Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Anti-Gay Violence with a Side of Waffle Fries: A Comment on Matthew Paul Turner’s “Five Reasons the Church Failed” on Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day

Dallas, Texas – By all reports, Mike Huckabee’s Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day was a success in “Big D” and around the nation.  Beaucoup Church folk stretched around the block to show some love to Dan Cathy’s corporate bottom line, and munch on some fast food chicken–the storied “Gospel Bird” gobbled at every church supper throughout the South.  Matthew Paul Turner, the popular Christian blogger (5,000+ subscribers) responded by writing a thoughtful post entitled “5 Reasons Why the Church Failed Yesterday.”  You can read the post in its entirety by clicking here.  In the aftermath of Wednesday’s effort to show Cathy, Huckabee, and CFA Corp some love by the conservative Christian Right, otherwise known as the Republican-Party-at-Prayer, Matthew Paul speaks to the head and the heart of right-of-center, salt-of-the-earth supporters of CFA, and seeks to prick their consciences (or at least raise their consciousness a bit). As a gay man and a Christian, an ordained Baptist minister and seminary professor, I must tell you, I was moved by much of what Matthew Paul had to say. His opening words for Reason Five were especially impressive to me. Matthew Paul writes:

“Yesterday’s hoopla surrounding CFA did nothing to prove that Christians don’t hate gay people. Oh I know that most Christians will say, ‘I don’t hate gay people!!’ But did supporting CFA Appreciation Day prove that?”  Matthew Paul then said, “Trust me, I understand that most people who ate chicken sandwiches at CFA yesterday did not do that as an act of hate. I get that. And that’s cool and all, but did the act of going out of your way to CFA prove that to be true? Do you think that the GLBTQ communities believe you? Would you, if you were gay, believe you?”

Yet, even as I read the good words on Matthew Paul’s blog, I still could not get the perpetual violence done the LGBTQ community in the name of God, the Bible, and the Church out of my mind. Nor could I remain silent about the specter of violence egged on by faith-based bigotry that lurks behind most every anti-gay hate crime in America. So, here is the short reflection on the “5 Reasons” post that I sent to Matthew Paul:

“Thought provoking and generative post, Matthew Paul. But the larger point to me is that the pogrom against LGBTQ people (many of them LGBTQ people of faith, too!) is going on all around the half-million or so ‘chicken Christians’ who are simply, idly standing by and letting it happen while they eat. 2011 saw the largest number of anti-gay murders in US history according the NCAVP (National  Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs) report. In Texas, in the space of barely six weeks, three lesbians of color have been violently attacked, and two of them are dead. The decimation of LGBTQ people is going on apace, with killers quoting the Bible and right wing religious leaders as they do it. And the good people (I really mean that, in regards to many CFA supporters) of the church are bystanders silently permitting the killings to go on, munching away. I am an ordained Baptist minister and a gay man. As I contemplate the complicity of the church in the slow rolling decimation of our fellow Americans, I believe I have a visceral understanding of the Gospel verse, ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11:35).” 

Christians in Austin, Texas, have called on all their Facebook and Twitter friends to show their faith on August 8 by making a $10 donation to a local food bank. Hold the chicken, and hold the waffle fries, please. That seems to me to be in keeping with what Jesus would have us do to show some real Godly love in action, so I will be joining my faith-filled Austin friends by sending my bucks along to the Cathedral of Hope food pantry in Dallas.  But I will also be pursuing a mission of conscience beyond that.

If you, gentle readers, believe you see an “agenda” in my response to CFA Appreciation Day, and in my addendum to Matthew Paul Turner’s “5 Reasons” post, then let me hasten to borrow the words of “our dear friend and prayer partner,” Dan Cathy of CFA, who famously said, “I plead guilty.”  I do have an agenda, an authentic gay agenda, the only so-called “gay agenda” I know anything about, one that has been influenced and shaped by the simple WWJD faith of my youth.  My agenda is that the faith-based bystanders who look idly on while women, men, and youths are bashed, bullied, and killed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender variance will finally awaken, and take responsibility for their merciless silence–to the end that all Jesus’ followers raise their voices and act until the senseless violence stops!

