Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Anti-gay bullying is a theological issue

Here at the Unfinished Lives Project we would like to a moment to say thank you to  Cody J. Sanders for the best treatment of the bullying crisis from a theological perspective we have seen!

The article is entitled: “Why Anti-Gay Bullying is a Theological Issue” and it was published on religious dispatches. This article is a must read for all people of faith.

Thanks again Cody for this compelling argument.

Cody J. Sanders is a Baptist minister and Ph.D. student in Pastoral Theology and Counseling at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, TX. Cody was a Fellow in the inaugural class of the Human Rights Campaign Summer Institute for Religious and Theological Study and is a participant in the Beyond Apologetics symposium on sexual identity, pastoral theology, and pastoral practice.

October 3, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, bi-phobia, Bisexual persons, Bullying in schools, Campus Pride, death threats, gay men, gay teens, gun violence, Hanging, harassment, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Human Rights Campaign, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ suicide, Media Issues, Politics, Popular Culture, Public Theology, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, South Carolina, Special Comments, stabbings, stalking, Stomping and Kicking Violence, suicide, Texas, transgender persons | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Anti-gay bullying is a theological issue

Lincoln Man Charged with Anti-Gay Hate Crime

Alleged gay basher, Luke Stevens

Lincoln, Nebraska – A 22-year-old University of Nebraska – Lincoln student has been arrested and charged for assaulting a gay man outside a popular gay club on Friday, September 3.  Luke Stevens allegedly harassed a 32-year-old gay man after leaving Lincoln’s Club Q, calling him “derogatory names” concerning his sexual orientation intended to start a fight, according to 1011now.  As the target of the abuse tried to leave his antagonist, Stevens allegedly punched him in the face, and moved in to continue the fight.  A police officer on the scene was drawn to the noise of the altercation, saw the punch thrown, and wrestled Stevens to the ground.  The victim of the assault remains unidentified to the press.  He was treated on the scene and released to return home. “The victim and several witnesses reported that Luke Stevens did not know them,” Officer Katie Flood, spokesperson for the LPD, told reporters. “He started calling them derogatory names based on their sexual orientation.”  Stevens was charged with assault, disturbing the peace, and failure to comply.  Because Nebraska has hate crimes legislation on the books, Stevens may be charged with bias crime, which would make his situation much more grave.  If proven guilty of a hate crime, the enhancement would hike the misdemeanor assault charge to a felony. The Journal Star reports that the Nebraska hate crimes statute covers offenses carried out due to the victim’s “race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, or disability.” Travis Garrett, 19, a friend of Stevens, was also charged with disturbing the peace.  Stevens and Garrett were in Club Q together earlier in the evening, as well as Stevens’s victim.  Witnesses and friends of the accused UNL student say that he is straight.  That evening he was extremely upset at having been turned down by a girl.  The contrast between the response of authorities in Lincoln and a similar anti-gay assault in Greenville, South Carolina three years earlier could not be starker.  Both involved punches thrown at a gay man after verbal anti-gay harassment outside a bar.  But in the case of Sean William Kennedy, 21, who was hit in the face outside Croc’s Bar in Greenville, an upstate South Carolina college town, both the outcome and the legal repercussions were outrageous.  As Unfinished Lives has reported, Kennedy was hit by Steven Moller, an 18-year-old straight man spoiling for a fight with a gay person, in May 2007.  Kennedy fell to the curb, hit his head on the concrete, and died.  Moller was arrested and charged with manslaughter, since the Palmetto State did not have an anti-gay hate crimes law (and still resists passage of such legislation).  While Nebraska police and prosecutors stand ready to investigate the assault in Lincoln as a hate crime, South Carolina officials refused to do so in the Kennedy case, giving Moller (who admitted attacking his victim) every benefit of the doubt.  In the end, with time served, Moller received less of a sentence for killing Sean Kennedy than if he had been found guilty of killing a dog.  For more up-to-date information on Sean Kennedy, see Sean’s Last Wish.  We at Unfinished Lives only wish some of the same conscientious law enforcement had been available to the family and friends of young Sean.  Moller is now a free man for lack of the will to bring anti-gay attackers to justice.  What a difference a hate crimes law makes!

