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

Ohio Transgender Teen Commits Suicide, Cites Religious Zealot Parents’ Attempt to Control Her Life

Leelah Alcorn, 17, took her own life by jumping in front of oncoming traffic on an Ohio Interstate Highway. Tumblr image.

Leelah Alcorn, 17, lazerprincess, took her own life by jumping in front of oncoming traffic on an Ohio Interstate Highway. Tumblr image.

Union Township, Ohio – A transgender teen girl chose to walk into the path of Interstate Highway traffic rather than face discrimination and harsh treatment for her gender expression. Cincinnati.com reports that Leelah Alcorn, 17, was struck and killed by an oncoming tractor-trailer truck at approximately 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, December 28, after leaving an extensive suicide note on her Tumblr account social media page. The driver of the truck, Abdullahi Ahmed, 39, was unhurt in the tragic incident that took place near the South Lebanon exit on I-71 because of his fastened seatbelt. Ms. Alcorn’s body was transported from the scene by the Warren County Coroner’s Office. Ohio Highway Patrol Officers are investigating what led Ms. Alcorn apparently to take her own life.

Ms. Alcorn whose account of rejection, alienation for her parents and school mates highlights the plight of transgender teens around the nation, left two notes on her blog, according to openly gay Cincinnati City Council man, Chris Seelbach : a suicide note, which may be read in its entirety on Councilman Seelbach’s Facebook Page here, and an apology note to the few friends Ms. Alcorn felt she still had at the time of her decision to take her own life. Ms. Alcorn, an M to F transgender youth whose chosen screen avatar was lazerprincess wrote that she had felt herself trapped in a male body since the age of four. In her suicide note which begins, “If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue. Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender,” Leelah writes that her parents’ response to her discovery of her transgender identity contributed to a self-hatred that dogged her from age 14 until her death three years later. Her mother mandated that Leelah see conservative “Christian” therapists who only contributed to the burden of anger and depression.

The crisis apparently took place at the time of Leelah’s 16th birthday. She writes: “When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.” In response to the inflexibility of her parents, Leelah came out as gay at school, believing that doing so would soften the effect of living into her true transgender persona. Her strict Christian parents responded by taking her out of public school, depriving her of any means of communicating with the outside world such as her cell phone and her laptop, and put her into virtual isolation for five months. “No friends, no support, no love,” Leelah wrote. “Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.” 

When she was finally allowed by her parents to communicate with others and see her one-time friends, Leelah relates that her excitement turned to deeper agony upon finding out that her classmates were little better than acquaintances who cared little for her true self. After a summer of depression, fearing the unknowns of college, grades, enforced attendance at a church where “everyone . . . is against everything I live for,” and what she believed to be the unreachability of transitioning, Leelah gave up hoping anything could get any better for her. “Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself, “ she wrote. “There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say ‘it gets better’ but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.”

“That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself,” she wrote in an exhausted, heartbreaking coda to her final testament, struggling to explain who she really was by striking out her male birth name in her parting salutation. “Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s fucked up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
“(Leelah) Josh Alcorn” 

Councilman Seelbach prefaced Leelah’s note with an appeal to his Facebook Friends to contribute what they could spare to TransOhio, so that in some measure, Leelah’s last wish that trans civil rights could somehow be advanced thanks to her having lived. Seelbach, the first openly gay Council Member to be elected in Cincinnati, writes: “While Cincinnati led the country this past year as the first city in the mid-west to include transgender inclusive health benefits and we have included gender identity or expression as a protected class for many years….the truth is….it is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in this country.
“We have to do better.” 

We at the Unfinished Lives Project could not agree more with Councilman Seelbach. Transgender youth in America, especially M to F persons, face unimaginable hurdles in the quest to become who they truly are. Seldom are we invited into the long, punishing agony trans teens endure. Leelah Alcorn died because her parents, her school, her society, and the religious underpinnings of the social and moral system of this country are hostile to non-normative gender identity and variant gender expression. Though she was 17 when she stepped into the path of a hurtling semi truck, she was still a child: vulnerable, confused, and above all, wounded. She took her own life. But she cannot be held responsible for the act that took her life. That indictment falls on a culture and heterosexist system in which we all play a part. LGBTQ and Straight alike. Councilman Seelbach declares what we must all resolve to do. Better. So much better, for the multitudes of youth like Leelah Alcorn who deserve a fair chance at the pursuit of happiness in a land that professes to stand for justice. “We have to do better.” Yes. It’s a matter of life and death that we do. (Thanks to Carmen Saenz, Waco, TX activist, for drawing our attention to this story.)

