Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Hate Murder Victim Charlie Howard’s Memorial Desecrated, Rededicated

Charlie Howard Memorial desecration, prior to refurbishment

Bangor, Maine – Two weeks ago, unknown vandals spray-painted “Die Fag” on a memorial to hate crime murder victim Charles O. “Charlie” Howard. On Saturday, 75 people gathered to rededicate the newly cleaned and restored memorial beside the State Street Bridge in downtown Bangor, the site where 23-year-old Charlie was thrown to his death into the Kenduskeag Stream below.  Howard’s death by drowning at the hands of three youths from respected Bangor families shocked the town in July 1984. For twenty years controversy raged over whether and how to memorialize the young gay man’s death.  Finally, in 2009, a tasteful, unassuming granite memorial was erected at the State Street Bridge site. The Howard Memorial is the focal point of a small ornamental garden featuring tulips, hollyhocks, magnolia bushes, lilacs, cosmos and crabapple trees. Local and state social justice advocates made the murder of Charlie Howard a celebrated cause, bringing about the forerunner organization to today’s Equality Maine, and giving impetus to the drive for marriage equality for same-sex couples in recent years. His death pricked the conscience of Mainers in a way that has proved more productive for practical human rights advances in New England than the more well-known story of Matthew Shepard’s murder has ever effected in Wyoming and the Mountain West.  The Bangor Daily News reports that local residents were repulsed by the recent act of hate and vandalism.  Margaret “Miki” Macdonald, who lives in the neighborhood of the memorial, had gone to care for the flowers and weed the plot around the Howard Memorial as she had often done in the last two years, when she saw the angry words painted across the dedicatory plaque.  As Macdonald told the Daily News, “At first I couldn’t even read what it said.  I wasn’t sure if it was writing or just some random lines. Then when I saw what it said, I said, ‘God, that’s pathetic. How ridiculous for someone to do this.’ Just seeing that was disgusting.”  The act of desecration spurred local and state church and advocacy groups to action.  If the perpetrators, who are still at large, intended to scare the local populace and the LGBTQ community, they failed miserably. Now, in light of the community energy to remember and honor Charlie Howard, Macdonald says she can see something good coming out of the ugliness. “Actually, having something so offensive like that happen to the memorial made all these people regroup, and I think it’s rekindled our intention to encourage tolerance in our community,” she explained to Daily News staff reporter, Andrew Neff. “So in a way, it’s a good thing.” Diversity Day, observed annually in Bangor on Charlie Howard’s birthday, July 7, was established to promote acceptance of a whole range of human differences. This year, the words carved into the stone of his memorial will take on refreshed meaning: “May we, the citizens of Bangor, continue to change the world around us until hatred becomes peacemaking and ignorance becomes understanding.”

May 22, 2011 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, drowning, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Legislation, Maine, Marriage Equality, Matthew Shepard, Monuments and markers, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Remembrances, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Unsolved LGBT Crimes, vandalism, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Remembering Charlie Howard: Murdered 26 Years Ago