~ Stephen V. Sprinkle, Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas,
and Theologian-in-Residence of Cathedral of Hope, Dallas, Texas

August 3, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Brite Divinity School, Bullying in schools, Cathedral of Hope, Chick-fil-a, gay bashing, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Lesbian teens, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Teen Blinded In Anti-Gay Middle School Attack

Kardin Ulysse, 14, blinded in anti-gay bullying attack at a Bergen Beach middle school (New York Daily News photo).

Brooklyn, New York – A 14-year-old student was blinded in one eye in a brutal anti-gay attack at his middle school in Bergen Beach. The June 5 attack was part of a pattern of hate attacks against Kardin Ulysse, whose parents chose Roy H. Mann Junior High School for their son because they thought it was the best school in the area, according to the New York Daily News.  Now, his father Pierre says he knows they were wrong. In excellent reporting, the NYDN graphically presents the outrageous outcome of the brutal attack that has led to two surgeries on Kardin’s eye already:

“My son is very upset. He says, ‘Daddy, am I ever going to be able to see again?’ ” Pierre Ulysse said Monday.

His son, Kardin Ulysse, 14, has undergone two surgeries on his right eye since the June 5 beatdown at Roy H. Mann Junior High School in Bergen Beach. It is unclear whether the bullies’ multiple punches or the broken shards of lens from his eyeglasses caused the damage to his cornea.

“The doctor says he needs a transplant,” Pierre Ulysse said. “For me to send him to school with two eyes and come back with one eye is really absurd.

“I want the world to know about this,” he added.

Kardin, an eighth-grader, was set upon by a pair of seventh-graders who were calling him a “f—–g f—-t,” a “p—-,” a “transvestite” and “gay,” according to a Department of Education occurrence report.

The NYDN further reports that authorities are considering charging the attackers with a hate crime, given the heinous nature of the assault. Hate crimes are a felony in New York.  At present, because the attackers are minors, they are charged with misdemeanors in Family Court.

Instinct Magazine reports that the Ulysse family has hired an attorney, and plans to sue the city for $16 million.  His parents say they want the whole world to know what happened at the school to their son, so that the “madness” of anti-gay bullying will stop.

The horror and irony of this fiendish attack is that Kardin Ulysse’s assailants used his supposed gayness as a pretext for their brutality because homosexuality was the worst epithet they could think of, and their suspicion served as the fictional justification for their assault. There is no evidence or admission that young Ulysse is in fact gay. Instead, he must be presumed to be otherwise. The mere suspicion of weakness or effeminacy is deadly in middle school culture in the United States, and this utterly unjustified attack is one more evidence that anti-gay bullying is a bias crime, and deserves to be treated as such by law enforcement and the courts.

June 19, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Bullying in schools, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Mistaken as LGBT, New York, Slurs and epithets, U.S. Department of Education | , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Gay Teen’s Heartbreaking Suicide Note: Bullying Led to El Paso Youth’s Untimely Death

Brandon Joseph Elizares, 16: artist, poet, Shakespeare lover, gay boy. Bullying led to his suicide June 2.

El Paso, Texas – Brandon Elizares came out to his mother when he was 14. “I’m still me. I’m Brandon. Nothing has changed, except I like boys,” his mother, Zachalyn Elizares remembers. Bullied relentlessly for being gay, he Andress High School sophomore barely made it to 16. News of his plaintive farewell note hit the media Thursday, compounding the impact of his June 2 death from an overdose of pills. “My name is Brandon Joseph Elizares,” he wrote, “and I couldn’t make it. I love you guys with all my heart.” His younger brother found Brandon’s body in his room, where the note was left along with a careful display of all his school awards and his art work, according to the KVIA-TV News 7, the local ABC affiliate.  His mother commented on the rest of the note’s content: “He wrote that he was sorry, that he felt like he had to hide under his skin from being who he was because it made him feel terrible.” 

