Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Gay Hate Crimes in Puerto Rico? Not Any More?

Police view the corpse of murdered gay Puerto Rican, Ezequiel Crespo Hernández, in April 2011 (EDGE photo).

San Juan, Puerto Rico – Puerto Rico’s lawmakers are poised to remove LGBT people from hate crimes protection status with the stroke of a pen.  Although at least 18 LGBT Puerto Ricans have been murdered in hate crimes since 2009, Edge Boston reports that the territory’s Senate passed a bill last month removing LGBT people from protected categories under the hate crimes law that has been on the books since 2004. The exclusion effort now goes on to the House of Representatives for a vote this week in a special legislative session called by Gov. Luis Fortuño.

Outraged by the increasing number of anti-gay hate crimes, local LGBT activists demanded investigations in June.  The Advocate reports that the grisly murder and dismemberment of Jorge Steven López Mercado, a gay teen, ignited the protests that officials were not investigating anti-gay violence under the territory’s hate crimes law. Recently, the strangulation of gay Ezequiel Crespo Hernández, 22, on a public beach in Camuy, and a gas station assault on transgender woman Francheska González  so brutal that it punctured her breast implant, intensified the call for justice to be done. Three more LGBT Puerto Ricans, Alejandro Torres Torres, Karlota Gómez Sánchez and Ramón “Moncho” Salgado, were also found dead within a three-day period in June. “It seems they have declared open hunting season against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexual people,”  Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of the gay rights group Puerto Rico for Everyone, said to the Associated Press. In response to rising criticism, Puerto Rico’s Attorney General directed an investigation into the application of the hate crimes law. Opponents of the LGBT community responded by quietly acting to remove queer folk from the penal code’s protection.

The penal code revision is drawing criticism from legislators and activists alike. The Advocate says Representative Héctor Ferrer and Sen. Eduardo Bhatia are among the most outspoken critics of the change. Ferrer, speaking at a press conference on Sunday, said,  “To eliminate these groups as protected categories is to invite the commission of hate crimes in Puerto Rico. It is a setback in the country’s public policy.” Bhatia added his voice, saying, “In an advanced society, this is dangerous for society.”  After the proposed amendment removing LGBTs from hate crimes protection, the only categories of persons who would be protected by the law in Puerto Rico would be political affiliation, age, and disability.

Activist Serrano told EDGE, “Basically they took out the communities hardest hit by hate crimes in Puerto Rico out of the hate crimes statute,” Serrano told EDGE, referring the LGBT community and Dominicans who come to the island for work. “It’s an outrage and now we’re calling upon the House to restore this to where it should be.”  Protests and marches against the provision are planned this week throughout island. Serrano, referring to adversaries of the LGBT community, added, “They’re trying to do it under the radar and that’s how it went for a while. Under our watch, we’re not going to let this happen.”

December 5, 2011 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Decapitation and dismemberment, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Legislation, LGBTQ, Politics, Protests and Demonstrations, Puerto Rico, Social Justice Advocacy, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay Hate Crimes in Puerto Rico? Not Any More?

Detroit Trans Teen’s Remains Found Burned Near Interstate

Michele "Shelley" Hilliard, 19, had to be ID'ed by a tattoo on her upper arm.

Detroit, Michigan – The charred torso of a missing teen transwoman of color was identified this week in the Wayne County morgue where it had been stored for weeks, and left unidentified.  The remains were collected near Interstate 94 on Detroit’s east side.  Michele “Shelley” Hilliard, 19, was last seen on October 23 at 1:20 a.m., and was reported missing, according to the Detroit Free Press.  Though her facial features and fingerprints were destroyed by fire, investigators were able to make a positive identification because of a distinctive tattoo depicting cherries inked into her upper right arm.  Her mother, summoned by the Wayne County Examiners Office, also confirmed the identity of her child from the tattoo on the burnt remains. Police are now investigating Ms. Hilliard’s death as a homicide.  There is no word about whether a transphobic hate crime is suspected by the authorities, but the disappearance coupled with the attempted immolation of the remains is a familiar signature of anti-trans hate crimes.  Equality Michigan is aiding the Detroit Police Department in their investigation, according to CBS Detroit.  Michigan’s hate crimes law does not include LGBTQ persons as protected classes, making it harder to compel law enforcement to regard violence against the queer community as hate crimes.