Remembering Charlie Howard on State Street Bridge, Bangor Daily News Photo

Bangor, ME – Charles O. “Charlie” Howard was drowned to death by three young men at 10 p.m. on July 7, 1984.  His murder was the first full-blown hate crime murder against a gay person to be recognized as such in all of New England, if not the whole United States.  The young men, Shawn Mabry, 16, Jim Baines, 15, and Daniel Ness, 17, ran him down on the State Street Bridge in the heart of downtown Bangor, beat and kicked him brutally, and then heaved him over the the railing into the Kenduskeag Stream below.  Charlie screamed that he didn’t know how to swim.  At 12:10 a.m. the next morning, police rescuers found his drowned body a few hundred feet from the bridge.  A large eel had wrapped itself around his lifeless neck.  An autopsy confirmed that he died of drowning, most probably hastened by a severe attack of asthma, a disease that had plagued Charlie all his life.  He was 23 years old.  The young attackers spent one night in jail, and then were released without bond into the custody of their parents.  LGBT folk and their allies were galvanized by the murder of one of their own, and a fledgling equality organization started in the state in Charlie’s memory.  Mabry, Baines and Ness were tried as juveniles, and sentenced to an “indeterminate term” in Maine Youth facilities in South Portland.  Because of the nature of the law for juveniles, the convicts had to be released by their 21st birthdays.  Mabry and Ness served 21 months apiece.  Baines, the youngest, served two years.  Fourteen years later, in 1998, Matthew Shepard was murdered on a ridge overlooking Laramie, WY, also because he was gay.  Without what had been learned so painfully in the loss of Charlie Howard, there might very well have been no frame of reference for what happened to Matt.  Echoes of Charlie Howard still reverberate in Maine.  Bangor voted a non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people.  Laramie has not done so yet.  Maine has a state hate crime law on the books, and the government is fairly scrupulous in enforcing it.  Wyoming has never passed such a law protecting its LGBT citizens.  Supporters finally won permission to erect a monument to Charlie near the bridge where he died.  There is no such monument remembering Matt in Laramie.  Matthew Shepard’s story is know around the world.  Charlie Howard’s has remained pretty much a New England story.  But Charlie’s story has changed lives for the better.  And in sheer effect, his supporters have won more respect and practical protection for LGBT people in Maine and New England than Matt’s has yet to achieve in the nation as a whole.  We at the Unfinished Lives Project remember lovely, goofy, maddening, flaming, edgy, and graciously generous Charlie Howard today.  He did not die in vain.  We must work to see to that, for him and for all the sons and daughters of America who died just because of who they were and whom they loved.  Rest well, sweet brother.  We have not forgotten you.

July 7, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, drowning, gay men, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Maine, Matthew Shepard, Monuments and markers, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Stomping and Kicking Violence, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Anti-Gay Church Smears Students and Teachers at “Fag-Infested” Boston School

Westboro Baptist Church children protesting a military funeral

Boston, MA – Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church has issued a press release saying that a protest will take place June 7 at Boston Latin School.  What sets this protest action apart from many others the church has mounted is the virulence of the verbal attacks on the “violent, freakish, worthless, brute-beast children,” who attend the school, and the “perverts” who run it, according to Baywindows.com.  On the church’s online picket schedule, the stated purpose of the protest is “to remind this nation that God is cursing Doomed america [sic] because parents raise their children for the devil and teachers teach them the twin lies that ‘God loves everyone’ and ‘it’s OK to be gay!'”  WBC’s contention that Boston Latin School is “fag-infested” is a theme the Phelps clan has ridden to international attention many times before.  The Topeka, Kansas church gained infamy by picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard in Casper, WY, and then attempting to build a monument in a public park there declaring Shepard’s murder date to be the day he “entered hell.”  Shepard died in October 1998, the victim of the most widely publicized anti-LGBT murder in U.S. history.  The Casper City Council denied WBC the right to erect the offensive monument, a decision upheld by the courts.  Finding it difficult to gin up enough support from gay-bashing tactics in recent years, WBC has switched its attention to private funerals of fallen U.S. servicemembers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The “logic” seems to be that the U.S. government, which according to WBC pronouncements is “fag-enabling,” has sent women and men to die in foreign wars only to consign them to the nether regions thanks to the “pro-homo” policies of the government.  In what may be a landmark freedom of speech case, WBC and Phelps are counting on the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold their defense this Fall in the celebrated suit of Matthew Snyder’s family, according to the Washington Post.  The Snyders took action against the church for “invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy” at their son’s 2006 funeral.  Snyder, a Marine Lance Corporal, was killed in the line of duty in Iraq.  The Snyder family suit contends that statements on the WBC website, his actions, and those of members of WBC including some of Phelps’ own family who comprise a large percentage of the Topeka church membership are not protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The Phelps led church has also turned its attention against Jewish schools, synagogues, and temples. Supporters of Boston Latin School are preparing for the Phelps protest with the aid of an organization named “Phelps-a-thon,” founded by Chris Mason to counter WBC’s homophobic presence by raising money for LGBT causes in a unique way.  For every minute the WBC protest demonstration takes place at the school, Phelps-a-thon will raise donations for the Boston Latin School’s Gay-Straight Alliance.  Since the protest is scheduled to occur for a full 30 minutes, the amount should be considerable, undercutting the hateful purpose of the anti-gay picket. After every Phelps-a-thon money raiser, Mason sends a Thank You card to Fred Phelps informing him of the total donated during the protest for LGBT human rights causes.  As the subversive website says, “We can turn these hateful words into positive change.”  Boston Latin School is the oldest school in the United States, founded in 1635 by the town of Boston, a full year before Harvard University was founded.

