Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

U.S. Marine Charged in Murder of Philippine Transgender Woman

Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton admitted to a shipmate, "I think I killed a he/she."

Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton admitted to a shipmate, “I think I killed a he/she.”

Manila, Republic of the Philippines – A United States Marine has been formally charged with the October murder of a transgender Filipina, according to The Washington Post.  Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, 19, had “probable cause” and employed “treachery, abuse of superior authority and cruelty” against his victim, Jennifer Laude, lead prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos said in a televised statement. Ms. Laude’s body was found naked with her head submerged in a toilet. “You can see the kind of cruelty she endured, the injuries she sustained,” de los Santos said. “We believe we have a strong case.”

Pfc. Pemberton, who was identified in a line up by two witnesses, will not be allowed to post bail.

The murder took place in a flop house hotel in the port city of Olongapo, northwest of Manila. The police autopsy concluded that Ms. Laude died of “asphyxia from drowning.” Filipino Transgender Rights Advocates are calling the killing “a hate crime,” according to USA Today, among them Gender Proud and the Asia and Pacific Transgender Network. The attorney for the family, Henry Roque, concurred. “This is not an ordinary murder. This is heinous because she was beaten up,” he said.

The evening of October 12, Pemberton and other Marines went to a disco bar and picked up partners for the night. Lance Corporal Jairn Michael Rose, who had accompanied Pemberton at the start of the evening, testified that upon return to the ship, Pemberton confided to him that he had strangled his date when he found out she was transgender. Rose is quoted by the Associated Press as saying Pemberton admitted, “I think I killed a he/she.” 

Prosecutors say that Pemberton, an accomplished boxer, said that he had choked Laude from behind “for a couple of minutes,” and when she stopped moving, he dragged her body into the bathroom.

The alleged murder comes at a particularly delicate time in regard to charges brought against U.S. military personnel for attacks on Philippine nationals. The United States is seeking renewed and strengthened ties with the Philippines as the allies try to counter Chinese incursions in the South China Sea. A recently signed defense accord allows the U.S. military greater access to Filipino military bases.

Pemberton was part of 3,500 U.S. Marines brought to the massive Subic Bay Naval Station to participate in military exercises with the Philippine military. He was held aboard a U.S. Navy ship until massive anti-American protests prompted U.S. officials to transfer him to Philippine soil to the main base of the Philippine military in metro Manila, but still in American custody. The Foreign Ministry of the Philippine government issued a statement saying that they look “forward to the full cooperation of the U.S. government in ensuring that justice is secured for Laude.” 

December 15, 2014 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Hate Crimes, Republic of the Philippines, Strangulation, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Marine Murder Anti-Gay Hate Crime, Prosecutor Says

LCpl Philip Bushong, 23, mistakenly assumed to be gay, stabbed to death for hugging a friend.

Washington, D.C. – Yelling anti-gay slurs, a U.S. Marine stabbed another Marine to death after seeing him embrace his male friend outside a popular Barracks Row pub in the nation’s capital.  The Washington Post reports that Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman confirmed that his office is proceeding with anti-gay hate crime charges against Michael Poth, 20, who stabbed Lance Corporal Philip M. Bushong, 23, on April 21. “This was a hate crime,” Liebman said. “The victim and his friend were embracing outside.”  The Post goes on to say that a DC Metro Police homicide detective reported that the crime took place because Poth believed the two men hugging were both gay.  In fact, while his friend is out and gay, Bushong was heterosexual.

The story confirms what hate crimes activists have seen time and again in fatalities like this: even the assumption that a person is gay or lesbian can be deadly.

Video surveillance of the area shows Bushong lifting his shirt after the attack with a startled look on his face, and then collapsing to the pavement.  His assailant had stabbed him once in the chest with a pocket knife. When Poth heard that Bushong had been transported to a hospital to deal with the stab wound, he was heard shouting, “Good!  I hope he dies!”  Prior to the attack, Poth was heard threatening the two men he saw socializing outside the pub, “I’m going to stab someone and cut their lungs out.” Poth, who had already received a “less-than-honorable discharge” from the Marines according to court testimony, had been under investigation by the Marine Corps since last November for altercations with other Marines, and for drug offenses.