In little more than two weeks, three gay men, Steven Iorio from Pennsylvania, Burke Burnett of Texas, and Stuart Walker from Scotland were either attacked by homophobes wielding fire as a weapon, or had their remains immolated after death. Now the immolated remains of transgender Shelley Hilliard are discovered on a Detroit Interstate service road, raising the question of how often fire is employed as a weapon of transphobic/homophobic terror.  As Philip M. Miner of the Center for Homicide Research points out for the Huffington Post, while between 600 and 700 people are killed by arson every year in the United States, fully 26 per cent of this total is from the gay and transgender community.  Miner observes that the use of fire and arson as hate crimes weapons against the LGBTQ community is normally thoroughly planned out ahead of time. He writes: “Attacks involving arson are especially brutal. Meticulous care is taken in carrying them out. The violence is heaped on . . . [Anti-LGBTQ arson attacks] are wrought with meaning,” Miner continues. “The offender wants there to be no doubt that this violence was intentional. In the case of hate crimes, it’s a warning. This is what happens when you are gay. This is what these people get — what they deserve.” 

Equality Michigan points out in its report on transgender hate violence, “During the first half of 2011, Equality Michigan received reports of 83 incidents of violence or intimidation targeting gay and transgender residents that are considered hate crimes under the [federal] Shepard-Byrd Act. However, because the statewide hate crime law is not comprehensive, incidents against gay and transgender Michiganders that are clearly motivated by anti-gay or anti-transgender bias are ignored as hate crimes.”  As a case in point, advocates are watching the Hilliard case especially closely.

Michele “Shelley” Hilliard was nicknamed “Treasure.” The irony of her murder, a young transwoman who had courage enough to transition into the authentic person she truly was, is that only now do we begin to understand the treasure we have lost in her passing.

November 11, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Arson, Burning and branding, Center for Homicide Research, Equality Michigan, gay bashing, gay men, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, Law and Order, Legislation, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Detroit Trans Teen’s Remains Found Burned Near Interstate

Breaking: Alleged East Texas Gay Bashers Charged with Hate Crimes

Burke Burnett, gay bashing victim, shows bandaged burns and cuts (Advocate photo)

Paris, Texas – Three alleged gay bashers in the horrific Reno gay bashing case will face hate crimes enhancement charges, as reported by the Paris Times and the Dallas Voice. A Lamar County Grand Jury on Thursday indicted James Mitchell Lasater III, 31, of Paris, Micky Joe Smith, 25, of Brookston,and Daniel Shawn Martin, 33, of Paris with one count each of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and two counts each of aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury. Additionally, Lasater and Smith were charged as repeat offenders. Because aggravated assault is classified as a second-degree felony offense, the alleged offenders were eligible under the Texas Hate Crimes statute for hate crimes enhancements, and that is exactly what the grand jury elected to do.  On October 30 in the early morning, 26-year-old Burke Burnett was savagely attacked by three suspects whom witnesses say were yelling anti-gay slurs as they beat Burnett senseless, stabbed and slashed his body with a broken beer bottle, and then heaved him bodily into a burning trash barrel. Burnett suffered stab wounds resulting in over 30 stitches, deep bruises and contusions, and second-degree burns over a good portion of his torso, legs, and arms.

The Dallas Voice broke the story with graphic photos of Burnett’s injuries embedded in the article, and the story took hold in national mainstream media.  Burnett has been interview around the nation, as horror and interest increased in the story. Burnett told the Dallas Voice he is pleased with the course of the investigation, the arrests, and now with the efforts of the Lamar County District Attorney.  WFAA Television reported Burnett came out when he was 15, and learned of the hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student slain in Laramie in 1998.  “Matthew Shepard is one of the reasons I came out of the closet,” Burnett told WFAA. “I’m so glad my fate did not end up like his.” He has no doubt about why he was targeted for violence, since the trio knew his was gay.  As he sat in a chair at a private Halloween party in Reno, a small town near Paris, Texas, the men attacked him from behind. Burnett said, “I ended up getting stabbed, burned and beaten pretty badly and I’m convinced they were trying to kill me.”