June 2, 2010 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Anti-Semitism, Boston Latin School, Fred Phelps, funerals, gay men, Gay-Straight Alliances, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Kansas, Law and Order, Massachusetts, Matthew Shepard, Monuments and markers, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Phelps-a-thon, Protests and Demonstrations, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, U.S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Anti-Gay Church Smears Students and Teachers at “Fag-Infested” Boston School

Protecting Wretches: Why Freedom of Speech Belongs to Fred Phelps, Too

Phelps protestorsRichmond, VA – The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a $5 million verdict Thursday against protesters from Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church who picketed the Maryland funeral of a U.S. Marine who was killed in Iraq with signs bearing messages like “Thank God for IED’s,” and “Priests Rape Boys.”  Surely the most offensive sign carried by the protesters at the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder of Westminster, MD, was “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”  A Baltimore jury had awarded Snyder’s father $5 million in damages from the Topeka, Kansas-based church for the emotional stress and invasion of privacy visited on the family by the protestors.  The three-judge panel of the court of appeals ruled that the language employed by Phelps’ church members, equating the death of Lance Corporal Snyder with God’s judgement against the United States for laxity on homosexuality was “imaginative and hyperbolic rhetoric” that was protected by the First Amendment as freedom of speech.  The messages the church group issued were meant to ignite debate and could not be understood as personally pertaining to the deceased, reasoned the court.  Supporters of the family decried the decision, and predictably, the Phelps Clan at Westboro Baptist Church applauded it.  Sean E. Summers, attorney for Mr. Snyder, vowed to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of Fred Phelps, welcomed the ruling.  Speaking to the Associated Press, Phelps-Roper, who was one of the protestors named in the lawsuit, said, “They had no case but they were hoping the appellate court would not do their duty to follow the rule of law and the appellate court would not do that. They didn’t change God and they didn’t stop us. What they managed to do was give us a huge door, a global door of utterance. Our doctrine is all over the world because of what they did.”  The Supreme Court will or will not hear the appeal the Snyder family says it will bring them, as the high court pleases.  But the guarantee of freedom of speech belongs to wretches as well as the righteous, and as hard as it is to admit its protections for grave errors in judgment, taste, good order, and belief, such protection ensures that truth remains free to combat error in the marketplace of ideas, morals, and customs.  As bitter as it sounds, the court of appeals decision was correct, both for the country, and for LGBT people and their supporters, in the end.  No outfit in America has said more inflammatory things about LGBT people than Phelps and his church, comprised of mostly family members.  The 1998 protest of Matthew Shepard’s funeral in Casper, WY, declaring that “Matt is in Hell!” and that when “Fags Die, God Laughs” is one of the more notorious examples of how wretched hate speech can be in the case of victims of anti-LGBT prejudice.  Finding that their virulent anti-gay rhetoric was losing its public shock value, Phelps’ hate mongers moved on to besmirching the memories of American military servicemembers who had died in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Phelps has not won at every turn.  A public monument proclaiming Matthew Shepard’s damnation, to be put in a Kansas municipal park, was blocked by city officials.  In the end, the defeat of anti-LGBT hate speech is the responsibility of everyone, gay and straight, who know that the Phelps message is morally, spiritually, and patriotically bankrupt.  In Pompeii, buried by volcanic ash in CE 79, graffiti scrawled on a wall proclaims, “Samius to Cornelius: go hang yourself!”  It is all but forgotten, as are Samius and Cornelius, and so will Phelps’ baseless rantings, as LGBT people and their allies continue to show themselves to be greater in character than their adversaries.  Hate speech does incite some people to violence against queer folk.  Too many cases exist of hateful, religious rhetoric being used to justify torture and murder of LGBT victims to ignore how wretches use God’s warrant to harm others.  Any case of bias-generated violence against LGBT people must be prosecuted swiftly to the full extent of the law, and passage of the Matthew Shepard Act is necessary so that these prosecutions may be pursued vigorously and successfully. But freedom of speech means more to truth than it does to error.  At every turn, LGBT folk and their allies may and must immediately and non-violently refute the falsehoods of bad religion so that justice may win out in American life, so that the better angels of the American spirit may rouse themselves to make protests like these seem as petty as scrawlings on an outhouse wall.

