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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.