Rest peacefully, lazerprincess, dear sister.

For any Transgender Young Person struggling with life, and in need of a friendly, non-judgmental voice of help and encouragement, we recommend the Trevor Lifeline, a 24/7 phone service where a real person will answer your call, listen sincerely, and offer real assistance. Free call, 1-866-488-7386. Call. Text. Now. 

December 30, 2014 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Councilman Chris Seelbach, gender identity/expression, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Ohio, religious intolerance, Reparative Therapy, transgender persons, TransOhio, transphobia, Trevor Project | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

California Boy Bullied for Being “Fag Cheerleader”; Takes His Own Life

Ronin Shimizu, 12, fell victim to bullying for being a "fag": the only boy on his middle school cheerleading squad.

Ronin Shimizu, 12, fell victim to bullying for being a “fag”: the only boy on his middle school cheerleading squad.

Folsom, California – 12-year-old Ronin Shimizu took his own life because he couldn’t bear the bullying anymore. KXTV reports that after incessant bullying for being a “fag” and loving cheerleading so passionately, this young person became yet another in the growing number of children who found rumor and bullying online and in school too much to take. His parents repeatedly warned local school officials that Ronin was being incessantly targeted by bullies. It had gotten so bad in the sixth grade that Brandon and Danielle Shimizu withdrew their son from Middle School, and schooled him at home. But the accusations of homosexuality and denial of his masculinity for being a cheerleader followed him, and in the end overwhelmed him.

In the wake of Ronin’s suicide, officials of Folsom Middle School, and of the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, expressed grief and regret at his passing–too late. Whatever steps they took to stem the tide of cruel bullying were ineffective. According to Gay Star News, Ronin was targeted because he was the only boy on the cheerleading squad. Hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil for Ronin on December 4 in his neighborhood. A sixth grade member of the Vista Junior Eagles Cheerleading Squad, Riley Coleman, broke down in tears as she said, “He was bullied very badly. It is not OK to bully people.” Cynthia Brown, a concerned parent from the neighborhood told KXTV Channel 10, “He was just a sweet child. For him to feel that hopeless is heart-breaking.” 

Ronin’s parents issued a statement on December 6 as a moving tribute to their son, and a warning to the community about the seriousness of youth suicide from bullying:

“The tragic loss of our son has and will forever change our life. The love and support that we received from family, friends and the Folsom community has been immeasurable and words cannot begin to express our gratitude through this most difficult grieving process. The people close to our family know exactly who Ronin was, but since the story of this tragedy has spread worldwide, we want to take a minute to let the world know who he was. Ronin was one of the most loving, compassionate, empathetic, artistic and funny kids to grace this earth. Ronin was a child who was not afraid to follow his heart, and we as his parents did everything in our power to allow him to pursue his passions, while protecting him from the minority that could not understand the specialness he possessed. As you already know, Ronin loved to do Cheer, but he also loved art, fashion, being a Scout and most recently crew/rowing. It is true that because of his specialness, Ronin was a target of bullying by individuals that could not understand or accept his uniqueness. Ronin was not just a target of bullying because of his participation in cheer, but for him just being Ronin. We as his parents always knew that he would make an impact on the world, we just thought it would be in something like fashion design or art related. We had no idea that God and Buddha had a more important role for him, and we as his parents will make it our mission in life to turn this tragedy into something positive and hopefully prevent another senseless tragedy. In closing, please remember that education in regards to bullying prevention does not only need to occur in our schools but also in the home.” ~ Danielle and Brandon Shimizu

There is help for families battling school bullying. A Sacramento-based non-profit, B.R.A.V.E. Society, “Bullies Are Actually Violating Everyone,” offers solution focused resources for parents and school officials to help stem the rising tide of pre- and teenage suicide.

December 8, 2014 Posted by | Asian Americans, B.R.A.V.E. Society, Bullying in schools, California, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ suicide, Mistaken as Gay, Vigils | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gay Student Condemned By Church Dies By Suicide

Ben Wood, 21, bullied by Church Youth Leader, takes his own life.

Ben Wood, 21, bullied by Church Youth Leader, takes his own life.