September 6, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, gay men, harassment, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Nebraska, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Slurs and epithets, South Carolina, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Lincoln Man Charged with Anti-Gay Hate Crime

Second Gay Bashing Outrages Savannah

Savannah Protest Rally/Richard Burkhart photo for Savannah Daily News

Savannah, GA – A second gay man has come forward to report that he was the victim of a gay bashing in Savannah.  John Takats, a grad student at the Savannah College of Art and Design issued a statement to the press through Georgia Equality claiming that he was called a “faggot” and struck in the back of the head so hard he fell to the sidewalk on February 27, 2010. While he admits he did not come forward to issue a complaint to police at the time out of fear, Mr. Takats felt he had to come forward when news of the June 12 bashing of another gay man, Kieran Daly, by two U.S. Marines hit newsstands. Mr. Takats says that his boyfriend had stepped away to recover a lost item when four people, two men and two women, menaced him, shouting, “What are you looking at?” and hurling anti-gay epithets at him.  The blow to his head and kicks to his body stunned him, and the next thing he remembered was his boyfriend trying to revive him.  In part, Mr. Takats’ account is as follows: “As the males approached me they started swinging. I immediately put up my hands, in front of my face, to protect myself. At that time, clearly out of nowhere, one of the males struck me in the back of my head. I was kicked till I fell to the ground by either the same (or the other) male. At that time, I heard one of the females scream ‘Stop that!’ The group ran away from the scene. I was completely shocked, hurting and confused and I began crying.” Project Q Atlanta has a Mr. Takats full statement online.  The Daly case entered a new phase last week when the FBI and the local police began investigating whether that attack on Mr. Daly was a hate crime.  The Anti-Defamantion League has issued a press release praising the move on the part of law enforcement. Bill Nigut, Southeastern Regional Director of the ADL said, “If this is a hate crime, prosecution under the new law will send a strong statement to the people of Savannah that violence against gays will not be tolerated.”  Georgia Equality has learned from hard experience that the Savannah-Chatham Police Department has often been demeaning and unresponsive to LGBT complaints.  Kevin Clark, Georgia Equality’s Savannah Chapter head, told WSAV News 3 that these attacks are just the latest installments in a pattern of violent anti-gay hate crimes in Savannah over the last five years.  Speaking to a protest rally of 150 citizens calling for justice in the Kieran Daly gay bashing case, Clark said, “It should only take one or two individuals who have been attacked or know of others who have been attacked to get the attention of someone in leadership in this community– that in our opinion should have stepped forward way before now and condemned the violence and put out a loud call for swift just action here.”  Savannah is a “military city,” close to the Marine Corps Air Station in nearby Beaufort, South Carolina, where both of Daly’s alleged Marine attackers were stationed.  But what sets Savannah apart from other cities with large military bases nearby, according to Jim Morekis of Connect Savannah, is its “large and influential gay community.”  Morekis concluded his op-ed piece, “Let’s hope that the two Marines who attacked Daly receive a fair trial, and if found guilty receive a punishment suited to the crime. And let’s hope that society, and the military, can continue to move beyond ignorance and prejudice. A good start would be for the Georgia legislature to put a fair hate crime law on the books so we can join the rest of the nation.”

June 25, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, FBI, gay men, Georgia, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, military, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Protests and Demonstrations, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, South Carolina, Stomping and Kicking Violence, U.S. Marines | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Second Gay Bashing Outrages Savannah

FBI Asks, “Marine Gay Bashing A Hate Crime?”