Poth has been charged with second degree murder.  His attorney, who claims his client was defending himself from Bushong, unsuccessfully attempted to get the charge lowered to manslaughter. In the altercation, Bushong was heard calling Poth a “boot,” which in Marine slang suggests that Poth was a substandard soldier.

May 23, 2012 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Mistaken as LGBT, Slurs and epithets, stabbings, U.S. Marines, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Marine Murder Anti-Gay Hate Crime, Prosecutor Says

Marine Murdered in Possible Anti-Gay Hate Crime

Philip Bushong, 23, called homophobic slur and stabbed to death by a fellow U.S. Marine

Washington, D.C. – A U.S. Marine was attacked and stabbed through the heart by a fellow Marine who allegedly ignited the fight by calling him an anti-gay slur.  Philip Bushong, 23, was fatally stabbed with a pocket knife on Saturday in the Barracks Row section of D.C. by 20-year-old Michael Poth, according to reports in WTNH News. Gravely wounded, Bushong was rushed to a nearby hospital where he died about an hour later. The stabbing took place near the Marine Barracks and the home of the U.S. Marines Commandant–a bustling section of the U.S. Capitol with shops, restaurants, and residences that is normally thought to be safe because of its proximity to the military barracks.

Witnesses told DC police that Poth called Bushong the homophobic slur as the two Marines passed each other on the sidewalk at about 2:40 a.m., according to the Washington Post.  Bushong, who apparently had never met Poth, took exception to the slur, and the fight erupted in front of a sporting goods store. The DC Metro Police are taking the lead on the investigation of Bushong’s murder, assisted by the Naval Crime Investigative Service.  Poth was charged Monday with second degree murder, according to WJLA News 7. Bail was denied at the request of representatives of the Marine Corps, and Poth will go to court the next time on May 15. Defense attorneys allege self-defense on their client’s part. When Poth was arrested by Marine guards and told that Bushong was on his way to the hospital, he allegedly told them, “Good! I hope he dies!” Carolyn Eaves, a worker a block away from the scene of the crime, told News 7, “Sad. Two families… now destroyed “We have to learn not to call people names, you know. Got to be on our Ps and Qs all the time. Sad.”

Because of the report of the homophobic slur, hate crimes protocols are being observed in the investigation, and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force of the Metro Police have been brought in.  The Advocate reports that OutServe, the first openly gay and lesbian active duty military advocacy organization in the nation, issued a statement on the killing over the weekend.  In part, the statement reads: “We are troubled by the specter that this might have been a hate crime; if so, we anticipate the authorities will pursue it to the fullest extent of the law. This is particularly upsetting since, overall, gay and lesbian Marines have been accepted and treated equally in the force since repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ We look forward to the results of a swift and thorough investigation of this tragic incident.” 

Bushong, a Marine since 2007, was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.  A native of Enfield, Connecticut, he was described by friends and fellow Marines as a fun-loving person who enjoyed his life. Funeral arrangements in Connecticut have not been released to the public at the time of this report.

Hate speech has the capacity to inflame young men, in particular. What prompted one Marine to sling an anti-gay epithet at the other is not known, but neither young man is believed to be gay. The language of violence attached to homophobia is still strong enough to infuriate people like no other speech in our time, and turn otherwise sensible people into combatants, as in this awful case in the nation’s capitol. The Marines have traditionally been felt to have a higher degree of homophobia than the other armed forces, but recent accounts seemed to indicate that the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was going well in the Corps. It seems there is much work left to do, however, until young men like these no longer feel that accusations of homosexuality are intolerable to their manhood.