Asheville, North Carolina – William “Ben” Wood was 21 when he died on the floor of his dorm at UNC-Asheville.  Friends who found him said that he was drawn up in a fetal position on May 8, 2013, having slashed open his veins.  The loss of this sensitive, justice-seeking young gay man is a tragedy by most accounts–his friends and school mates say he was a fine student, but in recent months his grades and school performance had plunged.  The university junior couldn’t deal with the prospect of going back to his neighborhood in Asheville without being a student any longer, according to his mother’s account in the Reconciling Ministries Network Blog.  As a teen, he had been irreparably wounded by a Youth Leader at his home church as he prepared to go on a Mission trip with his friends from the United Methodist Youth Fellowship.

His mom, Julie Wood, recounts how the misguided Youth Leader singled out her son for being gay in front of his peers.  The leader said, You all know, we all know, that Ben is gay.  Who here is comfortable being around him?”  Demanding a response from each youth in the group, the Leader then said, “Do you understand that Ben is going to hell?”  Once again, the Youth Leader pressed each youth for an answer about Ben.  Crushed, exposed, and broken by the experience, Ben came home while his UMYF friends left on the bus for the Mission Trip.  His mother, who stalwartly contends that their home church is a loving and supportive place, says that this was the trigger experience she believes led to the suicide of her son a few agonizing years later.  Mrs. Wood writes:

“Ben was told that he was not worthy of going on the mission trip.  He had been shamed, humiliated, and betrayed.  He was told that he did not deserve to be a part of the group.  He was no representative of God. 

Out of our front window, I saw the goldish colored Caviler abruptly whip into our driveway.   Ben ran up the porch steps and stood in the doorway.  One look, and I knew, something horrible had happened.  The flushed sides of his cheeks quivered as did his lip.  His breathing was rapid and his eyes just about to spill over. 

The church bus was loaded with Ben’s friends to go on that mission trip while my betrayed and broken son, walked alone around Salem Lake.   He must have felt so very abandoned and isolated. 

While he never lost his compassion for others, I think that this was the day that he gave up on people and God.” 

Skeptics may argue that there is no clear correspondence between the suicide of a young gay man years after the shaming incident that took place in a church youth group in his teens.  Others will say that the church is basically a loving and supportive place, but is put in a hard situation by teachings like those of the United Methodist Church that send an ambiguous, essentially rejecting message about lesbians and gay people.  On the one hand, the social teachings of the church say that every person, including “homosexuals,” is of “sacred worth.”  On the other, the United Methodist Church stubbornly rejects homosexuality as “incompatible” with Christian teaching–denying ordination and marriage to LGBT people, and defrocking their clergy who carry out same-sex marriage ceremonies, or who live openly as lesbian or gay people.

So, who stands guilty of Ben Wood’s death?  The Youth Minister who was applying what he believed the teachings of his church on homosexuality to be?  Ben’s so-called “friends” who one-by-one (under pressure from an adult leader, of course) abandoned Ben to shame and broken heartedness?  The theologians and clergy of the church, who cannot seem to reconcile the love of God on the one hand, and social heterosexism and homophobia on the other?  And what of Ben’s own responsibility to transcend the suffering of his youth–though this latter argument is little more than blaming a victim for his own demise?

Bens’ obituary says he was a genuine, complex, and worthwhile human being.  The Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel  records that Ben “was a member of Sedge Garden United Methodist Church and was a Junior at UNC-Asheville. Ben had a kind and loving soul, with a great sense of humor. He was particularly compassionate to the needs and struggles of others more than himself and was a great journalist. To his younger sisters, Ben was a great big brother who shared lots of walks in the creeks and scavenger hunts with their stuffed animals.”  The obituary goes on to say that three clergy spoke at his funeral, and that his own maternal grandfather was a clergyman.  But Ben found so little hospitality and comfort from the churches around him and the clergy who served them that he could not and did not reach out to them in his darkest hours.  So, a sensitive, socially conscious young man, who happened to be gay and Christian, took his own life.

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Professor of Practical Theology at Brite Divinity School, and a native North Carolinian himself, issues this opinion and prayer for other young LGBT persons: “The churches and their leadership have much to answer for in the deaths of young people like Ben Wood.  While we may not be able to point to a smoking gun linking the suicide of young persons condemned by church teachings to the culpability of the churches, there is no doubt that Christian heterosexism and homophobia contribute to the climate that denigrates LGBTQ people and creates undue suffering in their lives.  Indeed, there are progressive and welcoming churches and clergy, and for them we give thanks.  But they are too few, and the silence of church people about the prejudice condemning LGBTQ folk is a major contributing factor in the horror of spiritual violence against them.”