September 26, 2009 Posted by | bi-phobia, Bisexual persons, gay men, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Kansas, Law and Order, Lesbian women, Matthew Shepard Act, military, Monuments and markers, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, Popular Culture, Protests and Demonstrations, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Protecting Wretches: Why Freedom of Speech Belongs to Fred Phelps, Too

Charlie Howard Remembered on the 25th Anniversary of His Murder

Charlie Howard HS photo

Charles O. "Charlie" Howard's High School Annual Picture

Charles O. “Charlie” Howard, thrown off a downtown Bangor bridge and drowned in 1984 by young hoodlums intent on terrorizing a gay person, is being remembered all week in Maine with lectures, events, and church services. After 25 years, a monument to him is finally in place near the State Street Bridge beneath which he died.  His death was terrifying and hard.  According to the autopsy report revealed at the trial of his murderers, he died of a combination of asphyxia from drowning, and from a severe attack of asthma.  Professor Marvin Ellison of Bangor Theological Seminary remembers how his killers were lauded as celebrities when the news got out.  Young toughs rode through the streets of Bangor, spewing anti-gay hate speech and brandishing shotguns.  Even so-called “decent people” adopted a wait-and-see attitude that masked their private belief that somehow the flaming gay boy with the man bag and the painted nails got what was coming to him.  The only religious groups in town who spoke out against the hatred were the Unitarian Universalists and the Jews.  It is hard to remember these things, hard on the self-image of a proud city.  But it has to be done, lest something like this happens again, and Charlie will have died in vain. As Professor Ellison said recently to the Bangor Daily News,

“Now years later, it’s a healthy sign that many more people register embarrassment, outrage and, yes, even shame that such an event happened in their city, their state and their country. For those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, we’ve learned the value of claiming the goodness of our lives and the healing power of pride. We’ve come to realize that we can honor Charlie Howard and others who have lost their lives by living our lives openly with self-respect and with determination to make the world safer for difference.”

Finally, in 2009, Maine has finally recognized same-sex marriage.  Many see this as a vindication in some small way of the pain and suffering of a young gay man ‘way back in the Reagan Era.

Rest in peace, Charlie.

July 7, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, drowning, gay men, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Maine, Marriage Equality, Monuments and markers, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Remembrances, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hate Crimes Victims Remembered at Dallas Day of Decision Protest

Queer LiberActionHundreds gathered to hear speakers call for protests in the streets to show the determination of the LGBT community to have equal rights.  The Dallas gayborhood rang with with voices of protesters in the largest street demonstration in years along Oaklawn and Cedar Springs.  Blake Wilkinson of Queer LiberAction named Matthew Shepard whose death 10 years ago has not yet been vindicated by federal hate crimes legislation.  He urged protesters to get angry that LGBT advocacy for hate crimes victims is so ineffective that a decade out from the Shepard murder, the queer community still does not have laws protecting LGBT people from being bashed and killed.  Then Wilkinson called on the crowd to channel that anger into effective local, state and national action, starting in the streets, with gay folk taking their message of equality to the people.

The large crowd moved up Cedar Springs Road to TMC, The Mining Company, a popular gay bar on the strip with a large, street side patio, where the rally heard a number of powerful speeches protesting “separate but equal,” second-class status for LGBT Americans.