April 24, 2012 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Connecticut, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Metropolitan Police (D.C.), OutServe, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, U.S. Marines, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Marine Murdered in Possible Anti-Gay Hate Crime

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is History: We Must Not Forget Its Cost

Washington, D.C. – Today marks the advent of full repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the 1993 law making gay and lesbian servicemembers liable for discharge if they admitted their sexual orientation.  While there will be celebrations and night watch parties throughout the nation marking this historic day in the struggle for LGBTQ equality, we cannot afford to forget the terrible cost anti-gay discrimination has wrought in the Armed Forces of the United States.  So, today, we lift up the lives and patriotic service of four gay men who died because of the ignorance and bigotry of other servicemembers, and the systemic bigotry of the services themselves which at best permitted these murders, and at worst encouraged them.

Seaman August Provost of Houston, Texas, was shot to death on duty in a Camp Pendleton guard shack, and his remains were burned to erase the evidence of the deed on June 30, 2009 in San Diego, California. He had recently complained to his family that a fellow servicemember was harassing him because of his sexual orientation.  He feared speaking with his superiors about the harassment because of the threat of discharge due to DADT.  His partner in life, Kaether Cordero of Houston, said, “People who he was friends with, I knew that they knew. He didn’t care that they knew. He trusted them.”  Seaman Provost joined the Navy in 2008 to gain benefits to finish school, where he was studying to become an architectural engineer.

Private First Class Michael Scott Goucher, a veteran of the Iraq War, was murdered near his home in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, on February 4, 2009 by an assailant who stabbed him at least twenty times. Known locally as “Mike on a Bike” by neighbors and friends, Goucher was an assistant organist for a congregation of the United Church of Christ, and Captain of the neighborhood Crime Watch.  He also was a selectively closeted gay man, hiding his sexual orientation from his community. Goucher survived deployment in Iraq, only to meet death at the hands of homophobes back home.

Private First Class Barry Winchell of Kansas City, Missouri, was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat as he slept in his barracks by a member of his unit at Fort Campbell, Kentucky on July 6, 1999.  Winchell had fallen in love with a transgender woman, Calpurnia Adams, who lived in Nashville, Tennessee.  In the fallout from his murder, President Bill Clinton ordered a review of DADT, which resulted in the addition of a “Don’t Harass” amendment to the policy, but little else. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, who represented Winchell’s parents in litigation with the U.S. Army, demanded to know who in the upper ranks of Fort Campbell knew of the murder and its subsequent cover up.  The commandant of the fort was promoted over the objections of many human rights advocates. Winchell’s story has been immortalized by the 2003 film, “Soldier’s Girl.”

Petty Officer Third Class Allen R. Schindler Jr. of Chicago Heights, Illinois was murdered on October 27, 1992 in a public toilet on base in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan. His killer was a shipmate who despised Schindler for being gay. He had been outed while on board the U.S.S. Belleau Wood, and was supposedly under the protection of his superiors until he could be separated from the service.  Schindler had called his mother to tell her to expect him home by Christmas.  Instead, the Navy shipped his savaged remains home to Chicago Heights before Thanksgiving.  The only way family members could identify his remains was by a tattoo of the U.S.S. Midway on his forearm.  Otherwise, he was beaten so brutally that his uncle, sister, and mother could not tell he was their boy.  Schindler’s murder was presented as a reason DADT should never have been enacted, but authorities in Washington brushed his story aside and enacted the ban against gays in the military anyway. Schindler’s story is told at length in Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims, authored by the founder of the Unfinished Lives Project, Dr. Stephen Sprinkle.

We at Unfinished Lives celebrate the repeal of DADT tonight with thanksgiving for the courage of lesbian and gay servicemembers who chose to serve their country in the military though their country chose not to honor them.  More than 13,500 women and men were drummed out of the service under DADT.  But in addition to the thousands who faced discharge and shame, we cannot forget, we must not forget, the brave souls who died at the hands of irrational hatred and ignorance–the outworking of a blatantly discriminatory policy that never should have blighted the annals of American history.  The four lives we remember here are representative of hundreds, perhaps thousands more, whose stories demonstrate the lengths to which institutions and governments will go to preserve homophobia and heterosexism.  We will remember with thanksgiving our gay and lesbian dead, for to forget them would be to contribute to the ills wrought by DADT.