Dr. Sprinkle concludes:  “Let us be crystal clear about this: the heterosexism and homophobia Ben Wood experienced in his life is a Christian heresy–one the churches and clergy of every stripe must find the courage to repent of and repudiate.  And we must do everything we can to make amends to youth like Ben, and to their families.”

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Brite Divinity School, Bullycide, gay men, gay teens, GLSEN, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, North Carolina, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, United Methodist Church | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Gay New Mexico Teen Is Latest Victim of School Bullying

Carlos Vigil,17,  tormented to death by bullies during his senior year in high school.

Carlos Vigil, 17, tormented to death by bullies during his senior year in high school.

Albuquerque, New Mexico – A gay New Mexico teenager took his life, despairing after years of incessant bullying by classmates.  Carlos Vigil, 17, posted a heart-wrending Twitter post on Saturday, July 13, finally crumbling under the weight of the epithets and ridicule his classmates put on him.  The tweet, posted as a screen capture by EveryJoe.com, reads in part: “I’m sorry to those who I offended over the years.  I’m blind to see that I, as a human being, suck.  I’m an individual who is doing an injustice to the world and it’s time for me to go. . . I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to love someone or have someone love me.  I guess it’s best, though, because now I leave no pain onto anyone.  The kids in school are right, I am a loser, a freak, and a fag and in no way is that acceptable for people to deal with.  I’m sorry for not being a person that would make someone proud.”

Ending his tweet, Carlos texted, “I am free now.”  His father, who ironically had only recently returned from a conference in North Carolina where he had spoken out against anti-gay bullying in schools, saw the tweet, and rushed home, too late.  Carlos was sped to the University of New Mexico Medical Center in a coma.  Late Sunday night, his parents requested that doctors remove life support from their son, after his organs had been harvested to benefit others.

The pathos and horror of anti-gay bullying scream out from the story of Carlos Vigil.  His mother said to reporters that her boy had been bullied in some form or another for being perceived as different and effeminate since he was eight years old.  Lately, she said, Carlos had been dogged by hateful speech about his sexual orientation, his acne, his glasses, and his weight.  He and his family tried valiantly to withstand the bullying, complaining to school officials, and transferring from a nearby high school to Valley High where the latest wave of bullying crashed over him.  Carlos had counseled and consoled others who were verbally attacked, and his parents were constantly checking in to ask how he was doing.  He had spoken out against bullying himself.  But according to the New York Daily News, no one guessed at the depth of his own personal anguish until his sudden, untimely death.  Eddie Vargas, sports director of Warehouse 508, an Albuquerque youth entertainment and arts center that Carlos helped to establish, said, “It’s an eye-opener that it can happen to anybody. The people we think are the most confident can also be the ones who are hurting the most.” 

We should no longer be surprised that gay youth like Carlos who show compassion for the hurts of others often swim in oceans of despair that they alone are helpless to overcome.  Carlos had deeply supportive parents who loved him just the way he was.  But the depth of the pain of a youth who had been bullied since the third grade was beyond usual measures of love, support, and affection.  Prevention is the best remedy for the multitude of LGBTQ and gender variant youth who take their own lives as a consequence of the rejection and hate speech to which they are subjected in school among their peers.  Teachers and administrators, clergy, health professionals, lawmakers, and cultural icons must act decisively to stem the tide of gay teen suicide by refusing to see LGBTQ youth as “the problem,” and, while knowing and acting on the signs of youth in trouble, must defend vulnerable boys and girls by making any hint of school bullying a serious offense.  Bullies need help, too.  So do the families of bullies who often enact what they hear at home, or act out from experiences of torment themselves.

Now, Carlos’s family is asking for everyone to work hard to prevent another useless, senseless death like his.  Early this morning, apparently unable to sleep well, his father and mother tweeted this note on their son’s Twitter account: “Carlos is finally at peace! Thank you everyone for your support and prayers. Please don’t forget what he wanted STOP THE BULLYING!”

If anyone is in need of a listening, sympathetic ear, call the Trevor Project Helpline, 24/7, to speak to a real person who will reach out to you: 1-866-488-7386.  Don’t wait! Call Now!

July 17, 2013 Posted by | Bullycide, Bullying in schools, gay teens, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, harassment, Heterosexism and homophobia, Internalized homophobia, Latinos, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, New Mexico, Slurs and epithets, suicide, Trevor Project | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay New Mexico Teen Is Latest Victim of School Bullying

Savage Anti-Gay Murder in NYC Highlights Increasing Danger for LGBT People

Mark Carson, 32, openly gay man shot to death in the face in NYC (Gay Star News photo).

