Baltimore, Maryland – The discovery of the body of Mia Henderson, slain transgender woman of color, in Northwest Baltimore signals an alarming increase in the numbers of violent attacks on gender variant and transgender persons. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) and TransGriot, a blog dedicated to raising issues pertinent to the African American transgender community, note that Ms. Henderson’s murder this week is the fifth report of a trans person murdered since June nationally, and the second for Baltimore during the same time span.
Henderson, 26, the sibling of NBA star Reggie Bullock of the Los Angeles Clippers, was found dead in an alley Wednesday morning. Gay Star News reports that her body had suffered “severe trauma,” according to Baltimore Police Department sources, resembling the savagery that took the life of Kandy Hall, 40, in early June, also in Baltimore. No suspects have yet been identified in either of the homicide investigations.
The most recent annual NCAVP report on anti-LGBTQ violence in the United States signals a troubling spike in the number of violent attacks on transgender persons, especially male to female transgender women (M to F), and persons of color. The 2013 report details that “almost three quarters (72%) of [LGBTQ] homicide victims were transgender women, and more than two-thirds (67%) of homicide victims were transgender women of color, yet transgender survivors and victims only represent 13% of total reports to NCAVP.” The report goes on to say that transgender victims are more at risk of injuries, and ethnic/racial minority transgender persons were more likely to be harmed in shelters than the population at large. From the report: “Transgender men were 1.5 times more likely to experience injuries as a result of hate violence and 4.3 times more likely to be the target of hate violence in shelters when compared with other survivors. Transgender people of color were 1.8 times more likely to experience hate violence in shelters.”
Baltimore, Maryland – A popular gay hairstylist was savagely beaten by a gang of men outside an East Baltimore liquor store on Christmas night. The motive? Kenni Shaw, the victim of the attack, has no doubt that the random attack was because of his perceived sexual orientation. Police are still investigating the alleged anti-gay hate crime in the “Charm City.”
According to the Baltimore Sun, Shaw, 30 years old, was simply walking past the East Baltimore beverage shop near his home at approximately 9 p.m. on Christmas when the assault started. Shaw said he tried to beg his attackers to stop, but the blows kept coming so hard and fast he couldn’t get the words out of his mouth. The punches pinned him to the pavement. ”I was just beaten in my face. Nothing was taken. No words were exchanged before the incident, so to me, I think it was a hate crime,” Shaw told The Sun. People in his neighborhood had previously called him “faggot,” but Shaw, a six-foot-tall cosmetologist and hairstylist, never believed homophobic attitudes would issue in such violence.
His mother, Sheila Shaw, told The Sun that Kenni had immediately called her. “I can’t even describe that moment for me. I thought my world was ending,” she said. “No parent wants to get that phone call. The tone of his voice … I thought, ‘He’s strong enough to make the phone call, but I’m probably going to lose my son.’” When she rushed to the hospital and finally got to see her son, Ms. Shaw said she could hardly recognize who he was.
While he was on the phone, paramedics came to transport him to Johns Hopkins, the famed Baltimore hospital, where he was treated for his wounds. Despite the bruises, cuts, and lacerations on his face and knees, there were no fractures. Shaw suspects that bystanders called for help, an indication that not all residents of the neighborhood agree with anti-gay violence.
Shaw said to WBFF Fox News 45 that he was simply glad to be alive. During his recovery at his mother’s home in Baltimore County, Shaw posted an Instagram photo of himself, before and after the assault, showing the horrific effects of the attack. According to Pink News, hundreds of responses supporting the hairstylist poured in from around the country and the world. As he healed from the physical injuries of hate, Shaw decided to speak out against the homophobia that victimizes so many in Baltimore. “It makes me angry and upset, but at the same time, I am here and I made it through,” he told The Sun. “I just want to stand and make sure I have a voice, so this doesn’t happen again to a loved one or anyone.” His relatives are standing strong with Shaw, as well, supporting his outspoken efforts to stop anti-gay hate crimes in their community.
“This needs to be spoken to because somebody needs to take a stand,” he said. “Hate crimes happen every day.”
Shaw firmly believes that anti-gay bias motivated his attackers, spoiling the Christmas spirit for him, his family, and the City of Baltimore. Police have been receptive to Shaw’s allegations, and say that, even though they are not ready to assign a motive to the assault at this time, they have already received several “good leads” in the case. When arrests are made, Baltimore Police say that they will communicated with the Attorney General of the state to determine the nature of the charges they will file.
Meanwhile, Shaw says he will not stop speaking out. In an interview with The Sun, he told reporters, “I’m glad I could share my story and people could empathize with the story, because I’m getting a lot of feedback from people who have been through it or who have had family members who have been through it,” Shaw said. “I’m glad I could be a spokesman, because a lot of people don’t make it through situations like this.”