September 20, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, Bludgeoning, California, DADT, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, gun violence, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Illinois, immolation, Kentucky, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, military, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Protests and Demonstrations, Remembrances, Repeal of DADT, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Slashing attacks, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, Stomping and Kicking Violence, Tennessee, Texas, transgender persons, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, Vigils, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is History: We Must Not Forget Its Cost

DADT Repeal Certification Friday, July 22nd, But at What Cost to LGBTQ Americans? A Special Comment

Pfc. Barry Winchell's grave

Both CNN and the San Diego Union-Tribune are reporting tonight that final certification of DADT repeal will take place Friday in Washington, D.C.  But our celebrations are sobered at the Unfinished Lives Project by the magnitude of the cost to the LGBTQ community in servicemembers’ lives and careers in order to get to this landmark moment. When Secretary Leon Panetta signs the documents of certification at the Pentagon, signifying that the chiefs of the Armed Services have previously reported to him that full and open service by gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers, sailors, marines, airwomen and airmen, national guardsmen and women, and coast guardsmen and women poses no threat or harm to the morale, unit cohesion, or mission readiness of the Armed Forces, a giant step toward full equality for LGBTQ people will be made.  Seventeen years of the most oppressive and blatantly discriminatory anti-gay policy in contemporary memory will be over; but not before the incalculable cost of the lives of queer servicemembers who died before seeing this day dawn. At the Unfinished Lives Project, we have invoked the names and stories of some of them: Petty Officer Allen R. Schindler, U.S. Navy; Pfc. Barry Winchell, U.S. Army; Pfc. Michael Scott Goucher, U.S. Army Reserve; Seaman August Provost, U.S. Navy.  May they and all the others they represent rest in peace! These patriots died outrageous deaths at the hands of hatred and unreasoning bias, enabled by a military culture that either encouraged violence against suspected LGB servicemembers, or at the very least turned a blind eye toward such violence. Celebration of repeal is in order, and celebrate we will. The dead are honored by this act of justice, signifying that they have not died in vain. But we will also be mindful that no stroke of a pen, even one so powerful as the one wielded by the Secretary of Defense, will eliminate homophobia and heterosexism in the Armed Services. Ships, barracks, and foreign fields of service will be haunted with the hatred that has been passed down from generation to generation of American military personnel. Backlash is in full swing, as we have seen most graphically among right-wing conservative military chaplains whose appeals to exempt their anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and teachings as freedom of religion served to be the last bastion of “homophobia-masquerading-as-liberty” in the armed services. Thankfully, as certification on Friday shows, the vast majority of servicemembers of all ranks reject discrimination for what it truly is: un-American. In memory of all our LGBTQ servicemembers (of all faiths and faith-free, as the case may be) who have died in part or in full because of the ravages of hate crimes, we dedicate a portion of Fr. Thomas Merton’s most famous poem, written in memory of his brother, John Paul, killed in action in World War II, entitled, “For My Brother, Reported Missing In Action, 1943” [The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, New Directions, 1977, p. 35-36]:

When all the men of war are shot

And flags have fallen into dust,

Your cross and mine shall tell men still

Christ died on each for both of us.

For in the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain,

And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring:

The money of Whose tears shall fall

Into your weak and friendless hand,

And buy you back to your own land:

The silence of Whose tears shall fall

Like bells upon your alien tomb.