His mother and his friends painted a grim picture of Brandon’s last days at Andress High. The precipitating hate message that seemed to tip Brandon over the edge was a text message on Friday from a boy who threatened to fight him for being gay.  The El Paso Times reports that Brandon had attended Andress for only about two months, having transferred from Chapin High School where the anti-gay bullying had become intense. The bullying followed him to his new school.  Taunts and threats plagued him, though Brandon tried to put a brave face on things for his mother.  “I know it’s hard being a teenager, and it’s especially hard being a gay teenager,” Zachalyn Elizares told reporters, “but I didn’t realize how hard it was. Knowing when to step in is always difficult.” When Brandon told her students threatened to shoot him and to set him on fire, she dove in to rouse school officials first at Chapin and then at Andress to the problem. Brandon reported the bullying to school authorities, and they did reprimand some of his tormentors in the school–but they didn’t notify the bullies’ parents, according to Ms. Elizares.  “I don’t know if they didn’t take it seriously unless it turned physical,” she said. “Parents should know what their kids are doing, especially if they’re being taught these things at home.”

His mother doesn’t want anyone to face prosecution for her son’s death by suicide.  She says he made a choice. But it is clear to her, to Brandon’s friends, and to El Paso community leaders that bullying led to Brandon’s suicide.  Instead of retribution, Ms. Elizares hopes the parents of bullies and their victims across the nation will learn from her awful loss. Parents, she says, must become more aware of what their children are doing in school, whether they are bullying others, or are the target of bullying. “You can’t fix anything if you don’t know what the problem is,” she said.

Brandon’s story is going viral around the nation.  Many are learning about him, his challenges, and the courage of his family. Though news outlets usually refrain from reporting on suicides, the special circumstances surrounding Brandon’s death have caused many media organizations to make an exception.  Homophobic bullying has to be exposed in order to effectively confront it.

Meanwhile, Zachalyn Elizares and her surviving son and daughter are doing the best they can.  Brandon was a premie, just three pounds when he was born, she remembers.  He was her first child, born when she was just 16 herself, a very young mother in Hawaii. She said to the El Paso Times, “I literally had to grow up with him.”  As a military family, the Elizares clan moved to El Paso. She intends to take her son’s body back to Hawaii for burial next week. A memorial service is planned on Friday, June 15 at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, beginning at 7 p.m. El Paso’s PFLAG Chapter is sponsoring the service, and is collecting a fund to help with expenses. The hurt his mother feels breaks through from time-to-time, tears bleeding through the laughter and smiles she tries to show the world. “He worried about everyone else before himself,” she said. “He would say, ‘It’s OK, it doesn’t bother me.’ My son had a right to live how he wanted to live.”

June 15, 2012 Posted by | Bullycide, Bullying in schools, gay teens, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, military, PFLAG El Paso, suicide, Texas | , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Gay El Paso Teenager Tormented To Death By School Bullies

Brandon Elizares, 16, committed suicide after two years of homophobic bullying.

El Paso, Texas – A 16-year-old gay boy took his life in response to two years of relentless bullying at school in El Paso.  Saturday, his mother left Brandon Elizares at home for a short while to run errands, only to find him dead upon their return, according to KFOX14 TV.  Elizares, who could not bear to live in the closet any longer, had come out to family and friends. The response from his own family was mixed. Most family members supported Brandon,  but some made it clear to him that they did not approved of his “lifestyle.”  At Andress High School, the 2,000 student senior high school he attended on the northeast side of El Paso, however, the response to his sexual orientation was brutal, unrelenting bullying.  His mother, Zachalyn Elizares, says that the torment her son received from schoolmates pushed him to suicide. “He got bullied simply for being gay,” Elizares said to KFOX. “He’s been threatened to be stabbed. He’s been threatened to be set on fire.”

Brandon’s mother said that officials at Andress High School had worked aggressively to stem the bullying, but in the case of her son, it was not enough. “They’ve reprimanded several kids and they did everything that they could,” she said. Brandon’s friends told Elizares that he had been insulted for being gay just before the weekend, and that at least one of his tormentors had threatened to fight him when they saw each other on the following Monday, according to the Dallas Voice. Elizares believes the threat of physical violence was what drove her son to take his own life. “My son had every right to live his live the way that he wanted to, without having to fear that people would call him names or threaten to beat him up,” she said.

Although officials of the El Paso Independent School District could not comment on this specific case, they affirmed to KFOX14 that they have a strong anti-bullying program in place and working in their schools, including Andress High. Brandon Elizares death from homophobic bullying underlines the problems schools face when a culture of intimidation has taken hold in a locale. Debra Carden, EPISD’s bullying committee leader, noted to KFOX14, “What a bully is looking for is to try and scare you into not reporting it, so that nothing is done.” She issued an appeal to students, parents, and friends to report any actual or suspected incidents of school bullying immediately.