Since few hate crime attacks against Texans are actually charged under the state hate crimes law, the decision of law enforcement and the grand jury to go forward with hate crimes charges against Burnett’s alleged bashers is significant.  Since “sexual preference” was included as a protected category in the state statute in 2001, better than 2500 hate crimes have been committed, by fewer than twelve have actually been charged as such. Now that the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act became federal law in 2009, allowing the Department of Justice and the FBI to involve themselves in investigating and prosecuting anti-LGBT hate crimes around the nation, Texas officials seem to have felt pressure to act more transparently and boldly on hate crimes cases in the Lone Star State.

November 11, 2011 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, FBI, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard, Matthew Shepard Act, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Slashing attacks, Slurs and epithets, stabbings, Texas, U.S. Justice Department, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gay Center Vandalized at NC State University

Technician photo of hate attack on NC State LGBT Center

Raleigh, North Carolina –  A perp with an anti-gay agenda vandalized the North Carolina State University GLBT Center on Monday.  Though the university was quick to obscure the slurs spray painted on the outer door and display case of the center, the campus newspaper, The Technician, got a good photograph of the message the hate tagger sent to LGBTQ staff and students at State.  The words “Fags Burn” and “Die,” along with a broad slash across a wall display were sprayed in purple paint across the whole front of the center, which is in Harrelson Hall on the main campus.  Campus Police Sergeant Jeff Sutton told The Technician that the hate act took place between 8:30 pm and 9:30 pm, when the vandalism was discovered. Adam Ward, a graduate advisor for the GLBT Center, and a graduate student at State in comparative biomedical science, wrote on a Facebook post, “No one was able to see who sprayed-painted this, but believe me, there will be a University response. We will continue working with University Police, and I thank all of our community members and allies for standing up for equality and what’s right.”  On her Facebook page, Center Director Justine Hollingshead posted this assurance to the LGBTQ community on the State campus: “We are working on some positive follow up and of course education. Just wanted to keep folks in the loop. Thanks for all of the messages of support.”  Hollingshead was employed to lead the GLBT Center in 2008, and has built it into a vital player in forming campus opinion about diversity and inclusiveness issues.

Sergeant Sutton said that since this was an act of vandalism against property, it would be considered a hate incident, rather than a hate crime against an individual.  Campus police are reviewing video surveillance tapes for the identity of the perpetrator.

On Tuesday evening, a public meeting was called by the GLBT Center leadership to generate ideas about a proper response to this act of hatred.

Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, Director of the Unfinished Lives Project, has been the guest of the NC State GLBT Center on two occasions, most recently in April of this year.  Dr. Sprinkle said, “This act of hate is not an isolated incident, in my opinion. North Carolina faces a divisive anti-same sex marriage ballot measure due to the work of extremist elements who took over the State Legislature in Raleigh for the first time since Reconstruction.” He continued,  “Radical, right wing homophobia is more likely to be unleashed against the LGBTQ community during times of high publicity on sexual orientation and gender expression issues.  Vigilance and swift action to identify and prosecute the vandal or vandals is necessary to send the counter message that gays and lesbians will are no longer viable targets for violence in the South.  The leadership of the NC GLBT Center should be commended for working so quickly to involve the campus community in education for justice and moderation in the wake of this disturbing incident.  Hate speech links up to hate violence, and words like “Fags Burn” carry the situation to a whole new level in Raleigh.”

The anti-LGBTQ vandalism occurred a month after the North Carolina General Assembly moved its same-sex marriage ban for state-wide vote to the May 2012 primary ballot.  If passed, the provision pushed by the Republican majority in the Legislature not only would ban same-gender marriage, but would also strip domestic partner benefits from North Carolinians. Adam Miller, interim director of Equality North Carolina, issued this statement in response to the NC State vandal attack: “The passage of this amendment clearly sanctions other discriminatory acts against LGBT people and, in the process, creates a climate of fear for LGBT people, their families, their children, and all who love them,” Miller said. “This hateful act will only serve to draw attention to our efforts and push us to work even harder to inform the public about the dangers of anti-LGBT legislation to our state, our communities, and our young people.”