Dallas Queer LiberAction protest at the Legacy of Love column

Dallas Queer LiberAction protest at the Legacy of Love column (Dallas Voice photo)

May 26, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, gay men, Legislation, Lesbian women, Marriage Equality, Monuments and markers, Popular Culture, Protests and Demonstrations, Social Justice Advocacy, transgender persons | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Hate Crimes Victims Remembered at Dallas Day of Decision Protest

Anti-Gay Monument Struck Down

Matthew Shepard

 

Advocate.com reports that the US Supreme Court has ruled against Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, in their petition to build an anti-gay monument condemning slain LGBT icon, Matthew Shepard.  Phelps wanted to erect the monument in a governmental plaza in Kansas reading, “Matthew Shepard Entered Hell October 12, 1998, in Defiance of God’s warning ‘thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is an abomination.’ Leviticus 18:22.”



 

Phelps Anti-Gay Monument

Phelps Anti-Gay Monument

The Supremes ruled unanimously that government parks receiving monument donations are under no obligation to accept them all.  Phelps previously attempted to erect a similar monument condemning homosexuality and Matthew Shepard in a city park located in Shepard’s hometown, Caspar, Wyoming.  The city council rejected the offer. 

Shepard, who was openly gay, was brutally murdered by two young men from Laramie where he was attending the University of Wyoming, in October 1998.  The news of the heinous hate crime murder rocked the nation, and awakened millions to the existence of anti-LGBT violence in their own backyards.  Both his attackers, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, are serving life sentences.  To date, no federal hate crimes prevention statutes have been enacted into law.  The Matthew Shepard Act is under consideration during this Congress once again.

March 4, 2009 Posted by | gay men, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Monuments and markers, Remembrances, Wyoming | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Project Activity — Summer of 2008

In the summer of 2008, Unfinished Lives project director Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle researched the circumstances of several anti-gay hate crimes in America’s deep south. Sprinkle toured hate crime scenes, spoke with loved ones and friends of the victims, and preserved information about the lives and stories of LGBT persons killed only for their sexual orientation. Sprinkle’s research on behalf of the project took him to Texas’s Gulf Coast, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina.

June 2008Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Unfinished Lives project director Stephen V. Sprinkle conducted research on Steven Domer.

June 2008Kansas City, Missouri – Unfinished Lives project director Stephen V. Sprinkle conducted research on Barry Winchell.

June 2008Houston, Texas – Project director Stephen Sprinkle traveled to Houston and the Gulf Coast region of Texas to investigate the Kenneth Cummings Jr. hate-crime murder. During that same trip, Dr. Sprinkle preached at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church for its Pride Week observances.

After Sprinkle preached and presented “Unfinished Lives” at a special June 15 afternoon event, Senior Minister DeWayne Johnson led the congregation in prayer for the Unfinished Lives project, Dr. Sprinkle, and his summer research for the upcoming book.

Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church in Houston, Texas

For the next five days, Dr. Sprinkle traveled to sites relating to the murder of 46-year-old Southwest Airlines Flight Attendant, Kenneth Cummings, Jr.

Kenneth Cummings’s grave in Webster, Texas

Ken was a regular in the Montrose section of downtown Houston, the center of the metro area’s LGBT community. Here is EJ’s bar, a friendly, neighborhood gay pub where Ken first saw his murderer, Terry Mark Mangum:

EJ’s Bar

This is the billiards area of EJ’s where Mangum, an ex-con, stalked his potential targets:

Billiards Area of EJ’s Bar

Ken and Mangum talked here and exchanged phone numbers. Ken had no idea Mangum was hunting a gay person to kill. On Sunday, June 4, 2007, Ken called friends saying that JR’s, another Montrose establishment, was “dead,” and suggested that he would just go home, since he had a flight early the next week.

JR’s

Instead, he called Mangum, hooked up with him, and invited him to his home in suburban Pearland.

Cummings’s Pearland Home

Mangum drove a 6-inch knife blade into Ken’s skull as he sat drinking a glass of wine. Mangum loaded Ken’s body in the trunk of Ken’s car, drove it to his grandfather’s ranch south of San Antonio, and tried to burn his remains in a shallow pit he dug in a dry stock tank. Ken’s body was burned beyond recognition, and could only be identified by dental records.

