beating him, and then heaving him into the fire. Burnett was rushed by girlfriends to a hospital in Sulphur Springs, about 30 miles away. He suffered contusions, bruises, and second degree burns. The slashes with the broken bottle required over 30 stitches.
The Reno Police Department played down the attack to the press, saying little more than that the case was still under investigation. Burnett told the Voice that officers on the scene told him that the crime was going to be classified as bias-driven, but that the assailants, whose identities are known, could take more than two weeks before their arrests. Another local source said that Reno police were considering lowering the degree of the offenses to misdemeanors since they took place during a party. Meanwhile, Burnett is hoping that his injuries do not disable him or prove to be permanent.
Burnett credits his girlfriends with preventing his injuries from being much worse, They slowed down his attackers long enough for him to escape to a parked vehicle. Then, they took him to the hospital for treatment. The New Civil Rights Movement echoes the Dallas Voice, reporting that none of the other 20 party-goers attempted to stop the attack.
Heidelberg, Pennsylvania – A gay man in a southwest suburb of Pittsburgh woke up screaming with his leg set afire by a couple of one-time “friends.” Steven Iorio, 37, of Heidelberg, fell into a deep sleep in the early hours of September 22 after a night of drinking, only to feel his left leg burning after two local men set it ablaze with a bottle of Bacardi 151 Rum, according to WXPI Channel 11 News. Iorio came back to an apartment complex on West Railroad Street and passed out on a couch to sleep off the effects of too much to drink at the Heidelway Bar and Restaurant. An eyewitness identified Brandon Washington, 25, and David A. Blair Jr., 31, of writing anti-gay epithets on Iorio’s jeans, and drawing on his face while he was sleeping. Then the pair soaked Iorio’s leg with the highly flammable rum, before Blair allegedly set the liquor on fire. Two other people from the apartments ran to see the source of the commotion after being roused by Iorio’s yells of pain.
Iorio’s friend, Tina Cook, told WXPI that she received a frantic early morning call, summoning her to the scene. After a look at the severity of the second and third degree burns on the back of Iorio’s leg, Cook insisted that he go to the hospital for treatment. She is clear on the anti-gay motivation for the immolation. “They wrote disturbing [anti-gay] things on his pants and drew on his face,” Cook said. Heidelberg Police Chief Vernon Barkeley told Chartiers Valley Patch blog that his department has been investigating the attack for the better part of a month to determine the identity of all the people inside the apartment living room when Iorio’s leg was set alight. Chief Vernon said that the attack could have endangered everyone present in the 13-unit apartment complex that night, had the blaze spread to draperies and the building. He described the continuing suffering the victim faces since the potentially fatal crime: “[Iorio] is still seeing doctors for these injuries while racking up numerous medical bills,” Barkley said. “He will have permanent scarring and is in pain daily.” Iorio will probably carry scars for the rest of his life as a reminder of the way his Allegheny County drinking buddies treat gays. As of this writing, he wounds have still not healed.
No news source to date says that the two alleged perpetrators of this deadly prank have been arrested for the crime. Instead, the pair was charged with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, conspiracy, ethnic intimidation, and risking a catastrophe, and allowed to go home. Nor has there been any comment about what the eyewitness was doing when the two men who proved to be anything but friends, were setting Iorio afire.
When Steven Iorio was asked by a WXPI reporter if he considered Blair and Washington “friends,” he answered with a resounding “No!”