October 19, 2011 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Bisexual persons, Equality North Carolina, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, NC State GLBT Center, North Carolina, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes, vandalism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

Heartbroken 14-year-old Gay Youth Tormented to Death

Amherst, New York – Jamey Rodenmeyer wrote Lady Gaga lyrics on his Facebook page the weekend before he took his own life: “Don’t forget me when I come crying to heaven’s door.”  The quotation is from “The Queen,” a song included on Lady Gaga’s hit album, “Born This Way.”  The 14-year-old Williamsville North High student suffered unrelenting taunting and cyberbullying for being gay. Though he was in counseling with a therapist and a social worker, and was supported by his parents and a host of fans around the country due to his YouTube video for the “It Gets Better” project, the cumulative effect of psychic trauma and fear of violence broke down young Rodenmeyer’s defenses. His parents, who found Jamey’s body outside their home on September 19, told WGRZ Buffalo that they are certain he killed himself because of the bullying.  Rodenmeyer’s suicide immediately rekindled nationwide concern and anger over the culture of violence elementary, middle, and secondary school LGBTQ students face in and out of classrooms every day.  Lady Gaga called for a campaign to make bullycide a hate crime by law (no bullying laws exist in New York State).  An outspoken advocate for the gay and lesbian community, Gaga tweeted her fans: “Jamey Rodemeyer, 14 yrs old, took his life because of bullying.  Bullying must become be illegal. It is a hate crime.”  She then committed herself to approach President Obama.  “I am meeting with our President,” she posted.  “I will not stop fighting. This must end. Our generation has the power to end it. Trend it #MakeALawForJamey.”  Dan Savage, the co-originator of the “It Gets Better” project for which Rodemeyer made a video last May, said that he broke down and cried when he heard about the youth’s suicide.  Savage wrote on his blog, “The point of the ‘It Gets Better’ project is to give kids like Jamey Rodemeyer hope for their futures. But sometimes hope isn’t enough. Sometimes the damage done by hate and by haters is simply too great. Sometimes the future seems too remote. And those are the times our hearts break.”

The insults, rumors, and ridicule became too much for Jamey to bear.  On a Formspring site he opened to chat with friends online, he was targeted by irrational hate.  The Washington Post reports two representative instances of hate speech that would have unsettled anyone, no matter how well grounded: “JAMIE IS STUPID, GAY, FAT ANND UGLY. HE MUST DIE!” an anonymous detractor wrote. Another went straight for his heart: “I wouldn’t care if you died. No one would. So just do it 🙂 It would make everyone WAY more happier!”  Even though there were expressions of support among the posts to his site, the loudness of the hate drowned out the love. In hindsight, Jamey’s cries for help are all too obvious.  On September 9, he wrote on Facebook, “I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens. … What do I have to do so people will listen to me? No one in my school cares about preventing suicide, while you’re the ones calling me [gay slur] and tearing me down.”  But the face he let his parents see was calm and relatively upbeat.  Just days before he took his own life, the family went on a camping trip.

Amherst Police are investigating whether charges may be brought against youths who continually dogged Rodenmeyer with taunts and slurs. Buffalo News reports that the Special Victims Unit has been assigned to investigate whether crimes were committed against Jamey.  Cyberbullying, especially if it was centered on Rodenmeyer’s sexual orientation, could carry charges against his tormentors.  Police spokesmen have said that they are focusing their probe on one to three young harassers who targeted Rodenmeyer ever since he was a student at Heim Middle School. “We’re looking into it to see if he was the victim of any crimes, and that’s the bottom line,” Amherst Chief of Police John C. Askey told reporters. “We’re going to be speaking to school officials and students and anyone with direct information about crimes that may have been committed against this individual.”

Nearly 5,000 youths commit suicide each year, according the Centers for Disease Control, making teen suicide, especially teen LGBTQ suicide, a national health issue.  But the statistics cannot adequately count the cost of bullying in American society. Criminal harassment, ridicule, and threats strike real boys and girls one-by-one, like Jamey Rodenmeyer, and rip away their futures. In the last communication of his short life, Jamey tweeted Lady Gaga, “@ladygaga bye mother monster thank you for all you have done, paws up forever.”  In a tribute to Gaga, Jamey’s parents buried him Saturday wearing his “Born This Way” tee shirt.

