Greensboro, NC – A gay veteran of Iraq who was savagely attacked, beaten, and set on fire by a younger man who checked into a hotel with him finally succumbed to his injuries on Saturday. Stephen Patrick White, 46, a well-regarded member of the gay community in Piedmont North Carolina and a patron of Club Chemistry, a popular gay bar in Greensboro, was fatally assaulted by Garry Joseph Gupton, 26, a city employee of the Water Services Department. The two met, according to witnesses at Chemistry, and left the club together late on November 8, as this blog previously reported. They checked in to the Battleground Inn.
White’s injuries were horrendous. He suffered burns over 52 percent of his body, and had large portions of his arms amputated in an attempt to save his life. Gupton was arrested on the scene and charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. The City Water Services Department subsequently fired Gupton from his job as a consequence of the investigation. Now, Gupton is charged with first degree murder. Q Notes reports that the Greensboro police are saying that there is no evidence of a hate crime in this case. The Q Notes report includes this statement from a Greensboro PD spokesperson:
“He (Gupton) never verbalized to us that he intended to kill somebody,” said Susan Danielsen, a Greensboro police spokeswoman. . . . There’s absolutely no evidence to indicate that this is a hate crime.”
She added: “We’re not sure what caused Mr. Gupton to act so violently. This is not a crime motivated by hate.”
But Danielson could not refrain from adding that while the Greensboro PD are “sure this is not a hate crime,” they have no other explanation for Gupton’s heinous acts, including his use of fire in his deadly attack on White. “We’re not sure what caused Mr. Gupton to act so violently,” Danielson went on to say to Q Notes. Then, as if she had opened a door she did not want to open, Danielson concluded, “This is not a crime motivated by hate.”
At this point, all the public has to go on is the assurance of the police that a brutal attack against a gay man who was naked in a hotel room that included a weapon often reserved particularly for the “purification” of “sodomites,” fire, was not a hate crime. Police in the Tarheel State are not permitted to investigate bias-motivated crimes of violence against LGBT people anyway, since the state has refused to include them in its hate crimes statutes. Nonetheless, the police seem eager to rule out hate crime in this instance.
Let us say for the time being they are correct. There was no hate against homosexuality expressed in this crime, explicitly. This, the police are suggesting, was a consensual sexual situation gone terribly bad. Still, the public is left to ask who brought the flammable material into the room? Why was fire used in this case–a give-away for extreme passions and, yes, hatred of the victim targeted in attacks involving burning someone, in this instance as in the instances of thousands of other gay men and lesbians, to death?
However this crime went down in the Gate City, an entire LGBT community is left fearful, shocked, and wondering. Chris Srgo, Executive Director of Equality North Carolina, vocalized the anguish of the statewide community in a statement on Saturday:
“Stephen White’s death is a tragic loss for the Greensboro community and North Carolina. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Stephen’s family. Equality NC promises to follow this investigation closely to ensure that it is thorough and justice is served. The loss of a community member is always tragic, but this loss is unacceptable. As fellow citizens of Greensboro, my husband Ryan and I mourn tonight and stand in solidarity with the LGBT community in Greensboro.”
Of course, it is wrong to suggest that an obvious marker for homophobia (perhaps internalized homophobia), the use of the torch to burn a gay man (where the despicable term “faggot” originates–the burning at the stake of gay men as if they were dry wood), inevitably leads to the conclusion that Stephen White was attacked so savagely because of his sexual orientation. Yet, is it not also a mistake of equal magnitude to conclude that because the suspect, Gupton, never verbalized that he intended to kill someone that night, he simply went berserk, and finding flammable liquids at hand, thought to use fire as a way to punish his naked pick up for the night?
The North Carolina state motto is “Esse Quam Videri” (“To Be Rather Than To Seem”). Perhaps it would do investigators and lawmakers in Tarheelia well to move beyond what they seem to want to believe in this instance-to the point that they refuse to investigate or legislate even the possibility of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes-, and to answer the nagging question about the motive for the use of fire to kill another gay man the Old North State.
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.
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.
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.”
Durham, North Carolina – The leader of an anti-gay sect has pleaded guilty to murder for killing a 4-year-old boy because he thought the toddler was gay, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Peter Lucas Moses, 27, the leader of a polygamous group known as the “Black Hebrews,” has agreed to testify against his mother, brother, and sister in order to avoid the death penalty for himself. He faces two life sentences for the murders of Jadon Higganbothan, 4, and Antoinette Yvonne McKoy, 28, if convicted of the crimes.
WRAL-TV reports that members of the Black Separatist cult addressed Moses as “Lord,” and lived together in a house in Southeast Durham. In October 2010, because he believed he saw Higganbothan touch one of his sons “inapproriately” (the boy had allegedly spanked Moses’ son on the bottom), he ordered the boy’s mother to take him into the garage, where Moses shot the child in the head. The women in the group had arranged computer speakers in the garage to play the Lord’s Prayer in Hebrew loudly enough to drown out the sound of the gunshot. Two months later, when Moses found out that his consort McKoy could not have children and had decided to escape the cult, he shot her to death in a bathroom of the house. On June 8, 2011, investigators found the bodies of Higganbothan and McKoy buried in trash bags in the basement of another house belonging to the sect. Moses’ fingerprints were found on the tape used to secure the trash bags, and his handgun was proven to have been used in both murders.
The father of the little boy, Jamiel Higganbothan, told WRAL-TV News that he was furious the District Attorney had offered Moses a plea deal to save his life. “Me and my family wanted the death penalty,” Higganbothan said after the deal was announced. Moses’ brother, P. Leonard Moses, his sister, Sheila Moses, and his mother, Sheilda Harris, have been charged with accessories to the murder of Antoinetta McKoy. Jadon’s mother, Vania Sisk, and two other women who lived with Peter Moses, Larhonda Renee Smith and Lavada Quinzetta Harris, have been charged with murder in McKoy’s killing, and as accessories to the murder of the little boy.
The Black Hebrews, according to the SPLC, have roots going back to Black Separatist and Black Nationalist movements in the 19th century. They hold that they, not the Jews, are the true descendants of the Israelites in the Hebrew Bible. While most members of the modern movement in the United States are non-violent, a growing number of cells have become increasingly anti-Semitic, anti-gay, and prone to violence. They hold that modern Jews are imposters. These extremists also condemn whites for enslaving Blacks, and say that they are worthy of death or slavery because of it.