Dr. Sprinkle talked with co-workers, Houston Police officers, and Ken’s best friend of many years to gain insight into who this gentle, happy man really was. In August of 2008, a Brazoria County jury found Mangum, who claimed that God had called him to wipe out sexual perverts, guilty and sentenced him to life in prison.

June 2008Alabama, Part I – After leaving the Texas Gulf Coast, Unfinished Lives project director Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle traveled to Alabama and performed research about the life and murder of Billy Jack Gaither. His work brought him to Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Sylacauga and Montgomery. Sprinkle met with scholars, students, humanitarians, and members of the Gaither family.

In Tuscaloosa Sprinkle met Dr. Beverly Hawk, Ph.D., Director of the Crossroads Community Center at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Dr. Hawk is a noted scholar who studies diversity and hate crimes, and is a friend of the Gaither family. She worked to establish the Billy Jack Gaither Humanitarian Award, given annually on the anniversary of his death.


Stephen Sprinkle and Beverly Hawk

Sprinkle then traveled to Birmingham, where his host was David Gary, a bank officer and dedicated LGBT activist well-known throughout Alabama. Gary is a master networker, and a true humanitarian. He is one of the founders of Integrity Alabama, the LGBT Episcopal advocacy group.


David Gary

One of the most significant moments of the summer came when Sprinkle met Kathy Joe Gaither, Billy Jack Gaither’s elder sister. Kathy Joe is the keeper of the flame of her brother’s memory.


Kathy Joe Gaither

Billy Jack had to travel up to Birmingham in order to experience freedom as a gay man. His favorite bar was the Toolbox, which is now named “Phoenix”


Billy Jack Gaither’s favorite bar, The Toolbox (Phoenix)

Sprinkle then traveled to Sylacauga, Billy Jack’s home town. On the night of his murder in February 1999, Billy Jack Gaither left his home on Pelham Avenue.


Pelham Avenue

Gaither gave his two murderers a ride to The Tavern, Gaither’s local hangout.


The Tavern

His murderers later cut him severely, forced him into the trunk of his own car, and transported him to the kill-site on Peckerwood Creek, a virtually inaccessible spot these days. There they killed him with blows from a wooden ax handle, dragged his lifeless body to a pyre of kerosene soaked tires, and immolated him. Gaither’s killers have been convicted of murder.

Billy Jack Gaither has been laid to rest beside his father, Marion, at Evergreen Cemetery in Sylacauga.


Evergreen Cemetery in Sylacauga, Alabama


Billy Jack Gaither’s grave

Sprinkle also traveled to the National Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, a facility that preserves the memories of slain Civil Rights advocates and others. In the Plaza, beside the memorial fountain, he spoke to youth from New York State who were visiting the Center’s museum.


Plaza at the National Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery

The Center educates and motivates visitors for the cause of civil rights and tolerance. Notably, the Center has memorialized Billy Jack, giving him a tablet in its hall of remembrance.


The Civil Rights Center’s tablet dedicated to Gaither


Abraham Lincoln depicted with Marriage Freedom sign

June 2008Alabama, Part II – After leaving Montgomery, Alabama, in late June 2008, Unfinished Lives project director Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle continued his research, learning about the life and murder of Scotty Joe Weaver.

First, Sprinkle traveled to Bay Minette, Baldwin County, Alabama, 30 miles from Mobile. This was the home of 18-year-old Scotty Joe Weaver.


A view of Mobile from the U.S.S. Alabama


Bay Minette, Alabama

Scotty, who had been harassed for being gay until he dropped out of high school, went to work as a cook for the Bay Minette Waffle House. He earned pretty good money for the first time in his life, money that allowed him to pursue his avocation as a female impersonator who favored Dolly Parton, and to rent his own trailer in Dobbins Trailer Park with his mother’s help.