Savannah, GA – The FBI is investigating last Saturday’s brutal assault case of a gay man by two U.S. Marines as a possible hate crime, according to the islandpacket.com and the Beaufort Gazette.  As reported in this blog, 26-year-old Savannah man, Kieran Daly was allegedly battered unconscious by two Marines stationed at the nearby Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, South Carolina because the victim “winked at them.”  The cause cited by the Marines, one of whom is a lance corporal and the other a corporal, has ignited a storm of controversy in the LGBT community and beyond.  Keil Joseph Cronauer, 22, and Christopher Charles Stanzel, 23, were arrested by Savannah-Chatham Police near the site where the victim was knocked unconscious on the pavement in the downtown area of the city.  According to police reports, the two Marines were fleeing the scene when they were apprehended.  Daly, the victim, insists that he never harassed the Marines in any way, and that their allegation that he “winked” at them in a flirtatious was was because he was squinting from fatigue.  As he walked away from them to diffuse the argument, one of the Marines shouted a homophobic slur at him and slugged him in the back of the head with a fist, causing seizures and brain bruising.  Witnesses corroborate Daly’s story, according to the police report, contending that the Marines were the aggressors in the argument and the attack. Daly is still hospitalized from his injuries.  Cronauer and Stanzel were taken to the Chatham County Jail. The pair were charged with misdemeanor battery and their bond was set at $1,850. They were released from the jail later on Saturday to military police, according to the jail log. If military investigators deem the crime serious or if the charges in Georgia are elevated, the two also could face court martial, Gunnery Sergeant Chad McMeen, spokesman for the USMC, said.  With the controversy surrounding repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the daily news, and the outspoken opposition to LGB people serving openly in the military, activists are alleging that homophobic attitudes may have played into the hair-trigger attack of the Marines against their victim.

June 16, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, DADT, FBI, gay men, gay panic defense, Georgia, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, military, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Social Justice Advocacy, South Carolina, U.S. Marines | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Skittish Marines Gay Bash Man in Savannah

Keil Joseph Cronauer, 22, and Christopher Charles Stanzel, 23 (pictured L-R)

Savannah, GA – Two U.S. Marines were imprisoned Saturday for an unprovoked attack on a gay man in a downtown park.  Kieran Daly, 26, an openly gay man, was allegedly accosted with homophobic slurs and then brutally attacked by Keil Joseph Cronauer, 22, and Christopher Charles Stanzel, 23, both stationed at Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, South Carolina.  The Marines, in town on leave, were apprehened by Savannah-Chatham Police Officers as they ran from the scene of the crime, and arrested for what the victim and witnesses to the assault are calling an anti-gay hate crime, according to the Savannah Daily News.  Though the Marines maintained to police that they were merely rebuffing unwanted attention from Daly, witnesses say that both men charged upon Daly after he tried to walk away from them.  The witnesses further report that one of the Marines became enraged, shouting that Daly had “winked” at him.  One of the Marines demanded that Daly respect him because he had recently served in Iraq, and one of them yelled a homophobic epithet at Daly as the attack unfolded.  In a rage, one of them struck the victim on the skull from behind with his fist.  Daly fell to the ground suffering two seizures, rendered unconscious.  At one point, the victim apparently stopped breathing, since police reporting to the scene saw Daly’s friends applying CPR to him as he lay motionless on the pavement.  He was rushed to Memorial University Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with bruises on his brain.  Daly’s assailants were arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery for attacking the gay man.  The crime was committed at about 3:45 AM near Congress and Bull Streets, near historic Forsyth Park.  In a hospital room interview late Saturday with the Daily News, Daly makes a point of saying that he in no way winked at or otherwise provoked the young Marines. “The guy thought I was winking at him,” Daly said. “I told him, ‘I was squinting, man. … I’m tired.’ That’s the last thing I remember is walking away.”  Daly is expected to be in the hospital for several days. While Savannah-Chatham police say that their LGBT liaison officer is closely monitoring the subject, nothing at this point indicates that the case is being investigated as a hate crime.  The relatively mild charge against the Marines indicates a reluctance to break with Savannah’s bad reputation among its gay and lesbian population. Jess Morgan, Gay-Straight Alliance President at Armstrong State Atlantic University, told the Daily News that LGBT residents of Savannah face discrimination and harassment on a regular basis.  They cannot safely be open about their sexual orientation in any public way without threat of punishment, Morgan said. Georgia still does not have anti-LGBT hate crime protection on the the state level, one of only five states that have no such law on the books.  Daly may be a civilian casualty of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT).  Chicago Pride points out that the firestorm over repeal of DADT has created an increasingly tense situation for lesbians and gays coming into contact with Marines.  The Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General James T. Conway, is commonly identified by national media as leading the fight against the repeal of DADT among senior military officers, suggesting to Marines that anger against LGBT people is somehow justified. Police records show Cronauer and Stanzel have been released to into the custody of Marine military police.