Omaha, NE – Protesters picketing a military funeral in Omaha were assaulted by a man squirting pepper spray out his pickup truck window as he drove by them on August 28. The assailant, George Vogel, 62, was arrested and charged with 16 counts of misdemeanor assault, and one felony count because the pepper spray hit a police officer. A reporter was also affected by the spray. The motorist was also charged with child neglect since his own child was in the truck at the time of the assault, according to CNN. Police confirmed that Vogel allegedly extended his arm from the cab of the Ford 150 pickup truck, and discharged a “large can” of pepper spray at the Westboro Baptist Church protesters. The funeral was being held at First United Methodist Church for the late Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Bock, 26, who died in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province on August 13. The WBC protest at Bock’s funeral is part of Phelps’s strategy to publicize his campaign against gays and lesbians by targeting fallen U.S. servicemembers, since the United States has become a “fag-enabling” nation that is under God’s wrathful judgment. Members of the church at the Omaha protest carried signs reading “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Blew Up the Troops” and “AIDS Cures Fags.” The pepper spray assault occurred while nearly 600 members of the Patriot Guard Riders ringed the church to prevent the protest and counter-protest from disturbing the funeral services. No members of the Riders were affected by the spray. A major case involving a challenge to free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment has grown from a 2006 protest carried out against the funeral of a soldier from Maryland, in which the father of the deceased soldier sued Phelps and the church for 5 million dollars for harassing the family during the funeral. Albert Snyder, father of the fallen soldier from Maryland, accuses Phelps and his church of emotional distress and anguish. A lower court imposed a fine of up to 8 million dollars against Westboro Baptist, which was later reduced to a 5 million dollar award to Mr. Snyder. A court of appeals overturned the verdict, citing the protections afforded by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case in October of this year. Supporters of the Snyders have lined up against defenders of freedom of speech as the case goes to the high court. Phelps continues his schedule of protests with impunity. While the content of Phelps’s protests is so disturbing that high emotions can be readily understood, the larger issue of freedom of speech and expression takes center stage for the Unfinished Lives Project. We are under no illusions about the nature of Phelps’s work. He is the most notorious homophobe of this age, and if a link could be successfully established between his hate speech and violence against LGBTQ people, as we believe does exist, he and his church members deserve the punishment of the law. But freedom of speech is a defining right guaranteed all Americans under the provisions of the Constitution. LGBTQ people are vouchsafed the right of protest and speech under the same provisions of the law, and to surrender to emotion, no matter how justified it seems in the short term would be to gag and throttle the struggle for human rights in this nation. So, regretfully, the Unfinished Lives Project must support freedom of speech, even for one of the most noxious of our enemies. We must believe that the rightness of full equality will win out in the end, no matter how spiteful the opposition becomes. And, in the spirit of appreciation for the Snyders and all other families and friends of fallen U.S. servicemembers, we offer out sympathy and condolences.
Baltimore, Maryland – Glen H. Footman, 52, died November 9 in the University of Maryland Shock and Trauma Center after what the Bangor Daily News called “a 14-month emotional and courageous battle for life” from gunshot wounds in a possible anti-LGBT hate attack in the Mouth Vernon section of Baltimore. Footman was shot twice on September 22, 2008 after being seen walking hand-in-hand with his soul-mate and life partner of 12 years, Alejandro Chavarria. According to Baltimore police, the two gay men were walking shortly after midnight when a young man on a bicycle came up behind them. Footman turned to speak to the young man while Chavarria walked on ahead. Chavarria shouted back to his partner, “Come on, let’s go,” when two shots rang out, and Footman fell, wounded to the pavement. As Chavarria ran to help Footman, the assailant ran from the scene, but then raced back to collect his bike, and then made his getaway. Police have been treating the case as a possible anti-gay hate crime from the beginning of their investigation. The Baltimore Sun reports that the victim’s father, H. Rodney Footman of Brewer, Maine spoke to reporters by phone to say that Baltimore police have not been encouraging about ever locating the shooter. The elder Footman has no doubt that his son was killed because he was gay. Shortly before the attack, Footman’s father said, a witness overhead the assailant brag, “‘I’m going to kill myself a gay tonight.’ He took off with that intention and he did just that. Police were very up front with us in saying that the chance of this ever being solved is practically nil.” Glen Footman’s death not only bereaves his relatives and his partner. Footman was a force for good in the community who will be sorely missed by many. He was a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor in Maine, Rhode Island, and Texas, and held degrees in business administration and pastoral theology. He counseled youth in Maine and Texas. He and Alex had moved to Maryland shortly before the shooting, where he was to take up a new job at an insurance company. He leaves behind two children from a previous marriage, Nicole Leah and Blaine Jonathan. His beloved Alex, who the Bangor Daily News calls Footman’s “sustaining grace during his last challenging year of physical and emotional struggle,” has returned to San Antonio, where he and Glen first met. Police have not yet ruled Footman’s death a homicide, pending the coroner’s report on whether the injuries sustained in the 2008 shooting were the actual cause of death.
Dallas, TX – A large crowd of vigil keepers gathered at the Crossroads in Dallas on Sunday night to remember murdered gay teens, Jorge Steven López Mercado of Caguas, Puerto Rico, and Jason Mattison, Jr. of Baltimore, Maryland. A third gay teen, Jayron Martin, who survived a vicious homophobic attack in Houston, was also remembered. A coalition of organizations led by Bob McCranie of the Carrolton Project and Daniel Cates of Equality March Texas met at the corner of Cedar Springs and Throckmorton, the historic center of LGBT life in Dallas to voice anger, to express their sadness in solidarity with the families and friends of the slain teens, and to send messages of hope and support from Texas to the loved ones of the boys who were attacked for no other reason than their sexual orientation. Other sponsoring organizations were Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ, the largest LGBT-predominant congregation in the world, Syangogue Beth El Binah, Resource Center Dallas, the Dallas Chapter of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and the Lambda Weekly. Speakers urged the gathering to turn their anger and sorrow into meaningful action for a just world, not only for LGBT people, but for everyone. As vigil keepers lit their candles, the names of 100 slain Transgender, Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual victims of hate crime murder were spoken aloud in the night. The march wound several blocks down to the Legacy of Love monument at the corner of Cedar Springs and Oak Lawn, and then returned. Rainbow flags were signed by many of the participants with messages of hope and support for Jorge Steven’s family in Puerto Rico, and for Jason’s family in Baltimore. A giant card was signed for Jayron, to let him know of the support he has from the Dallas-Fort Worth LGBT community.