Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Gay NC Veteran Savagely Burned, Beaten, Robbed in Downtown Hotel By City Employee

Garry Joseph Gupton, 26, doused his gay victim with fire and beat him into unconsciousness.

Garry Joseph Gupton, 26, doused his gay victim with fire and beat him into unconsciousness.

Greensboro, NC – A decorated gay veteran wounded in Iraq was beaten with a phone, pieces of furniture, a large television, and then set afire by a city employee he met at a local gay bar. 46-year-old Stephen White, a regular customer at Greensboro’s popular gay venue, Chemistry, was discovered naked, savagely beaten, and burned over 52% of his body at the Battleground Inn at approximately 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, November 9, according to Q Notes. Garry Joseph Gupton, a 26-year-old Greensboro city employee, was arrested at the scene and charged with the near-fatal attack. Police are saying that assault was carried out “with intent to kill.” Employees of the bar say that Gupton met White Saturday night and they took a cab from the club. Since White is a well-known patron of Chemistry, everything seemed “normal.” In the aftermath of the attack, the gay community is left speculating that Gupton came hunting for an openly gay man to kill. White’s hand and a portion of his arm had to be amputated because of the severity of his burns at Wake Forest Medical Center in Winston-Salem. He remains in critical care. Hospital officials say that White faces months of surgery, skin grafting, and rehabilitation.

WFMY Television reports that Gupton, a member of the Greensboro City Water Resources crew, has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon, and inflicting serious injury with intent to kill. He was initially being held on $150,000 bond pending further charges. At his first court appearance on Wednesday, Gupton’s bond was increased to $250,000, and he asked for a court appointed attorney to be assigned to him.

White’s friend, Riki Dublin, told WFMY that the brutality of the attack on the Iraq War veteran staggers her imagination. “I am just in awe of the magnitude of the hate that is involved and I truly do not believe this man has a soul. Cause you, I just couldn’t ever imagine any human treating another human like that,” she said. After announcing a fundraiser for White, who does not have insurance, Dublin went on to say, “It’s hard. When you send your son off to war and he comes back, and he comes back injured but he comes back alive and then he is brutally attacked… here on our own dirt, it’s hard to fathom.” The fundraiser was scheduled for the following Saturday to defray White’s massive medical bills.

Stephen White, decorated Iraq War veteran, victimized by savage attack.

Stephen White, decorated Iraq War veteran, victimized by savage attack.

The owner of Chemistry, Drew Woffard, also stepped up, calling upon the Greensboro community to support White, according to The Advocate. In a statement issued to Q Notes, Woffard announced a November 15 benefit at the club, and said, “Stephen has a long road ahead of him but he is a fighter and he is definitely not alone. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we are all fighting for him. Also I remind you to please use caution when leaving our bar or any bar with someone you don’t know. I never would have dreamed something like this would happen here in Greensboro… but let’s make sure it never happens again.” 

The Advocate went on to report that no agency yet plans to charge Gupton with a hate crime, and investigators are not bothering to do so. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force notes that North Carolina’s hate crimes statutes do not include LGBT persons as a protected class. Victims of anti-gay violence like White are left exposed, since North Carolina’s law does not address violence perpetrated against persons because of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

If there ever was a case that screamed “hate crime,” this horrific attack does. The use of fire as a weapon in anti-LGBTQ violence has a long and fearsome history, dating back to the Spanish Inquisition. Scholars have noted a decided uptick in cases of bias-driven hate crimes against lesbians and gay men incorporating fire as a deadly weapon. As Stephen White struggles to recover from this heinous act of violence, and Garry Gupton awaits justice to be meted out as it can be in a state that ignores anti-LGBT crimes, the gay community in the Tarheel State is left to ponder what form of murderous intent would set a young man like Gupton to stalk and purge one of their own with fire.

November 13, 2014 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Bludgeoning, gay men, gay veterans, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, LGBTQ, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, North Carolina | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Landmark Transgender Study Reveals Staggering Degree of Discrimination

Collage courtesy of Transgender Day of Remembrance

Washington, DC – You will change the way you perceive transgender people, and rethink how you advocate for our sisters and brothers after you read the findings of the largest national study of transpeople and gender non-conforming people ever done.  The National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce released “Injustice at Ever Turn” on February 4, a massive study of 6,450 respondents. Sixty-three percent (63 %) of all respondents reported a serious act of discrimination because of their gender identity or gender presentation and expression. Twenty-three percent (23%) experienced a “catastrophic level of discrimination” according to the report, meaning they had faced significant acts of bias and harm in at least three of these categories:

  • Sexual assault due to bias
  • Physical assault due to bias
  • Job loss due to bias
  • Eviction from residence due to bias
  • School bullying/harassment severe enough to cause dropout
  • Homelessness because of gender identity/expression
  • Denial of medical care/service due to bias
  • Incarceration due to gender identity/expression
  • Loss of relationship with partner or child due to gender identity/expression