June 14, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), gay men, gay panic defense, Gay-Straight Alliances, Georgia, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, military, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Slurs and epithets, South Carolina, U.S. Marines | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Skittish Marines Gay Bash Man in Savannah

Remembering Sean William Kennedy (1987-2007)

April 8 would be Sean Kennedy’s birthday, if someone hadn’t killed him for being gay.  Sean would have been 23.  He would be doing all those things he loved to do on his birthday, according to his Facebook Profile: Hanging OutMusic“Playing” MusicTalkingBeing Crazy,Going OutMoviesDriving Around Being CrazyListening To MusicWatching My ShowsClubs (When Im In The Mood)But in the wee hours of May 16, 2007, a fun night at Croc’s Bar in Greenville, South Carolina turned deadly when a homophobic young white man took it upon himself to punish Sean for being “other.”  Sean’s mom, Elke Kennedy, relates what happened that night on the home page of Sean’s Last Wish, a foundation she and the family established so that Sean’s memory would live on, and his story would continue to change hearts and minds about LGBT people in America: “[That night] Sean was leaving a local bar in Greenville when a car pulled up beside him, a young man got out of the car, came around the car, approached my son, called him a ‘faggot’ and then punched him so hard that it broke his face bones.  He fell back and hit the asphalt.  This resulted in his brain [being] separated from his brain stem, ricocheting around in his head.  Sean never had a chance.  Sean’s killer got back in his car and left my son dying there.  A little later he left a message on one of the girl’s phones who knew Sean, saying, ‘You tell your faggot friend that when he wakes up he owes me $500 for my broken hand!'”  Stephen Moller, Sean’s 19-year-old killer, was given virtually every break the legal system in South Carolina could give him.  He was sentenced to 5 years for involuntary manslaughter by subtly shifting the blame to his victim, and pleading for special treatment because he had fathered a child.  The sentence was shortened to 3 years, he was given credit for time served and for being a good prisoner.  Moller was given an early release parole hearing in February 2009, but thanks to the efforts of his mother, his stepfather, and hundreds of letter-writing protestors from around the nation, he was denied parole.  Even then, Moller, who had gotten his GED behind bars, was released on July 7, 2009, a full week early from the already short sentence he had served for killing a young gay man who did him no harm other than being who he was.  The justice system failed Sean as it has failed so many before and since.  Elke Kennedy has gone on to become one of the most courageous and effective witnesses to the rights of LGBT youth in the United States.  Sean’s Last Wish Foundation is making a difference for LGBT young men and women every day.  But Sean is gone.  The loss of his life is inestimable to his family, to the queer community, to his friends, and to the world he made a better and happier place because of his unquenchable spirit.  One of his favorite sayings rings as true today as it did when he first published it on MySpace and Facebook: “We Could Learn Alot From Crayons” he wrote: “some are sharp, some are pretty, some are dull, some have weird names, and all are differant colors… but they all exist very nicely in the same box.”  Who was this funny, wise, vivacious gay soul?  We read his words about himself, and catch just a glimpse of what we lost when hatred and ignorance took Sean away:  “i am 19 and my name is sean. i live in greenville, sc. it is a boring city. i love to meet new people. i love hanging out with people, chilling, shopping and having have a crazy fun time. ill do anything , i can have a fun time doing anything. i can have a fun time doing anything. i am a fun and crazy guy. ill do almost anything.im always on. so dont be scared to leave me a message.” We wish we could, Sean, today on your birthday.  It will have to suffice that we will work in your name, remembering you, until justice comes for all your people and ours.

April 8, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, gay men, harassment, Hate Crimes, Law and Order, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Remembrances, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, South Carolina | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Remembering Sean William Kennedy (1987-2007)

Sean Kennedy: Travesty of Justice Could Have Come Out Differently If Shepard Act Had Been In Place

 