The Bay Minette Waffle House


Dobbins Trailer Park

A truly generous person, Scotty Joe invited two unemployed former schoolmates to live in the trailer with him. The young woman was a person he had known since grade school. In short order, his trailer guests invited another young man to live with them. Tensions arose.

Scotty’s three guests ambushed him in his sleep, robbed him of around $65, strangled him, and cruelly tortured him for hours, mutilating him while he was still alive. After partially decapitating him, they hauled his body to a remote wooded area outside Bay Minette, urinated on his corpse, and burned his body beyond recognition. Dental records eventually identified him. A vigorous investigation, headed by Baldwin County District Attorney David Whetstone, led to the arrest of Scotty’s three killers. The two men have been sentenced to life, and the woman to 20 years in prison.


Baldwin County Courthouse

Vigils were held in nearby Mobile, led by Bay Area Inclusion founder Tony Thompson, local PFLAG founder Suzanne Cleveland, and LGBT activist Rev. Helene Loper from Tuscaloosa. Today, however, most of the story has been forgotten, an example of how swiftly LGBT hate crimes are swept away from view.


Bay Area Inclusion founder Tony Thompson


Local PFLAG founder Suzanne Cleveland


LGBT activist Rev. Helene Loper

Here is the Bryars McGill Cemetery in far north Baldwin County where Scotty Joe has been laid to rest. His grave lies as far from the road as you can get. Scotty Joe’s tombstone shows the loving remembrance of a mother.


Bryars McGill Cemetery in far north Baldwin County


Scotty Joe Weaver’s grave

June and July 2008Florida – After leaving Bay Minette, Alabama, Unfinished Lives project director Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle traveled to Florida and performed research about the life and murder of 26-year-old Ryan Keith Skipper. His research took him to Winter Haven, Auburndale, and Wahneta.

In Auburndale Dr. Sprinkle met Lynn Mulder, Ryan’s stepfather, and spoke about the Unfinished Lives Project to the Polk County PFLAG chapter. Pat and Lynn Mulder are both healthcare professionals, respected, long-time residents of Auburndale. Their open welcome and willingness to share Ryan’s story and his friends was the highlight of the summer for Dr. Sprinkle.


Pat and Lynn Mulder


Polk County PFLAG (Lynn Mulder at far left)

Lynn and Pat keep Ryan’s cat, Baby, who wanders through the house looking for him still. Lynn toured Dr. Sprinkle to the sights associated with his son: First Missionary Baptist Church, Auburndale, Ryan’s home church, Grace Lutheran School, Winter Haven, where Ryan attended, Winter Haven High School, where Ryan graduated in spite of being harassed virtually daily for being gay by students who yelled epithets and threw rotten oranges and even stones at his car and his person.


First Missionary Baptist Church in Auburndale


Grace Lutheran School in Winter Haven


Winter Haven High School

Dr. Sprinkle traveled to Wahneta, a small, rural community south of Auburndale where Ryan and two girlfriends rented a little red house, 211 Richburg.


Wahneta Park


Richburg rental house

His killers–Bearden, who lived in a trailer in Eloise, just north of Wahneta, and Brown, who lived in a disheveled trailer park within biking distance of Ryan and the girls–planned to kill him after he returned from work at the Sunglass Hut in the Lakeland Mall. They tricked him with the story that they needed a ride, and directed him to drive down a lonely road where they slashed him to death with knives, nearly decapitating him. They left him on the side of Morgan road. The local woman who discovered Ryan’s body reported that it looked like someone had turned on a sprinkler of blood.


Bearden’s trailer park in Eloise, Florida


Area where Brown lived in Wahneta, Florida


Morgan Road, where Skipper was murdered

Bearden and Brown unsuccessfully tried to fence Ryan’s car that night, after bragging to friends about what they had done. They drove it to this public boat ramp on Lake Pansy, and set the car afire. In short order, they were apprehended, charged with murder, and have yet to stand trial.


Lake Pansy public boat ramp

The Mulders and Ryan’s elder brother, Damien, carried out a vigil here in Auburndale’s city park where hundreds gathered to remember him. Vigils were carried out in many other cities and towns in Florida to express outrage at the brutality of his murder.