Mark Carson, 32, openly gay NYC man fatally shot in the face (Gay Star News photo).

New York City, New York – A gay man shot to death at point blank range early Saturday morning became the fifth anti-gay hate crime to strike fear into Gotham City in recent weeks.  Mark Carson, 32, an openly gay yogurt shop worker from Brooklyn, who was walking with a companion in Greenwich Village, faced his harasser, who taunted his victim with homophobic slurs before fatally shooting him in the face, saying “You want to die here tonight?”.  The assailant was collared in a matter of a few blocks by a police officer who had the description of the shooter.  The officer seized the murder weapon along with the suspect.  Elliot Morales, 33, is in the custody of the NYPD, charged with second degree murder as a hate crime, and is being held in jail without bail.

After being goaded by a series of previous gay bashings in Midtown Manhattan in the Madison Square Garden area, some involving Knicks fans in full team attire, the LGBTQ and Allied community in the greater NYC metro area has erupted into angry, frightened protests.  The Associated Press reports that thousands took to the streets on Monday to cry out against Carson’s murder, making this the most powerful demonstration of anti-hate crime street activism since the days of Matthew Shepard, fourteen years ago. NYC Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, marched arm in arm with Edie Windsor, the key plaintiff in the case for Marriage Equality now before the Supreme Court of the United States.  Emotions on a spectrum from disbelief that such a brazen crime could occur in the City, through towering rage against the cold-blooded killing of a defenseless gay man in the heart of the most tolerant neighborhood in New York, to abject fear that the streets of the city are unsafe to walk openly for gay people.  Carson fell just blocks from the site of the birth of the Gay Rights Movement during the famous Stonewall Riots of 1969.

Morales, the alleged shooter, once charged with attempted murder in 1998, was filled with “homophobic glee,” laughing as he confessed to police that he pulled the trigger on Carson, according to the New York Daily News.   Morales was seen just 15 minutes before the attack, publicly urinating outside an upscale Greenwich Village restaurant beside the storied Stonewall Inn.  Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly candidly commented to the press that Carson had done nothing to antagonize his assailant, according to USA Today.  “It’s clear that the victim here was killed only because and just because he was thought to be gay,” Commissioner Kelly said.

The Daily News speculates that Morales’s homophobia had been ignited by the way Carson, a proud, out gay man, was dressed–in a tank top with cut off shorts and boots.  Prosecutors say that Morales shouted at Carson and his friend, “Hey, you faggots!  You look like gay wrestlers!”  According to his family, Carson was happy, well-adjusted, and loved the West Village where he met his death .  “He was a courageous person,” Carson’s brother, Michael Bumpars, said. “My brother was a beautiful person.”  

Makeshift shrine at the spot Mark Carson was shot to death in West Village.

Makeshift shrine at the spot Mark Carson was shot to death in West Village.

Naïve pundits have said that the increasing visibility and political success of LGBT people to gain mainstream acceptance have ushered in a new era of queer acceptance in American life.  Some have even declared the “victory” of the gay rights movement.  Such self-congratulations are premature.  Carson’s brazen murder by a totally unapologetic homophobe, coupled with the rash of LGBT youth suicides in schools across the nation, and reports of skyrocketing statistics of violence against transgender people of color, are giving the lie to the notion that the United States is safe for queer folk.  Some are now reversing their previous opinions, calling the violence evidence of a “backlash” against the recent success of Marriage Equality in New England, New York, the District of Columbia, and Minnesota.  Though New York State made same-sex marriage legal in 2011, NYC Police Commissioner Kelly revealed that though last year’s bias-crimes against LGBT people in the city numbered 13, the total now stands at 22 and counting.