Sean & Blue tie

Sean William Kennedy, 20

Washington, DC – Elke Kennedy and her husband, James Parker, were invited by the Human Rights Campaign to represent their slain gay son, Sean William Kennedy, at the ceremonies marking the enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Law at the White House.  In a statement issued on Sean’s Last Wish, web site for the foundation established following the brutal murder of their son, the Greenville, South Carolina couple issued this statement:  “Elke and Jim are honored to represent the LGBT community in memory of their son Sean Kennedy, who was the victim of a hate crime on May 16, 2007 in Greenville, SC. Sean’s Last Wish foundation considers this a privilege to be the voice and represent the LGBT community as we continue to fight against hatred, bullying, violence and religious bigotry.”  In one of the most egregious abuses of justice in recent years, Sean Kennedy’s murderer, Stephen Moller, was indicted only for involuntary manslaughter and sentenced on June 11 2008 to a 5 year sentence suspended to three years, and received credit for the 199 days he served in county lock-up. He was supposed to stay in prison till September 7, 2009, but received 2 month credit for good behaviour by getting his GED while in prison.  The court was sympathetic to Moller because he had fathered a child who was born while he was serving his shortened sentence, and released him a week earlier than his abridged sentence even called for.  Had there been a Matthew Shepard Act on the books at the time of the Moller trial, federal officials could have intervened, investigated the murder as the anti-LGBT hate crime it was, and tried the defendant under a hate crime charge of murder.  South Carolina, however, never has enacted an anti-LGBT hate crimes prevention law, which coupled with local anti-gay attitudes, caused the breach of justice in the Sean Kennedy case.  Now, thanks to the lobbying of bereaved families like Sean’s, hate crimes against gay people have a fighting chance of being tried and punished in their true context.

October 29, 2009 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, gay men, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Social Justice Advocacy, South Carolina, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sean Kennedy: Travesty of Justice Could Have Come Out Differently If Shepard Act Had Been In Place

Second Alleged Killer of Ryan Keith Skipper on Trial in Florida

 

William_Brown_trial_cu

William D. "Bill Bill" Brown on trial

Bartow, FL – Entering its third day, the felony murder trial of William D. “Bill Bill” Brown, 23, is underway in the Polk County, Florida Courthouse.  Brown is the second alleged murderer of Ryan Keith Skipper, a 25-year-old gay college student, who died of 19 stab and slash wounds on a desolate road in Wahneta, Florida in March 2007.  The first trial, that is Joseph “Smiley” Bearden, in February of this year ended with his conviction on all counts and a life sentence in state prison.  Ironically, Skipper’s murder is not being tried as a hate crime, though many including his parents, Lynn and Pat Mulder of Auburndale, contend that their son’s assailants chose him because he was a gay man.  The same judge and prosecutor who tried the Bearden case are trying the Brown case, as well.  In a surprise move by the defense on October 26, Brown pleaded guilty to arson (setting fire to Skipper’s car to destroy evidence), and evidence tampering, which could earn him a total of 20 years at sentencing.  He is still on trial for robbery and first degree murder, which could sentence him to life in prison, just like his accomplice.  The Mulders came to Bartow to attend the Brown trial two days after the wedding of Ryan’s older brother, Damien.  Though they were personally invited to attend the October 28 signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act by President Obama in Washington, DC, a law they had vigorously lobbied to see enacted, the Mulders declined the invitation in order to be present for the trial in Polk County.  Their son Damien and his wife attended the ceremony at the White House in their stead, and were greeted by President Obama, along with Matthew Shepard’s parents, Judy and Dennis, and William Sean Kennedy’s mother, Elke Kennedy.  In communication with the Unfinished Lives Project, Lynn Mulder said that during the first days of the trial, Cass Casstillo, the prosecuting attorney, presented evidence conclusively linking Brown to the murder, including finger prints, shoe impressions, and testimony from others who heard him admit to “stabbing someone.”   Brown has contended that Skipper, whom he knew was gay, touched his “private parts,” irritating him, but denied that he killed his 25-year-old neighbor, who lived barely two blocks from his trailer home in rural Wahneta.  On Wednesday, the prosecution rested.  The Judge gave the jury the next two days off, telling them according to Mulder that the defense would present a short case with one or no witnesses on Monday, such that closing arguments would probably be offered then, and the case would go to the jury on Tuesday, November 3.  Vicki Nantz, lesbian activist from Orlando, and director/co-producer of the acclaimed Ryan Skipper Documentary, Accessory to Murder: Our Culture’s Complicity in the Death of Ryan Skipper, noted to reporters that had there been a Matthew Shepard Law on the books, Skipper’s murder could have been tried as the anti-gay hate crime it was, instead of burying the true motive of the slaying.  Nantz and others have provided a detailed trial summary day-bay-day with links to media reports at the Ryan Skipper Documentary site.  Speaking to the press, Ryan’s mother, Pat, said she wanted it known that her son “was killed by hate.”  She urged the public to help end such lethal hate, because if it were not ended, hatred would kill others.  His father, Lynn, said that Ryan would have approveof the new law protecting LGBT people from hate crimes.  “He would see the value in that,” Mulder said,”that everybody was protected equally under the law, and he would be very proud that the bill was signed into law.”