Hear them and come: they call you home.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Asian Americans, Bisexual persons, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Legislation, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, military, Military Chaplaincy, National Guard, religious intolerance, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, transgender persons, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, Vigils, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

KKK and “GodHatesFags” Zealots Turn On Each Other

Arlington, Virginia – Klansmen joined in a counter-protest attempting to screen military funerals from a Westboro Baptist Church picket at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend.  The Fred Phelps-founded protestors, made infamous by their “God Hates Fags” campaign and their more recent demonstrations at the funerals of fallen United States military servicemembers, found themselves confronted by a number of members of the Knights of the Southern Cross Soldiers of the Ku Klux Klan, a racist KKK cell based in Powhatan, Virginia, according to the Hatewatch post of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  Including the KKK, 70 counter-protestors waved American flags and held up pro-USA signs, blocking the funerals in progress from the demonstrators holding signs brandishing such slogans as “Fag Nation,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Pray for More Dead Soldiers,” and “Thank God for IED’s,” typical of the anti-American message propounded by the Topeka, Kansas Baptist church in its continuing opposition to “homosexual lifestyles.”

Dennis LaBonte, spokesperson for the Knights of the Southern Cross Soldiers, said that their counter-protest was in defense of freedom of speech and in support of the U.S. military. LaBonte told reporters that it was the military in this country that fought to defend the rights of groups like Phelps’s Topeka, Kansas church which recently successfully defended itself before the U.S. Supreme Court against a suit brought by the parent of a Marine killed in combat–a soldier whose funeral had been picketed by the Westboro zealots to condemn the “fag-enabling ways” of the nation.  “It’s the soldier that fought and died and gave them that right,” LaBonte said.  Responding to the Klan counter-protestors, Abigail Phelps, an attorney as are many of her siblings, complained to CNN that people should not “idolize” soldiers who died in national service, or anyone else who died in an “unrighteous cause.”  When directly asked about her reaction to the presence of KKK members in opposition to the Westboro Baptist demonstration, she told the reporter, “They have no moral authority on anything.” According to yourblackworld.com, Phelps went on to say, “People like them say it’s white power … white supremacy.  The Bible doesn’t say anywhere that it’s an abomination to be born of a certain gender or race.”

Nationalism makes strange bedfellows, indeed–enlisting bigots in competing demonstrations against other bigots.  No one in the LGBTQ community is under any illusion about the feelings of the KKK toward them, however.  As the SPLC points out, the Klan hates gay people only slightly less than they hate Jews, African Americans, and “mongrel races.”  As one blog commentator wrote, “On the one hand, this could be laughable, but it is not. One could also [take this news] with a grain of salt. Neither side are LGBT friendly. Let them fight among themselves.”

June 4, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Arlington National Cemetery, Bisexual persons, CNN, funerals, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, harassment, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, Kansas, Klu Klux Klan, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Protests and Demonstrations, Racism, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. Marines, U.S. Supreme Court, Virginia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