Among the findings: forty-one percent (41%) of respondents reported attempting suicide, compared to a mere 1.6% of the general population; one in five experienced homelessness due to their gender expression/identity; transpeople are four times more likely to live in extreme poverty (income of $10,000 annually, or less) than Americans at large; and respondents were twice as likely to be unemployed than the general population. The combination of transgender discrimination and structural racial bias proved especially devastating in the lives of respondents. The study concludes, in part:

“It is part of social and legal convention in the United States to discriminate against, ridicule, and abuse transgender and gender non-conforming people within foundational institutions such as the family, schools, the workplace and health care settings, every day. Instead of recognizing that the moral failure lies in society’s unwillingness to embrace different gender identities and expressions, society blames transgender and gender non-conforming people for bringing the discrimination and violence on themselves.”

It is astounding that seventy-eight percent (78%) of those responding reported to the study that they feel more confident and comfortable at work, and more satisfied with their job performance after transitioning than they felt before–despite the levels of discrimination they constantly face in the workplace. As a survey respondent testified: “My mother disowned me. I was fired from my job after 18 years of loyal employment. I was forced onto public assistance to survive. But still I have pressed forward, started a new career, and rebuilt my immediate family. You are defined not by falling, but how well you rise after falling. I’m a licensed practical nurse now and am studying to become an RN. I have walked these streets and been harassed nearly every day, but I will not change. I am back out there the next day with my head up.”

“Injustice at Every Turn” is a wake up call to the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community, who have an uneasy history with transgender people since the days of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City in 1969. Transpeople were integral to the liberation movement that propelled queer folk toward freedom, yet gender non-conforming people, especially transpeople of color, remain among the most misunderstood and neglected segments of the LGBTQ community in the United States. The incidence of hate crimes perpetrated against the transgender population, witnessed to each year by the national Transgender Day of Remembrance, is finally being documented thanks to the passage of the Matthew Shepard Act law–and the statistics are daunting.

No one should suffer discrimination based on gender identity or expression in the United States. The passion for justice must respond to the findings of this groundbreaking study.  For an executive summary of the “Injustice at Every Turn,” click here.

February 5, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, Bullying in schools, gay men, gender identity/expression, harassment, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Latino and Latina Americans, Lesbian women, Matthew Shepard Act, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Racism, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, transgender persons, transphobia, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Unfinished Lives: It Gets Better Videos

Unfinished Lives Project would like to recognize author Dan Savage for founding the It Gets Better Project (http://www.youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject) in response to the tragic increase in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teen suicides.  The point of this project is for people to upload videos to let these teens know that, yes, it does get better.

And here at Unfinished Lives, we are cognizant of the fact that part of this “better” is not just social love and acceptance, but spiritual love and acceptance.  To help meet this need, a group of Brite Divinity School students and faculty have recorded their own messages of hope for the It Gets Better Project:

Dr. Steve Sprinkle: Director of Field Education at Brite Divinity School

Sam Castleberry: Student at Brite Divinity School

Egon Cohen: Student at Brite Divinity School

DeSorrow: Student at Brite Divinity School

The Brite Student It Gets Better channel hopes to have more videos shortly. We would also like to encourage any and all LGBTQ faculty, staff, and students in graduate theological education to record videos and to let GLBTQ youth know that it does get better and faith can help not hinder the process. Also anyone else who wishes to record a video should do so as well. For more information on LGBTQ suicide prevention see The Trevor Project

In the meantime, please spread the word, and vote for your favorite video by sending an email with the video link as the subject line (just the link) to: IGBP@savagelove.net.

October 2, 2010 Posted by | ACLU, African Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, Blame the victim, Bullying in schools, Domestic Violence, gay men, gay teens, harassment, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Human Rights Campaign, Law and Order, Lesbian women, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ suicide, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, PFLAG, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, suicide, transgender persons | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Another Horrific Trans Murder in Puerto Rico: Anti-Trans Violence Epidemic Continues

Corpse of slain transwoman transported to coroner (Primera Hora photo/ David Villafañe)