September 23, 2011 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, Blame the victim, Bullycide, Bullying in schools, Dan Savage, gay men, gay teens, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, harassment, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, It Gets Better Project (IGBP), Lady Gaga, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, New York, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Heartbroken 14-year-old Gay Youth Tormented to Death

DADT Repeal Certification Friday, July 22nd, But at What Cost to LGBTQ Americans? A Special Comment

Pfc. Barry Winchell's grave

Both CNN and the San Diego Union-Tribune are reporting tonight that final certification of DADT repeal will take place Friday in Washington, D.C.  But our celebrations are sobered at the Unfinished Lives Project by the magnitude of the cost to the LGBTQ community in servicemembers’ lives and careers in order to get to this landmark moment. When Secretary Leon Panetta signs the documents of certification at the Pentagon, signifying that the chiefs of the Armed Services have previously reported to him that full and open service by gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers, sailors, marines, airwomen and airmen, national guardsmen and women, and coast guardsmen and women poses no threat or harm to the morale, unit cohesion, or mission readiness of the Armed Forces, a giant step toward full equality for LGBTQ people will be made.  Seventeen years of the most oppressive and blatantly discriminatory anti-gay policy in contemporary memory will be over; but not before the incalculable cost of the lives of queer servicemembers who died before seeing this day dawn. At the Unfinished Lives Project, we have invoked the names and stories of some of them: Petty Officer Allen R. Schindler, U.S. Navy; Pfc. Barry Winchell, U.S. Army; Pfc. Michael Scott Goucher, U.S. Army Reserve; Seaman August Provost, U.S. Navy.  May they and all the others they represent rest in peace! These patriots died outrageous deaths at the hands of hatred and unreasoning bias, enabled by a military culture that either encouraged violence against suspected LGB servicemembers, or at the very least turned a blind eye toward such violence. Celebration of repeal is in order, and celebrate we will. The dead are honored by this act of justice, signifying that they have not died in vain. But we will also be mindful that no stroke of a pen, even one so powerful as the one wielded by the Secretary of Defense, will eliminate homophobia and heterosexism in the Armed Services. Ships, barracks, and foreign fields of service will be haunted with the hatred that has been passed down from generation to generation of American military personnel. Backlash is in full swing, as we have seen most graphically among right-wing conservative military chaplains whose appeals to exempt their anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and teachings as freedom of religion served to be the last bastion of “homophobia-masquerading-as-liberty” in the armed services. Thankfully, as certification on Friday shows, the vast majority of servicemembers of all ranks reject discrimination for what it truly is: un-American. In memory of all our LGBTQ servicemembers (of all faiths and faith-free, as the case may be) who have died in part or in full because of the ravages of hate crimes, we dedicate a portion of Fr. Thomas Merton’s most famous poem, written in memory of his brother, John Paul, killed in action in World War II, entitled, “For My Brother, Reported Missing In Action, 1943” [The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, New Directions, 1977, p. 35-36]:

When all the men of war are shot

And flags have fallen into dust,

Your cross and mine shall tell men still

Christ died on each for both of us.

For in the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain,

And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring:

The money of Whose tears shall fall

Into your weak and friendless hand,

And buy you back to your own land:

The silence of Whose tears shall fall

Like bells upon your alien tomb.

Hear them and come: they call you home.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Asian Americans, Bisexual persons, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Legislation, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, military, Military Chaplaincy, National Guard, religious intolerance, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, transgender persons, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, Vigils, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gays Seek Safer Houston in Last “Unfinished Lives” Pride Month Session

Dr. Sprinkle speaks to a full house at Resurrection MCC Houston on "Unfinished Lives" book