President Signs DADT Repeal: What This Means for America’s LGBTQ Community

Washington, D.C. – In a breakthrough moment for the LGBTQ community, President Barack Obama signed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell into law today.  The ceremony was held in the Interior Department to accommodate a large and emotional crowd of witnesses to the making of American history.  The meaning of this moment will unfold and grow over time.  But this much at least may be said now: LGBTQ Americans have moved one significant step closer to full equality because of this political victory.  The President noted that while the struggle to repeal DADT has gone on for nearly two decades, this day is a culmination of untold sacrifice and heroism on the part of LGBTQ servicemembers and their families for over 200 years.  From the American Revolution to the current Iraqi and Afghan conflicts, gay and lesbian patriots have fought for the freedoms they themselves have not fully known.  Most of their service has been hidden in the anonymity of history for obvious reasons.  To serve openly as gay was not tolerated in the American armed forces. The darker side of this history is the story of untold thousands who have been persecuted, harassed, harmed, and killed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender presentation.  The Unfinished Lives Project and other efforts have sought to chronicle some of these stories: Army PFC Barry Winchell, Petty Officer Allen R. Schindler, Seaman August Provost, and Army veteran Michael Scott Goucher, to name but a few.  Not only have the battlefields of the world been consecrated with the blood of LGBTQ American servicemembers.  The closets of the military in all branches of the service are likewise battlegrounds stained with queer blood.  The signature of President Obama should not become a coda to their memory.  If anything, this moment should give the LGBTQ community added impetus to remember and honor our war dead–both on the battlefield of honor and on the battlefields of American prejudice.  This moment is fraught with religious and theological significance, as well.  Now that this landmark legislation for human rights and dignity is the law of the land, the recalcitrant majority of conservative military chaplains must choose to fulfill their pledge of service to all the nation’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and guardsmen. Human rights and dignity are a prophetic dimensions of all the advance theologies of the world since time immemorial, but the savage side of religion has often displaced God’s favor for all people with a purist extremism that honors neither God or country. The crucial choice now is in the lap of the fundamentalist military chaplaincy, who have discounted the good service of LGBTQ women and men for decades, and the religious righteousness of their chaplaincy peers who have embraced LGBTQ servicemembers as children of God.  It is time for the fundamentalist chaplains in the armed services, including the chiefs of chaplains in the Army, Navy, and Air Force to either salute smartly and comply with the law, or take their pensions and go.  The choice is theirs.  The moderate and progressive religious communities in this nation are faced with another type of challenge.  They must re-evaluate their stance toward military service, and remove institutional and ecclesial impediments to honorable service.  Seminaries on the theological left will need to open their doors for training the next generation of military chaplains.  For the LGBTQ community generally, the call of this day is to become a more mature and reasoned community among the peoples of this nation.  Nothing has changed for military servicemembers yet, nor will it for quite some time, until the law can be implemented throughout the armed forces.  There will be continued bias and discrimination against queer folk in the military by the military.  But LGBTQ people are now offered a renewed sense of who we are: strong, proud, sacrificial, patriotic, and peace-loving–all at the same time.  This is a red-letter day in American history, and a rainbow-colored day in the struggle for full LGBTQ equality.

December 22, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, DADT, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), gay men, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Legislation, Lesbian women, military, Military Chaplaincy, Native Americans, Politics, religious intolerance, Remembrances, Repeal of DADT, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, transgender persons, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on President Signs DADT Repeal: What This Means for America’s LGBTQ Community

Repeal and Remembrance: Gay Military Martyrs and the End of DADT

Fallen Military Servicemembers

Washington, DC – On a red letter day when lawmakers voted to end the most notorious anti-gay policy in the federal canon, LGBT servicemembers and veterans who have been murdered because of their sexual and gender non-conformity must not be forgotten during the celebrations over passage of repeal of DADT.  In a historic vote in the history of the human rights movement, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to end the ban on LGBT patriots from serving openly in the armed services of the United States.  Saturday afternoon, 65 Senators voted for repeal with 31 in opposition. A simple majority of 51 was all that was required for passage of the Senate bill, which is identical to the one passed earlier in the week  by the House of Representatives. Eight GOP Senators joined their Democratic colleagues to pass the repeal of the 17-year-old discriminatory policy that ended the military careers of 13,500 women and men because of their sexual orientation. Joe Manchin, the freshman Senator for West Virginia, was the only Democrat not voting for passage.  According to the New York Times, his office informed the public that he had a “family commitment” he could not break.The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature to set the repeal in motion.  GOP opponents of the repeal criticized the Democratic leadership of the Senate for the vote in the lame duck session just before the Holiday recess.  Senator Carl Levin, the chair of the Senate Armed Service Committee, disputed the Republican claims that Democrats were ramming legislation through just to please the so-called “gay lobby.” In remarks to the New York Times, Senator Levin (D-Michigan) said: “I’m not here for partisan reasons. I’m here because men and women wearing the uniform of the United States who are gay and lesbian have died for this country, because gay and lesbian men and women wearing the uniform of this country have their lives on the line right now.” Yet it is not only for the living that this vote is significant. Our military dead are honored by this historic vote to end anti-LGBT discrimination, among whom are far too many gay servicemembers who were killed because of their sexual orientation. Our gay military martyrs, murdered because of homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia in the armed services loom large in the memory of the LGBTQ community today because they are both a sign of hope and caution. They are a sign of hope that no more women and men need lose their lives in the military because of their sexual orientation and gender presentation. They are a sign of caution, because the passage of DADT repeal in no way guarantees the end of anti-gay violence in the military.  We must name our LGBT military dead until violence against queer servicemembers ceases forever: Seaman Allen Schindler was beaten to death by shipmates in a public toilet in Sasebo, Japan. PFC Barry Winchell was murdered with a baseball bat in the Army barracks at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Seaman August Provost was shot to death on base in San Diego, and then his body was set afire in a guard shack in the vain attempt to destroy evidence of the murder. Army veteran Michael Scott Goucher was lured into a fatal ambush by local youths near his home in Pennsylvania. These four are representative of the many more slaughtered by ignorance and hate by fellow servicemembers and civilians. Pundits say that after President Obama signs the Repeal Act into law, it will still take at least sixty days for the military ban to be lifted for LGBT military personnel. Until that time, the current discriminatory law stays in effect. But the culture of violence that harasses and kills LGBT women and men who wear the uniform remains virulently poised to take more lives until the root of fear is eliminated in the armed services.  To that end, the historic passage of the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is simply the beginning of a new campaign, in the name of our gay military martyrs, to replace the fear and loathing of the sexual minority with education and respect.