June is Gay Pride Month in New York City.  Nerves are frayed.  Top city officials, politicians, and police top brass are scrambling to make this year’s celebration in Greenwich Village and around town safe.  New York City has earned the reputation of being the cradle of queer tolerance, and Mayor Bloomberg obviously wants to keep it that way.  Yet the violence in the streets of New York, now turned ominously fatal with Mark Carson’s grisly murder, may be a bellwether for things to come throughout the nation.  Morales, the alleged shooter, laughed and joked that he was proud to terrorize the LGBT community.  Foes of gay equality may be on the back foot because of the rapid acceptance of gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people, particularly by younger Americans.  But homophobic, irrational hatred, the sort that maims and kills, has by no means gone away.  Nor does this recent spate of violence suggest a “backlash.”  When 38 states have written homophobia into their constitutions, or bolstered anti-gay statutes, this outbreak of harm can hardly be seen as anything but good, old fashioned American bigotry.  The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects (NCAVP) is closely monitoring events in New York and around the nation.  They advise non-confrontational efforts to diffuse potentially dire situations of violence.  Yet, the queer community has come too far to go back into the closet ever again.  To do so would dishonor the hopes, loves, and courage of openly gay men like Mark Carson.  Sharon Stapel, NCAVP’s executive director, said that these events must be understood in the context of a nation where basic equality is still denied to LGBT people. Her message to New York’s  gay community? “We want to give people tools that can de-escalate situations but also say, ‘You need to be yourself,'” Stapel said to ABC News. “We’re not telling people, ‘Take your rainbow sticker off.'”

May 21, 2013 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bullying in schools, Christine Quinn, gay bashing, gay men, gay teens, GLBTQ, gun violence, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Marriage Equality, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), New York, New York City, Protests and Demonstrations, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Stonewall, Stonewall Inn, transgender persons, transphobia, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Savage Anti-Gay Murder in NYC Highlights Increasing Danger for LGBT People

Gay Teen, Threatened By Bullies, Hangs Himself in Oregon School Playground

Jadin Bell, 15, driven to suicide by anti-gay bullies.

Jadin Bell, 15, driven to suicide by anti-gay bullies.

La Grande, Oregon – A 15-year-old gay teen who attempted suicide after being harassed  by bullies on the internet was removed from life support late last week.  Anti-gay bullying, which the young Jadin Bell faced for years, has been identified by his friends as the prime cause of his act of desperation.

Bell, a sophomore at La Grande High School, hanged himself from a playground structure at Central Elementary School, according to KATU News.  A quick response from a passer-by rescued him. The youth was rushed to a local hospital and placed on life support.  Hill was then transferred to a major Portland trauma center, where he had been clinging to life until the family determined that further heroic efforts to keep him breathing were in vain.

The La Grande community rallied to support Bell and his family with a vigil on January 25 which was attended by over 200 people, many of whom had great memories and good things to say about the gifted youth who loved cheerleading, and volunteered at a senior citizen’s care facility.  But the undertone of the vigil was a mixture of frustration and denial–frustration that a second young person had fallen prey to bullying (a 16-year-old girl had taken her life in La Grande earlier in the year), and denial of the overarching reason Jadin Bell had hanged himself: anti-gay bullying.  No mention of the anti-gay harassment Hill suffered on the internet and in person was made in the reportage surrounding the vigil, even though the cause was well known throughout the town of 13,000 in Northeastern Oregon.

In a Skype interview, Bud Hill, a friend and mentor of Bell, told KATU reporters that the family considers anti-gay bullying the aggravating issue in their son’s suicide.  Hill, who has vowed to start a foundation in Jadin Bell’s memory, said that the youth’s sensitivity and kindness made him a target to school toughs.  “He was different, and they tend to pick on the different ones,” Hill said.

Bell had avoided confronting his harassers, saying to his family that making their hateful attacks on him public would only make his torment worse.  But in recent days, the family says, Bell had gone to school officials to complain of the verbal assaults on his sexual orientation.  The superintendent had initiated an investigation into Bell’s allegations, which was proceeding at the time of the suicide attempt.

“Driven to suicide”: the phrase rolls too easily off the tongue.  The horror of the loss of Jadin Bell is that he is one of so many.  Every town and city in the nation is susceptible to become the next La Grande.  The time to stop the homophobic violence preying on the youth of the nation is now, not after it is too late.

The Trevor Helpline operates the nation’s only 24/7 suicide and crisis hotline for gay and questioning youth. Don’t wait any longer.  Call the Trevor Helpline: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386).

January 29, 2013 Posted by | gay teens, GLBTQ, harassment, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Oregon, suicide, Trevor Project, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

North Texas LGBTQ Community Grieves the Passing of Thomas Anable

Thomas Anable, 59, President of Fairness Fort Worth.