Houston, Texas – Strategies for mobilizing the LGBTQ community to act for a safer Houston will be the focus of the concluding “Unfinished Lives” Session at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church this Friday, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, professor at Brite Divinity School and author of Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2011), will offer Houstonians effective ways to prevent hate crimes, wrestle with with issue of anti-LGBTQ teen school bullying and suicide, and close ranks with transgender Americans to staunch the alarming number of violent attacks upon then in today’s world.  Attendance and enthusiasm remained strong at the June 10 session on lessons and insights the stories of hare crimes victims teach the wider community.  Dr. Sprinkle lifted up five lessons we stand to learn from LGBTQ people who have died because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.  In brief, these were: 1) confront head on the rising number of violent attacks against the queer community with educational efforts, 2) deal with the amnesia of the LGBTQ community, media, and the general public about queer hate crime murders, 3) begin the long-overdue conversation about transphobia and transgender hate crimes in America, 4) use the language of outrage when speaking about LGBTQ hate crimes, not the language of “tragendy,” and 5) the necessity of dealing with the religious and theological roots of anti-gay and transgender hate violence.  The stories of Ryan Keith Skipper of Wahneta, Florida and Talana Quay Kreeger of Wilmington, North Carolina were highlighted to illustrate Dr. Sprinkle’s lecture. Session Three: Strategies for Mobilization and Activism will continue this no-nonsense approach to the crisis of anti-LGBTQ hate violence in contemporary church and society.  The series is co-sponsored by Resurrection MCC Houston, Cathedral of Hope Houston, and the Transgender Foundation of America.  As always, a light supper is provided and the public is invited at no charge.  Make Pride Month count for more than a parade and a party, and come out to this important final session.

June 15, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Anti-Gay Hate Groups, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Asian Americans, bi-phobia, Bisexual persons, Bullying in schools, Florida, gay bashing, gay men, gay teens, gender identity/expression, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Matthew Shepard Act, Media Issues, North Carolina, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, Public Theology, Queer, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Remembrances, Resurrection MCC Houston, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gays Seek Safer Houston in Last “Unfinished Lives” Pride Month Session

Houston “Unfinished Lives” Series Draws Large Crowd; Session 2 on June 10: “Lessons Learned”

Houston, Texas – Strong attendance marked the first “Unfinished Lives” session for Houston’s Gay Pride Month.  Much-anticipated Session 2: Lessons Learned is upcoming at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church at 6:30 pm.  Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, author of Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims, will share five life lessons the stories of hate crimes murder victims have to teach us.  Among the insights Dr. Sprinkle will share in Session 2 are: Why we must learn to talk and think about anti-gay hate crime murder in a different way than ever before; How to stand with our Transgender sisters and brothers as so many are preyed upon; What makes the numbers of anti-LGBTQ hate murders spike upward, even after the enactment of the long-awaited Matthew Shepard Act. The first session, “Stories of Those We’ve Lost,” set the stage for considering violent hate crimes against the LGBTQ community in a brand new light.  Dr. Sprinkle compassionately told the stories of Houston’s own Kenneth L. Cummings Jr., and Simmie/Beyoncé Williams Jr. of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, both of whom died for being gay and/or gender variant.  Cummings, a 46-year-old Southwest Airlines Flight Attendant, was hunted by a religious zealot who murdered him and burned his corpse in a remote South Texas location as a “burnt offering.”  Williams, a transgender teen of color, was shot to death on the day word came to her of acceptance in the Job Corps, news so exciting that she went down to the Sistrunk Avenue “Transvestite Stroll” to share with her gay family. She was shot to death by two young men who fled the scene, and are as yet unidentified.  Dr. Sprinkle talked about sadness and hope in relation to both killings, and encouraged the audience to learn more about the real people behind the statistics on hate crimes.  Central to his presentation was the idea that LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims are our ancestors, portals through whom we can learn to love our lives and our queer communities better, deeper, and more fully.  Rev Kristen Klein-Cechettini and Rev. Lynette Ross led the session in a meaningful, hopeful, and life-giving celebration of the lives of all hate crimes victims, represented by the fourteen stories told in Unfinished Lives.  “Session 2: Lessons Learned” will pick up the theme, highlighting two more stories from Dr. Sprinkle’s ground-breaking book, and offering important insights on what the lives of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people really count for.  From 6:30 to 7 p.m., a delicious light supper will be provided free of charge.  The session will begin at 7 and conclude by 8:30 p.m.  Sponsors for the series are Cathedral of Hope Houston, Transgender Foundation of America, and Resurrection MCC. Everyone is invited to add this significant experience to their Pride Month activities in Houston!