City park in Auburndale

Here, in Auburndale, Ryan lies in peace, and is not forgotten.


Ryan Keith Skipper’s grave in Auburndale


Cross and rainbow detail from Ryan’s grave marker

September 29, 2008 Posted by | Alabama, Anglo Americans, Bludgeoning, Decapitation and dismemberment, Florida, gay men, harassment, immolation, Monuments and markers, Oklahoma, Project Activity Summaries, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, stabbings, stalking, Strangulation, Texas, Torture and Mutilation | | Comments Off on Project Activity — Summer of 2008

Remembering Harvey Milk (May 22, 1930 — November 27, 1978)

Thirty years ago, Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the United States, was murdered alongside San Francisco mayor George Moscone. Milk, a new film about Harvey Milk’s life and murder will be released this November. Directed by Gus Van Sant and featuring Sean Penn, the film recounts the hate crime assassination perpetrated by Dan White, a former city supervisor of San Francisco.

harvey_milk_plaza

 

 

In the summer of 2006, Unfinished Lives project director Stephen V. Sprinkle visited the San Francisco Bay Area to conduct research about anti-LGBT hate crimes victims. His work included research about Harvey Milk. Sprinkle shares some of his recollections from the trip:

“On my first major trip to study LGBT hate crimes murder victims, I traveled to Gay Mecca, the Castro in San Francisco. Though this was one of several visits to Castro Street through the years, the summer of 2006 was different. It was the year I met Harvey.

 

 

“Gay life is as vibrant as those who live it, and the Castro is Ground Zero for all LGBT people thanks to Harvey, the ‘Mayor of Castro Street.’ On my way to the HRC Store, I had walked right by Harvey Milk’s camera shop without noticing it. A friendly clerk at the HRC named Fidel pointed me back there, and I walked back across the street and down the block until I stood facing the closed and vacant shop at 575 Castro Street. Down at my feet was a bronze plaque commemorating Harvey’s shop and home.

 

 

“I looked up and saw a mural of Harvey standing in the window, looking down from the second floor at the beloved community he represented as the first openly gay person elected to a major office in America. He and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated in City Hall by Dan White, a disgruntled former city supervisor, on November 27, 1978.

 

 

“Now, thanks to Gus Van Zandt, Harvey will be remembered in a major motion picture. It is only fitting that Sean Penn, one of our finest actors, will portray him on the silver screen he so loved. Enjoy the trailer, and remember Harvey Milk with gratitude.”

September 11, 2008 Posted by | Anglo Americans, California, gay men, gun violence, Monuments and markers, Politics, Popular Culture, Remembrances | | Comments Off on Remembering Harvey Milk (May 22, 1930 — November 27, 1978)

Remembering Charlie Howard

July 7 marks the twenty-fourth anniversary of Charles O. “Charlie” Howard’s murder in Bangor, Maine. As Charlie and his friend Roy Ogden walked on a downtown street, three teenagers accosted Charlie and his friend, shouted homophobic slurs, threw Charlie to the ground, and then punched and kicked him. The three youths decided to force Charlie over a bridge railing and into the Kenduskeag Stream twenty feet below. Ogden, who had initially fled from the assailants, looked back to see them throw Charlie over the railing. After sounding an alarm for help, Ogden, together with firemen and police, looked for his friend, whose body would not be found until hours later. On that same night, at a party, the three teenagers bragged about having thrown Charlie into the stream.

Today the Charles O. Howard Memorial Foundation and the City of Bangor are working to establish a granite monument to mark the place of Charlie’s murder.  Despite earlier disagreements about the proposed memorial, the City of Bangor approved installation of the monument by unanimous vote during a City Council meeting last November.

Today the Unfinished Lives Project also remembers Charlie.  The tragedy that befell Charlie twenty-four years ago still touches lives today, and as we remember him we also hope for a world where hate-crime violence no longer occurs.

July 7, 2008 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Beatings and battery, drowning, gay men, Maine, Monuments and markers, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Remembrances, Slurs and epithets, Stomping and Kicking Violence | , , , , , | 4 Comments

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