Ryan and Damien Skipper

Ryan and his brother, Damien Skipper

 

 

 

 

 

October 29, 2009 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, Florida, gay men, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Social Justice Advocacy, South Carolina, stabbings, Washington, D.C., Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Second Alleged Killer of Ryan Keith Skipper on Trial in Florida

President Obama Keeps Promise, Signs Shepard/Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act

Obama&GeorgeWashington, DC – 20 years of advocacy and struggle issued today in a powerful moment when President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.  USA Today reported the comments of the President, both at the signing event, and at a later ceremony honoring the new law.  “After more than a decade of opposition and delay, we’ve passed inclusive hate crimes legislation to help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray or who they are,” Obama said as he signed the Act.  Commenting later in the day, he said to supporters of the new law, “No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hand of the person they love.” He then cited statistics that in these past 10 years since the hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard, there have been more than 12,000 hate crimes based on sexual orientation. “We will never know how many incidents were never reported at all,” the President concluded.  Social justice advocates from all over the nation hailed the moment, as well. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT rights advocacy organization, reported that representatives of the Shepard family and the Byrd family were present at the signing event with the President.  Judy Shepard remarked, “We are incredibly grateful to Congress and the president for taking this step forward on behalf of hate crime victims and their families, especially given the continuing attacks on people simply for living their lives openly and honestly.  But each of us can and must do much more to ensure true equality for all Americans.”  Stella Byrd, mother of straight African American hate crime victim, James Byrd, Jr., for whom the Act was also named, followed Mrs. Shepard with her remarks, “We appreciate everyone who worked so hard on this bill.  My son was taken at such an early age and we hope this law will help prevent other families from going through what we experienced. Even though we’re different colors and different sexual orientations or gender identities, God made us all and he loves us all.”  According to other reports, Damien Skipper, brother of slain gay Floridian Ryan Keith Skipper, and Elke Kennedy, mother of Sean Kennedy, murdered gay hate crimes victim from Greenville, South Carolina were among other bereaved family members present at the events.  HRC President Joe Solmonese made these observations to the press: “This law honors our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters whose lives were cut short because of hate. Today’s signing of the first major piece of civil rights legislation to protect LGBT Americans represents a historic milestone in the inevitable march towards equality.  Although this is a major step in fighting the scourge of hate violence, it is not the end of the road.  As a community, we will continue to dedicate ourselves to changing not only laws but also hearts and minds.  We know that hate crimes not only harm individuals, but they terrorize entire communities.  After more than a decade of advocacy, local police and sheriffs’ departments now have the full resources of the Justice Department available to them.”  Solmonese concluded, “We applaud President Obama for signing this bill into law and thank the leadership and our allies in the House and Senate.   We also will always remember the tireless efforts of Senator Edward Kennedy on this issue.  Senator Kennedy once said that this legislation sends ‘a message about freedom and equality that will resonate around the world.’   This marks the first time that we as a nation have explicitly protected the LGBT community in the law.  And this law sends a loud message that perpetrators of hate violence against anyone will be brought to justice.”

Not only was this an historic moment in the history of human rights advocacy in the United States.  The action of President Obama marks a significant milestone in the relatively short history of his administration.  The enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is the first major promise to the LGBT community that the President has kept.  During his campaign for the presidency, Obama repeatedly made promises to LGBT people that he would expand, protect, and defend their rights.  Many LGBT activists have been critical of the seeming slowness of the President and the Congress to keep faith with homosexual and transgender Americans, who voted in record numbers to support the Democratic ticket this past year.  Many other important promises remain unfulfilled by the Obama administration: enactment of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t tell (DADT) which the Secretary of the Army suggests is now doable, and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  The enactment of the Shepard/Byrd Act, however, is a powerful indication the President will make his promises good to some of his most loyal supporters, and the significance of this day should not be lost on his LGBT critics.