Caguas, Puerto Rico – In less than two months, police in Puerto Rico are investigating the savage murder of another transgender woman.  Angie González Oquendo, 38, was found strangled to death with an electrical cord in her home in Caguas.  Police have not yet designated the murder as a hate crime, but LGBT activists familiar with the outbreak of anti-LGBT violence in Puerto Rico are calling for a full hate crime investigation.  EDGE Boston reports that the last time Ms. González Oquendo was seen alive was May 20.  Investigators believe she was murdered later that same day. El Nuevo Día reports that the body of the slain transgender woman was found when neighbors reported a repugnant odor coming from her apartment. Though Ms. González Oquendo’s father believes that her boyfriend murdered his daughter, Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said to reporters that a hate crime investigation must be launched nonetheless.  Speaking to EDGE, Serrano said, “At the very least, I suspect that a crime could have been committed by prejudice against the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The authorities have an obligation under the law to investigate this hate angle.” Angie González Oquendo is the most recent in a grim series of anti-LGBT hate murders in the United States Territory.  Five weeks ago, police discovered the body of Ashley Santiago Ocasio who had been stabbed to death in her home in Corozal.  In November of last year, Jorge Steven López Mercado’s decapitated, dismembered and partially immolated body was found on a lonely rode outside Caguas.  His murderer, Juan Martínez Matos, was sentenced to 99 years in prison after pleading guilty to the Silence-of-the-Lambs-style killing.  The transgender community in Puerto Rico is understandably on edge as this latest news of murder sweeps through the population.  Transgender people are among the most vulnerable citizens of the island paradise, and transphobic murder is emerging as a substantial indicator that such violence is reaching epidemic proportions. EDGE reports that Guillermo Chacon, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS, issued a statement just as the story of Ms. González Oquendo’s brutal murder broke in the press.  In part, Mr. Chacon said, “I urge the Latino community to be united as one voice and with our personal actions reject any type of homophobia, transphobia and discrimination. We are one family; we must pursue the well-being of all our members. We must address homophobia and transphobia by putting a stop to the jokes, slurs, discrimination and hatred faced by our LGBT brothers and sisters, not just in Puerto Rico but across the entire country. Hatred and violence is never the answer.”

May 25, 2010 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Decapitation and dismemberment, gay men, gay teens, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Puerto Rico, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, Strangulation, transgender persons, transphobia, Uncategorized, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Another Horrific Trans Murder in Puerto Rico: Anti-Trans Violence Epidemic Continues

Puerto Rican Teen Killer Pleads Guilty, Gets 99 Years for Hate Murder

Jorge Steven López Mercado

Caguas, Puerto Rico – In a stunning development, Juan José Martínez Matos, sole suspect in the “Silence of the Lambs style” butchery of gay teenager, Jorge Steven López Mercado, pled guilty to murder during a hearing today. Michael Lavers, news editor of EDGE Boston broke the story in the U.S. blogosphere.  Though Martínez Matos was to stand trial for the grisly November 2009 murder on May 17, he entered the guilty plea to bring judicial proceedings to an end.  Lavers reports, “Martínez told the court he understood the consequences of his actions, and Judge Miriam Camila Jusino immediately sentenced him to 99 years in prison.” Investigators believe that Martínez Matos stabbed the gender-non-conforming López Mercado to death before decapitating and dismembering the body which he then attempted to immolate on a lonely roadside near the mountain village of Cayey on November 12, 2009.  News of the horrible murder swept the island, and shocked thousands on the U.S. mainland.  Scores of vigils and demonstrations called upon Puerto Rican authorities to invoke a hate crimes statute never used to protect LGBT people, though it was written for that purpose in 2002.  The blatant homophobia of the crime was confirmed by Martínez Matos when he confessed today that he hated gay people, but had offered to exchange cocaine for sex with the gay youth. According to the Associated Press, Attorney Celimar Gracia, representing Martínez Matos, told Primera Hora newspaper that prosecutors dropped several weapons-violation charges in exchange for the plea.  In the best interests of his client, he said, this was the best way to bring this case to a close. LGBT human rights advocates feared that the religiously conservative Puerto Rican public would be swayed by the introduction of the “homosexual panic” defense by Martínez Matos.  The suspect contended that he was “cruising for sex” in an area known for prostitution when he met the gay teen, whom Martínez Matos claimed he thought was a woman.  365gay reported in November that when López Mercado’s murderer learned the youth was actually gay, he “flashed back” to a homosexual rape he had reportedly suffered while in prison on an earlier charge, and killed the boy out of uncontrolled rage.  When the “homosexual panic” strategy seemed not to catch hold sufficiently in the media, Martínez Matos’ defense team requested and got a psychological evaluation of their client to determine if he was mentally fit to stand trial. It was determined that he was indeed sane and able to stand trial for the slaying.  The López Mercado murder is easily the most notorious anti-LGBT hate crime killing in Puerto Rico’s history, and supporters of the youth’s family did not want the murderer to escape justice by putting the blame upon Jorge Steven for his own death.  The dramatic confession in Caguas today removed that possibility. Pedro Julio Serrano, representing the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Puerto Rico, a leading LGBT rights advocate, told the AP that there was not a dry eye in the courtroom when the guilty plea was entered. “Nothing is going to bring Jorge Steven back, but today, a bit of justice was done,” Serrano said.  Primera Hora, according to Lavers of the EDGE, reported that the slain gay teen’s parents, Miriam Mercado and Juan López, reached out to their son’s murder with words of faith.  Full of emotion, López Mercado said, “I want to send a message to Juan (Casper) and tell him there is hope in Christ. The Lord has forgiveness for him, irregardless of what has happened. God has a plan for him if he opens his heart to Christ. God will forgive him also.” Speaking to the EDGE, Pedro Julio Serrano commented  on the confession today, saying, “The [López Mercado] family is sending a powerful message to the world of the love that conquers hate. It was very emotional and it brings some closure, but those wounds will never heal.” In his official statement as spokesperson for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Founder of the human rights organization Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, Serrano summed up the importance of the Martínez Matos confession, its impact on the family and friends of the slain gay youth, and the task remaining for people who struggle against homophobia and transphobia in the U.S. Territory: “This was a brutal crime, and today’s developments have been very emotional for Jorge Steven’s family and friends, as well as to the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Puerto Rico. While the guilty plea and sentencing bring some closure, these wounds will never heal for those who knew and loved Jorge Steven. Yet, despite how heart-wrenching this has all been, Jorge Steven’s family has been so loving and strong; they have been and continue to be a symbol of love conquering hate. This has inspired me and so many others in our work to keep this from happening again.”