June 11, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bullycide, Bullying in schools, gay teens, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, suicide, Texas | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gay, Lesbian, Transgender Murders Skyrocket; Highest Hate Crime Murder Rate Ever Recorded

Burke Burnett, 26, of Paris, Texas narrowly missed being murdered in an October 2011 anti-gay hate crime (Dallas Voice photo). Two of the three persons who assaulted him have received long prison sentences with hate crimes enhancements.

New York, New York – LGBTQH hate crimes murders in 2011 reached the highest number in recorded United States history, according to the annual report of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). The frightening statistics of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender persons, and HIV-affected persons brutally murdered in homophobic hate crimes was released to the press on May 31. Among the highlights of the disturbing 2011 report:

  • The number of murders of LGBTQH people ROSE a full 11 per cent
  • 30 murders recorded; the highest number since the NCAVP has kept records
  • Transgender women, people of color, and gender variant youth are experiencing the most severe assault of violence against them
  • 87 per cent of these murders befell LGBTQH people of color
  • This high murder rate is the third year in a row (2009, 2010, and now 2011) that shows hate crimes killings rising
  • Youth and Young Adults were 2.41 times more likely to have been physically attacked in bias-related crimes than the general LGBTQH population
  • Transgender women comprised 40 per cent of the murder totals, making the second year in a row that Transwomen faced violence in outsized proportions to their numbers in the LGBTQH community

Even though the report shows a 16 per cent decrease in bias-related acts of violence against the LGBTQH community, an encouraging trend, the decrease is overthrown by the alarming jump in hate crimes murders. Detroit, Michigan, for example, showed a major increase in violence against transgender people, prompting Nusrat Ventimiglia of Equality Michigan to note that much of their budget was being consumed in response to the hike in the murder rate in the queer community. Rebecca Waggoner of OutFront Minnesota said that the outrage of youth murders and suicides demands more money and staff on the part of anti-violence programs nationwide to address the epidemic of death among gender variant young people.

Since the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law by President Obama in October 2009, the incidence of homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic murder has increased year by year, indicating that vigorous prosecution of killers is demanded by the U.S. Justice Department, the FBI, and all branches of state and local law enforcement.  NCAVP’s New York City Anti-Violence Co-ordinator, Chai Jindasurat, said to the media: “NCAVP’s findings are a call to policymakers, advocates, and community members that the prevention of violence against LGBTQ and HIV-affected individuals needs to be a priority.” The report includes specific  policy changes that may reduce the increasing trend of these murders, including an increase in funding for LGBTQH anti-violence support and prevention, and a concentrated effort to bring an end of the homophobic, transphobic, and biphobic culture that fuels hate violence.

18 states do not currently include sexual orientation in their hate crimes statutes, and 22 states do not include gender identity or gender expression. This lack of state concern for LGBTQH victims of hate crime allows the suspects of anti-gay or anti-transgender acts to believe they can carry out their bias crimes against the queer community with impunity. Even when a state has a hate crimes law on the books, like Texas, the rarity of its use by local law enforcement and district attorneys emboldens homophobic killers to carry out their irrational violence without fearing prosecution.

 The media report condensing the massive 2011 NCAVP hate crimes report can be downloaded here.

June 4, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, bi-phobia, Bullycide, Equality Michigan, FBI, gay bashing, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Matthew Shepard Act, Michigan, Minnesota, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), New York, OutFront Minnesota, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transphobia, U.S. Justice Department | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay, Lesbian, Transgender Murders Skyrocket; Highest Hate Crime Murder Rate Ever Recorded

Another Gay Minnesota Teen Crushed By Weight of Homophobic Bullying

Portrait of gay bullycide victim Jay’Cory Jones, 17, held by his father, JayBoka Strader.