December 19, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Asian Americans, Bisexual persons, Bludgeoning, California, DADT, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), gay men, gun violence, harassment, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Illinois, immolation, Kentucky, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, military, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, Remembrances, Special Comments, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. Army, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Repeal and Remembrance: Gay Military Martyrs and the End of DADT

Gay Bashing in Savannah “Not A Hate Crime”

Stanzel (l), Cronauer (r)

Savannah, GA – The Chatham County District Attorney will not charge two U.S. Marines who gay bashed a man in June with a hate crime.  EDGE reports that the Marines, Keil Cronauer, 22, and Christopher Stanzel, 23, will face misdemeanor battery charges in court on September 9.  On June 12, a gay man, Kieran Daly, was assaulted, cursed for being gay, and left in a state bad enough that his friends administered emergency CPR to jumpstart his pulse.  Cronauer accused Daly of “winking” at him, which the victim strongly denies.  Stanzel allegedly delivered the blow to the back of Daly’s head, giving him a bruise on his brain.  The blow is what the DA,  Alicia Johnson, is calling “a punch,” and she cannot bring herself to move the charge from a misdemeanor to a felony since the victim had no “sustained injuries.”  DA Johnson told the GA Voice that FBI agents had reviewed Daly’s medical records, and found “no merit” in categorizing the attack as a hate crime.  “I can’t speak on the specifics because this is pending litigation, but for a crime to be considered a felony [which a hate crime is considered to be] there has to be proof of a sustained injury,” Johnson said. If convicted of misdemeanor battery, the Marines would face no more than a year in jail and a fine of no more than $1200.  The state of Georgia has no statute protecting its LGBT residents from hate crimes.  The key to prosecuting the Marines was always the implementation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act that President Obama signed into law last October.  The ruling of the FBI, coupled with the familiar reluctance of local law enforcement to prosecute anti-gay violence in Savannah, seems to have put the Marines out of the reach of justice for now.  Both Marines were rushed from the Chatham County jail to the custody of military police shortly after being arrested in June.  Georgia Equality and other allies of the LGBTQ community have rallied to protest this avoidance on the part of officers of the law charged to protect the community.  As the Voice reports, numbers of LGBT activists and allies met in Johnson Square in the historic district of Savannah, Ga., back on June 20 to express their outrage over the alleged beating and to call for Georgia to pass a state hate crimes law. Now, the Executive Director of Georgia Equality Jeff Graham is calling for the Justice Department to revisit the crime, in hopes that the attack will finally be ruled a hate crime.  “I’m very concerned this happened in the first place. But these misdemeanor charges are outrageous,” Graham said. “And then to turn [the Marines] over to the military police is a miscarriage of justice.”  The LGBTQ community in Savannah is questioning at what point can an attack on a person because of perceived sexual orientation be considered a hate crime.  Does it take two blows?  A maiming?  God forbid, a murder?