Benbrook, Texas – Thomas Anable, President of Fairness Fort Worth, an LGBTQ advocacy and education agency dedicated to the transformation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, Texas, has died, according to the report of The Dallas Voice.  Anable, 59, was a leading voice in the significant advances for LGBTQ people in the wake of the 2009 Raid on the Rainbow Lounge, Fort Worth’s largest gay and lesbian bar.  Anable, who found himself caught up in the swirl of events around the Raid, was a founding member of Fairness Fort Worth. On the night of June 28, 2009, he was working in the office of the Lounge when police and officers of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission raided the establishment, and began arresting patrons.  According to his own often-repeated testimony, Anable’s life underwent a significant change that fateful night.  As he said in the official trailer for the documentary film, Raid of the Rainbow Lounge, “Those officers took something away from me that I may never get back–they took my sense of safety and security. And they had no right to do that.” He was transformed from a bystander to a passionate activist, bringing his persuasive voice and considerable skills to bear on challenges facing gay folk in the aftermath of the historic Raid.

According to a press release from the Benbrook Police Department, Anable’s body was discovered in Dutch Branch Park at 8:26 a.m. Saturday morning. He died sometime late Friday or early Saturday morning, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The news spread swiftly on Saturday throughout the North Texas human rights advocacy community.

Rev. Carol West, Vice President of Fairness Fort Worth, and Jon Nelson, a co-founder of the organization, praised Anable in public statements and vowed to carry on the work that he had so wholeheartedly dedicated himself to accomplish.  Plans for a memorial observance of his life have not yet been released at the time of this writing.

Tom Anable utterly dedicated himself to change Fort Worth, Tarrant County, and North Texas into a better place for all people to live, especially the LGBTQ community.  A CPA by profession and training, he sold his practice in order to take up the tasks of advocacy full-time after the Rainbow Lounge Raid. Anable’s efforts most recently were centered on two major White House Conferences held on the campus of his alma mater, the University of Texas at Arlington–the first on hate crimes and human trafficking, and the second on efforts to combat bullying in schools.  In the past month, he was avidly working to support the Welcoming Schools Program of the Human Rights Campaign as a model for the Fort Worth Independent School District.

In response to the news of his passing, Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, Professor at Brite Divinity School, and Founding Director of the Unfinished Lives Project, said, “I am saddened and grieved by the passing of Tom Anable.  No one has contributed more to the advancement of LGBTQ human rights in our area than he.  Tom was a consummate networker, tirelessly striving to make our world a better place.  As we miss him, the finest memorial to his memory will be to carry on his work until full equality is achieved for everyone in the Lone Star State.”

“Thomas Anable’s legacy will be a stronger, more confident, and much more politically savvy gay community,” Sprinkle went on to say.  “We are far better for his work, and closer to the goal of equality because of his labors.”

August 18, 2012 Posted by | Fairness Fort Worth, gay men, GLBTQ, Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Rainbow Lounge Raid, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Susan Sarandon is Trevor Project’s 2012 Hero Award Winner

Susan Sarandon, The Trevor Project’s 2012 Hero Award honoree [New York Daily News photo].

New York, New York – Oscar winning actress, Susan Sarandon will be honored by The Trevor Project as their 2012 Hero Award Winner.  Stanley Tucci, President of MTV, will be presenting the award Monday, June 25th, at “Trevor Live,” the LGBTQ teen suicide prevention group’s high profile benefit event.

Sarandon, famed for her artistry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show [“Dammit, Janet!”], The Hunger, and Thelma & Louise, is being honored for her forthright advocacy for marriage equality, publicly opposing homophobia in the media, speaking out to save the lives of LGBTQ teens from bullying and suicide, and her gifts to HIV/AIDS research and treatment. Speaking for the Trevor Project, Abbe Land, Trevor’s Executive Director and CEO, said: “The Trevor Project is proud to honor Susan Sarandon with the Trevor Hero Award. As a straight ally, Ms. Sarandon has a long history of working to raise awareness of the importance of treating everyone fairly and ensuring same basic civil and human rights for all.” Ms. Land continued, “Our honorees know through their work with The Trevor Project that it only takes one resource – one friend, one ally, one parent – to help save a life. We are proud to honor Susan Sarandon with the Trevor Hero Award.”

Responding to the news she was Trevor’s 2012 Hero honoree, Ms. Sarandon said: “It is truly an honor to be recognized by The Trevor Project as a Trevor Hero. All people deserve respect, and young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender deserve to know that there are people who care for them and who are fighting to make this world a better and more accepting place for them.”  When she accepts the award, Ms. Sarandon will join the company of other celebrity advocates such as Daniel Radcliffe, Lady Gaga, and Neil Patrick Harris.