Rochester, Minnesota – A 17-year-old openly gay teen succumbed to overwhelming bullying, taking his own life this past Sunday.  Jay’Cory Jones jumped to his death into traffic from a pedestrian bridge near Century High School, according to police reports.  According to his father, Jones was beaten down by the incessant school bullying he endured for being open and vocal about his sexual orientation.  His father, JayBocka Strader, told the PostBulletin.com“He said all of his life they always picked on him. He’d still try to keep his head up at school, but then he’d come home and be really sad about it.”  Mr. Strader went on to say that his son was depressed because other boys wouldn’t accept him for who he was.

Jones knew of his sexual orientation since he was a little boy.  He took pride in who he was, and declared on his Facebook page that he was “Gay & Proud.”  A member of the Century Gay Straight Alliance, he sought help with his feelings from the Gay and Lesbian Youth Services in Rochester where he attended weekly meetings.  In the end, the pressure on him from his peers was just too much to bear.

ABC 6 News reports that Jones’s high school friends confirm that the abuse he suffered from bullies was a large factor in his death.  “You could tell it upset him because like he didn’t understand why people couldn’t accept him for who he was,” his friend Rachel said. “It just sucks that we had to lose somebody because of people’s words, and they didn’t realize that words hurt more than anything else.”

Communities across Minnesota, even the notorious Anoka-Hennepin School District in suburban Minneapolis, as well as towns and cities around the nation are attempting to staunch the numbers of gay and lesbian teens who take their lives because of homophobic bullying.  There is help available, like the Gay and Lesbian Youth Services of Rochester, and the nationally based Trevor Helpline, but it appears to be too little too late for so many, like Jay’Cory.

As EDGE On The Net reports, his dad said, “Up until his death, he took a stand. He was like, ’Whatever happens, happens — I’m just going to take a stand.’ And he started to take a stand.”  The homophobia in Century High School was just too heavy to win against. To honor Jay’Cory, Mr. Strader requests that people wear pink.  “I told him he looked really good in pink,” he said.

The Trevor Project 24-hour Lifeline number is 866-488-7386.  For God’s sake, use it!

May 12, 2012 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bullycide, Bullying in schools, gay teens, Gay-Straight Alliances, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Minnesota, Trevor Project | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Another Gay Minnesota Teen Crushed By Weight of Homophobic Bullying

Gay Hate Crimes Book Receives National Independent Publishers Award

New York, New York – Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims by Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle has been awarded the national Silver Medal from the Independent Book Awards for outstanding excellence in Gay/Lesbian Non-Fiction.  The IPPY Awards, created 16 years ago by the Jenkins Group, honors independently published books throughout the United States. Jim Barnes, Awards Director of the IPPYs for the past 14 years, made the announcement of Dr. Sprinkle’s groundbreaking book on May 2. For Dallas Voice coverage of the award by David Taffet, click here.

Unfinished Lives is Dr. Sprinkle’s labor of love, telling the stories of 14 LGBTQ hate crimes murder victims throughout the U.S., representative of over 13,000 women, men, and youths who have lost their lives to unreasoning hatred since 1980.  It took four-and-a-half years to research and write the book. Dr. Sprinkle traveled throughout the country, meeting family members, law enforcement officers, journalists, brokenhearted lovers, and friends who told the stories of their loved ones so that their memories would not be lost. “I set out to change the conversation on hate crimes in this country,” Dr. Sprinkle said, “to put a human face on the outrage of homophobia and transphobia robbing us of so many so brutally.”  In regard to the IPPY Award Silver Medal, he said, “I am grateful to the judges and to my publisher, Wipf and Stock–but most of all to the women related to the victims who have become my teachers during the struggle to write this book.  These mothers, sisters and aunts became courageous human rights advocates by tragic happenstance.  In their names I gratefully accept this award.”

Known as the “Oscars of Independent Publishing,” the IPPY Awards were launched in 1996 as “the first unaffiliated book awards program open exclusively to independents.”  Awards Director Barnes says: “Even today, authors choose to publish independently to break free of the rules and constraints of conglomerate publishing, and this rebellious attitude still influences the Awards’ mission today, ‘To reward those who exhibit the courage, innovation, and creativity to bring about change in the world of publishing.’” Over 4,000 titles compete for the honors each year in over 72 categories.  Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals are awarded in each category. “As far as we know,” Barnes went on to say, “it’s the largest book awards contest in the world.”