May 12, 2010 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, Character assassination, Decapitation and dismemberment, desecration of corpses, gay panic defense, gay teens, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Legislation, Media Issues, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Protests and Demonstrations, Puerto Rico, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, transphobia, Uncategorized, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Puerto Rican Teen Killer Pleads Guilty, Gets 99 Years for Hate Murder

Grief and Outrage Over Transgender Murder in Puerto Rico

Ashley Santiago's family learns of her murder; Israel González photo for Prima Hora

Corozal, Puerto Rico – The Washington Post reports that scores of sobbing mourners wearing tee shirts emblazoned with the likeness of Ashley Santiago Ocasio attended her funeral Friday in the central mountain town of Corozal.  Her mother, Carmen Ocasio, told reporters from Prima Hora that her 31-year-old transgender daughter had no enemies she was aware of, no one she could imagine taking her life.  “I lost my daughter,” she said. “I’m in shock. Why would someone kill Ashley, why?”  Authorities are still searching for a lead in the case, but as the LGBT community in Puerto Rico has come to expect, authorities have not invoked the 2002 hate crime statute that would send a convicted killer to prison for life.  Though the drumbeat of pressure is mounting for prosecutors to apply the unused hate crimes law to LGBT victims, prospects for doing so in this case do not look promising.  Pedro Julio Serrano, spokesperson for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Puerto Rico, points out that five recent crimes should have been designated terror-attacks against not only the victims, but the entire LGBT population.  Hate crimes against members of the sexual minority are “message-crimes,” meant to drive the LGBT community into fear and hiding.  As Serrano notes, one of the five recent cases was the November 2009 decapitation, dismemberment, and immolation of gay teen Jorge Steven López Mercado in Caguas.  A charge of first-degree murder has been filed against the youth’s alleged killer, but the hate crime statute has not been invoked even in a slaughter so gruesome as this.  In the Santiago case, police are speculating that robbery may have been a motive in the slaying of the popular, attractive beauty salon owner.  Two evidentiary aspects of the investigation so far seem to argue against a robbery motive alone, however.  First, Ms. Santiago’s home showed no signs of breaking and entering.  Someone she knew probably carried out the murder. Even though her automobile was taken from the scene, as Pedro Serrano observed to the Post, “The law is very clear and we’re asking authorities to investigate without prejudice. Even if Ashley’s death was also a robbery, there could be the angle of hate. We need that to be investigated,” Serrano emphasized to the Post.  The chief investigator has promised to used the Puerto Rican hate crimes law “if the evidence warrants it.”  The second aspect of the murder that suggests Serrano is right, that hate against Ms. Santiago was probably a factor is the extreme nature of the crime scene.  There was so much blood, so widely pooled and spattered, that police believed from the beginning of the investigation that the victim had been stabbed multiple times, hardly likely for a robbery alone.  The overkill typical of anti-LGBT crimes is clearly present in the Santiago slaying. The community of Corozal is stunned in the wake of their most notorious murder.  Ms. Santiago was well-liked in town, confident that her transition was the fulfillment of herself as a person.  She had commenced hormone therapy, and had undergone breast surgery, according to Serrano.  The usually neglected Transgender Community on the Caribbean island paradise is waiting for a break in the case, and firmly demanding justice for their sister Ashley.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Decapitation and dismemberment, funerals, gay teens, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Legislation, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Puerto Rico, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Grief and Outrage Over Transgender Murder in Puerto Rico

   

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