Every day, the Trevor Project saves the lives of young LGBTQ people struggling to reconcile their authentic selves with a world that is often hostile and rejecting.  The Trevor Helpline is the premier 24/7 online and phone counseling service dedicated to saving the lives of youth from suicide. An innovator in suicide prevention, The Trevor Project has been recognized by President Obama as a Champion of Change. For more information, go to the Trevor Project’s website, accessible here.

June 23, 2012 Posted by | GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, HIV/AIDS, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Marriage Equality, Media Issues, New York, Social Justice Advocacy, Trevor Project | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Susan Sarandon is Trevor Project’s 2012 Hero Award Winner

Gay Teen’s Heartbreaking Suicide Note: Bullying Led to El Paso Youth’s Untimely Death

Brandon Joseph Elizares, 16: artist, poet, Shakespeare lover, gay boy. Bullying led to his suicide June 2.

El Paso, Texas – Brandon Elizares came out to his mother when he was 14. “I’m still me. I’m Brandon. Nothing has changed, except I like boys,” his mother, Zachalyn Elizares remembers. Bullied relentlessly for being gay, he Andress High School sophomore barely made it to 16. News of his plaintive farewell note hit the media Thursday, compounding the impact of his June 2 death from an overdose of pills. “My name is Brandon Joseph Elizares,” he wrote, “and I couldn’t make it. I love you guys with all my heart.” His younger brother found Brandon’s body in his room, where the note was left along with a careful display of all his school awards and his art work, according to the KVIA-TV News 7, the local ABC affiliate.  His mother commented on the rest of the note’s content: “He wrote that he was sorry, that he felt like he had to hide under his skin from being who he was because it made him feel terrible.” 

His mother and his friends painted a grim picture of Brandon’s last days at Andress High. The precipitating hate message that seemed to tip Brandon over the edge was a text message on Friday from a boy who threatened to fight him for being gay.  The El Paso Times reports that Brandon had attended Andress for only about two months, having transferred from Chapin High School where the anti-gay bullying had become intense. The bullying followed him to his new school.  Taunts and threats plagued him, though Brandon tried to put a brave face on things for his mother.  “I know it’s hard being a teenager, and it’s especially hard being a gay teenager,” Zachalyn Elizares told reporters, “but I didn’t realize how hard it was. Knowing when to step in is always difficult.” When Brandon told her students threatened to shoot him and to set him on fire, she dove in to rouse school officials first at Chapin and then at Andress to the problem. Brandon reported the bullying to school authorities, and they did reprimand some of his tormentors in the school–but they didn’t notify the bullies’ parents, according to Ms. Elizares.  “I don’t know if they didn’t take it seriously unless it turned physical,” she said. “Parents should know what their kids are doing, especially if they’re being taught these things at home.”

His mother doesn’t want anyone to face prosecution for her son’s death by suicide.  She says he made a choice. But it is clear to her, to Brandon’s friends, and to El Paso community leaders that bullying led to Brandon’s suicide.  Instead of retribution, Ms. Elizares hopes the parents of bullies and their victims across the nation will learn from her awful loss. Parents, she says, must become more aware of what their children are doing in school, whether they are bullying others, or are the target of bullying. “You can’t fix anything if you don’t know what the problem is,” she said.

Brandon’s story is going viral around the nation.  Many are learning about him, his challenges, and the courage of his family. Though news outlets usually refrain from reporting on suicides, the special circumstances surrounding Brandon’s death have caused many media organizations to make an exception.  Homophobic bullying has to be exposed in order to effectively confront it.

Meanwhile, Zachalyn Elizares and her surviving son and daughter are doing the best they can.  Brandon was a premie, just three pounds when he was born, she remembers.  He was her first child, born when she was just 16 herself, a very young mother in Hawaii. She said to the El Paso Times, “I literally had to grow up with him.”  As a military family, the Elizares clan moved to El Paso. She intends to take her son’s body back to Hawaii for burial next week. A memorial service is planned on Friday, June 15 at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, beginning at 7 p.m. El Paso’s PFLAG Chapter is sponsoring the service, and is collecting a fund to help with expenses. The hurt his mother feels breaks through from time-to-time, tears bleeding through the laughter and smiles she tries to show the world. “He worried about everyone else before himself,” she said. “He would say, ‘It’s OK, it doesn’t bother me.’ My son had a right to live how he wanted to live.”

June 15, 2012 Posted by | Bullycide, Bullying in schools, gay teens, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, military, PFLAG El Paso, suicide, Texas | , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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