September 2, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, FBI, gay men, gay panic defense, Georgia, harassment, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Protests and Demonstrations, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, U.S. Marines | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Phelps Funeral Protesters Assaulted with Pepper Spray: A Special Comment

Omaha, NE – Protesters picketing a military funeral in Omaha were assaulted by a man squirting pepper spray out his pickup truck window as he drove by them on August 28.  The assailant, George Vogel, 62, was arrested and charged with 16 counts of misdemeanor assault, and one felony count because the pepper spray hit a police officer.  A reporter was also affected by the spray. The motorist was also charged with child neglect since his own child was in the truck at the time of the assault, according to CNN.  Police confirmed that Vogel allegedly extended his arm from the cab of the Ford 150 pickup truck, and discharged a “large can” of pepper spray at the Westboro Baptist Church protesters.  The funeral was being held at First United Methodist Church for the late Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Bock, 26, who died in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province on August 13.  The WBC protest at Bock’s funeral is part of Phelps’s strategy to publicize his campaign against gays and lesbians by targeting fallen U.S. servicemembers, since the United States has become a “fag-enabling” nation that is under God’s wrathful judgment.  Members of the church at the Omaha protest carried signs reading “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Blew Up the Troops” and “AIDS Cures Fags.”  The pepper spray assault occurred while nearly 600 members of the Patriot Guard Riders ringed the church to prevent the protest and counter-protest from disturbing the funeral services.  No members of the Riders were affected by the spray.  A major case involving a challenge to free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment has grown from a 2006 protest carried out against the funeral of a soldier from Maryland, in which the father of the deceased soldier sued Phelps and the church for 5 million dollars for harassing the family during the funeral.  Albert Snyder, father of the fallen soldier from Maryland, accuses Phelps and his church of emotional distress and anguish.  A lower court imposed a fine of up to 8 million dollars against Westboro Baptist, which was later reduced to a 5 million dollar award to Mr. Snyder.  A court of appeals overturned the verdict, citing the protections afforded by the First Amendment.  The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case in October of this year.  Supporters of the Snyders have lined up against defenders of freedom of speech as the case goes to the high court.  Phelps continues his schedule of protests with impunity.  While the content of Phelps’s protests is so disturbing that high emotions can be readily understood, the larger issue of freedom of speech and expression takes center stage for the Unfinished Lives Project.  We are under no illusions about the nature of Phelps’s work.  He is the most notorious homophobe of this age, and if a link could be successfully established between his hate speech and violence against LGBTQ people, as we believe does exist, he and his church members deserve the punishment of the law.  But freedom of speech is a defining right guaranteed all Americans under the provisions of the Constitution.  LGBTQ people are vouchsafed the right of protest and speech under the same provisions of the law, and to surrender to emotion, no matter how justified it seems in the short term would be to gag and throttle the struggle for human rights in this nation.  So, regretfully, the Unfinished Lives Project must support freedom of speech, even for one of the most noxious of our enemies.  We must believe that the rightness of full equality will win out in the end, no matter how spiteful the opposition becomes.  And, in the spirit of appreciation for the Snyders and all other families and friends of fallen U.S. servicemembers, we offer out sympathy and condolences.

August 30, 2010 Posted by | Condolences, Fred Phelps, funerals, harassment, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Maryland, military, Nebraska, Protests and Demonstrations, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Special Comments, U.S. Marines, U.S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Phelps Funeral Protesters Assaulted with Pepper Spray: A Special Comment

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