June 8, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, bi-phobia, Bisexual persons, Book Tour, Cathedral of Hope Houston, Florida, gay bashing, gay men, gay teens, gender identity/expression, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Legislation, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, religious intolerance, Remembrances, Resurrection MCC Houston, Social Justice Advocacy, stalking, Texas, Unfinished Lives Book Signings, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Houston “Unfinished Lives” Series Draws Large Crowd; Session 2 on June 10: “Lessons Learned”

President Obama Officially Proclaims June 2011 “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month”

Office of the Press Secretary

May 31, 2011




The story of America’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community is the story of our fathers and sons, our mothers and daughters, and our friends and neighbors who continue the task of making our country a more perfect Union. It is a story about the struggle to realize the great American promise that all people can live with dignity and fairness under the law.  Each June, we commemorate the courageous individuals who have fought to achieve this promise for LGBT Americans, and we rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Since taking office, my Administration has made significant progress towards achieving equality for LGBT Americans.  Last December, I was proud to sign the repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.  With this repeal, gay and lesbian Americans will be able to serve openly in our Armed Forces for the first time in our Nation’s history.  Our national security will be strengthened and the heroic contributions these Americans make to our military, and have made throughout our history, will be fully recognized.

My Administration has also taken steps to eliminate discrimination against LGBT Americans in Federal housing programs and to give LGBT Americans the right to visit their loved ones in the hospital.  We have made clear through executive branch nondiscrimination policies that discrimination on the basis of gender identity in the Federal workplace will not be tolerated. I have continued to nominate and appoint highly qualified, openly LGBT individuals to executive branch and judicial positions.  Because we recognize that LGBT rights are human rights, my Administration stands with advocates of equality around the world in leading the fight against pernicious laws targeting LGBT persons and malicious attempts to exclude LGBT organizations from full participation in the international system.  We led a global campaign to ensure “sexual orientation” was included in the United Nations resolution on extrajudicial execution — the only United Nations resolution that specifically mentions LGBT people — to send the unequivocal message that no matter where it occurs, state-sanctioned killing of gays and lesbians is indefensible.  No one should be harmed because of who they are or who they love, and my Administration has mobilized unprecedented public commitments from countries around the world to join in the fight against hate and homophobia.

At home, we are working to address and eliminate violence against LGBT individuals through our enforcement and implementation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  We are also working to reduce the threat of bullying against young people, including LGBT youth. My Administration is actively engaged with educators and community leaders across America to reduce violence and discrimination in schools.  To help dispel the myth that bullying is a harmless or inevitable part of growing up, the First Lady and I hosted the first White House Conference on Bullying Prevention in March. Many senior Administration officials have also joined me in reaching out to LGBT youth who have been bullied by recording “It Gets Better” video messages to assure them they are not alone.

This month also marks the 30th anniversary of the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has had a profound impact on the LGBT community.  Though we have made strides in combating this devastating disease, more work remains to be done, and I am committed to expanding access to HIV/AIDS prevention and care. Last year, I announced the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States.  This strategy focuses on combinations of evidence-based approaches to decrease new HIV infections in high risk communities, improve care for people living with HIV/AIDS, and reduce health disparities. My Administration also increased domestic HIV/AIDS funding to support the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and HIV prevention, and to invest in HIV/AIDS-related research.  However, government cannot take on this disease alone.  This landmark anniversary is an opportunity for the LGBT community and allies to recommit to raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and continuing the fight against this deadly pandemic.

Every generation of Americans has brought our Nation closer to fulfilling its promise of equality.  While progress has taken time, our achievements in advancing the rights of LGBT Americans remind us that history is on our side, and that the American people will never stop striving toward liberty and justice for all.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2011 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.  I call upon the people of the United States to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.


June 1, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Asian Americans, Bisexual persons, Bullying in schools, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), gay men, Gay Pride Month, gay teens, gender identity/expression, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, hate crimes prevention, HIV/AIDS, Housing Discrimination, It Gets Better Project (IGBP), Latino and Latina Americans, Legislation, Lesbian women, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Matthew Shepard Act, Native Americans, President Barack Obama, Presidential Proclamation, Repeal of DADT, transgender persons, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on President Obama Officially Proclaims June 2011 “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month”

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