October 29, 2009 Posted by | African Americans, Bisexual persons, DADT, ENDA, Florida, gay men, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, Matthew Shepard Act, military, Politics, Social Justice Advocacy, South Carolina, transgender persons, Washington, D.C., Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

For Courageous Mothers of LGBT Murder Victims, There is No Closure

Pat and Lynn Mulder at USF, Stephen Coddington photo for the Times

Pat and Lynn Mulder at USF, Stephen Coddington photo for the Times

Families of LGBT hate crimes murder victims are on the front lines of grief and loss when a homophobic attack takes the life of someone they love.  This is especially true of their mothers.  That powerful truth was driven home for me again by learning of Pat and Lynn Mulder’s courageous appearance at the Hate Crimes Awareness Summit held this week at the University of South Florida.  Pat shared the story of how her beloved son, Ryan Keith Skipper, lived and died at the hands of brutal, anti-gay attackers in rural Polk County Florida on March 14, 2007.  The popular 25-year-old Skipper was stabbed over 19 times, and left to bleed out on a lonely dirt road in Wahneta, a rural town in the Winter Haven region. One of his murderers, Joseph “Smiley” Bearden has been sentenced to life without parole earlier this year, and a second alleged killer, William D. “Bill Bill” Brown is to stand trial on October 12.  Reporting on the Summit, Alexandra Zayas of the St. Petersburg Times, relates how Pat had to overcome her reluctance and nervousness about speaking in front of crowds about the worst tragedy in her family’s history.  “The worst thing in the world that can happen to you has already happened. There’s nothing else to be afraid of.”  Speaking with passion and the conviction that no family should ever have to endure what hers has, Pat and her husband Lynn have tirelessly reached out to others bereaved by unreasoning hatred.  Barely a year after her son’s murder, Pat traveled to Fort Lauderdale to see Denise King, mother of African American youth Simmie Williams, Jr., who was shot for being transgender by attackers who have not yet been identified or apprehended.  At at town hall meeting dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Williams, Pat introduced herself to Mrs. King as Ryan’s mother, and enfolded her in an embrace that King later said was deeply meaningful to her.  Speaking to the Times about that moment, Pat said, “It’s beyond being women. It’s beyond being different races, different backgrounds. It has nothing to do with that. It’s the hearts of two mothers,” Pat said. “For a moment, there’s someone who’s helping you hold up your pain.”  The real unsung heroes of the effort to win passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act are women like Pat Mulder and Denise King who became “accidental activists” for the sake of their children who died so senselessly.  Elke Kennedy, mother of Greenville, SC victim, Sean William Kennedy, Pauline Mitchell, mother of Navajo two-spirit son, F.C. Martinez, Jr. of Cortez, CO, Pat Kuteles, mother of U.S. Army Pvt. Barry Winchell, murdered at Fort Campbell, KY, Kathy Jo Gaither, sister of Sylacauga, AL victim Bill Joe Gaither, and, certainly, Judy Shepard of Casper, WY who is currently touring the nation to promote passage of the LGBT hate crimes bill named for her son Matthew, are but a few outstanding examples of women whose love overcame untold obstacles to add their voices to the chorus of Americans, gay and straight, who want anti-queer violence to come to an end forever.  These courageous women and many other family members around the nation have become the most effective spokespersons for human rights because of their unsought-for mission to stamp out hate from the American vocabulary for all people, especially LGBTQ folk who are so much at risk.  How do mothers do it?  Pat Mulder says that for parents of gay murder victims, there is no closure, only the determination to turn up the volume on what hate crimes do to families.

Sprinkle in FL 08

~ Stephen Sprinkle for the Unfinished Lives Project

September 25, 2009 Posted by | African Americans, Alabama, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Colorado, DADT, Florida, gay men, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Kentucky, Latino and Latina Americans, Legislation, Lesbian women, Matthew Shepard Act, military, Native Americans, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Social Justice Advocacy, South Carolina, transgender persons, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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