Award winners gather this year on June 4 for the awards ceremony at Providence NYC, in the Midtown West area of New York City, a venue where the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Jimi Hendrix, and John Lennon recorded their music. The IPPYs are given in conjunction with the mammoth annual BookExpo America convention to insure the greatest exposure possible for award winners.

Unfinished Lives was published in January 2011 by Resource Publications, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers of Eugene, Oregon. Stephen V. Sprinkle is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Field Education and Supervised Ministry at Brite Divinity School, on the campus of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.  He also serves as Theologian in Residence of Cathedral of Hope (United Church of Christ) in Dallas, Texas, the largest congregation in the world with a predominant outreach to the LGBTQ community.

May 3, 2012 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Brite Divinity School, Bullying in schools, Cathedral of Hope, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Independent Book Awards (IPPYs), LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, New York, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transphobia, Unfinished Lives Book | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay Hate Crimes Book Receives National Independent Publishers Award

The Outrage of Pulpit Homophobia: A Special Comment By a Baptist

Sean Harris (l), caught in the act of pulpit bullying.

Fayetteville, North Carolina – Pastor Sean Harris did not make news around the blogosphere because he preaches against gay people. He should have, of course, and been opposed for it. But homophobic messages from American pulpits are given passes every Sunday of the world. Because he got caught fanning the flames of homophobic bullying against children, however, he has become an infamous example of what can no longer be tolerated in any pulpit anywhere. In a sermon at Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, home to Fort Bragg, Pastor Harris shouted that any “limp-wristed” boy acting like a girl should be punished with physical violence.  His wrist should be “cracked” and he should receive the blows of his father’s fists, the preacher said with great enthusiasm.  Girls were not left out of his sights, either.  Pastor Harris went on the say that girls could “play sports,” but they were supposed to conform to his notions of what a girl looked like, dressed like, acted like, and “smelled like.”

“Smelled like”? Pastor Harris’s sermon does not pass the “smell test.”  Love of God and neighbor are apparently foreign to him, and the shouts of affirmation he received as he preached his homophobic message had nothing to do with the Good News. His message of harsh punishment smells like something dying, not something being born again. Sadly, there are too many like him in the pulpits of this nation, so-called men of God who give God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit a bad name.

It doesn’t take a theologian to know what Pastor Harris is up to.  He is trying to say that God hates gay people, even those in the larval stage. He is a strong supporter of North Carolina’s proposed anti-difference amendment to the state constitution, Amendment One, which will be voted on shortly in the Old North State.  Same-sex marriage is already illegal in North Carolina, but pulpit politicians like Harris want to inscribe discrimination in the constitution of the only southern state in the country that has had the good sense not to do so yet.  So, Pastor Harris feels free to advocate violence against children who are stereotypically suspected of being gay.

Pastor Harris is abusing his pulpit in the name of a homophobia embedded within him, and which he reads back into scripture and Christian faith–a practice that is controversial at the very least, and has been repeatedly shown to be false by ministers, scripture scholars, and church leaders for decades.  It is the oldest ministerial slight-of-hand in the Christian faith: find an outcast group it seems safe to demean, then proof text a Bible verse to support your bias (but be sure to wash your hands of the violence your words inspire and the attacks people you instigate carry out!).  Jews, Blacks, women, and now gay people and their supporters in North Carolina know all about it.  And it is no longer tolerable or acceptable for other Christians to put up with silently any longer.  Where is the outcry from clergy?  From church members who know better? Where is the demand that religion based bigotry must stop?  Where are the voices of school administrators, teachers, and school board members who know full well that attitudes and advocacy like Harris’s lead to children being bullied to death in classrooms and school playgrounds?

Pastor Harris now says he wants to “retract” his advice about parental violence against their children.  But he defiantly affirms that he still hates sinners like gay people, calling them “abominations,” homophobic biblicism’s shorthand for the worst curse imaginable.  I would hope he changes his mind and heart about his fellow human beings, the ones God loves just as much as God loves his Berean Baptist flock.  But I am not holding my breath until he does.  I have worked educating ministerial students, speaking on panels in schools and universities, and writing on the role religion based homophobia plays in hate crimes for decades, and these two things I have learned about “true believers” like this pulpit abuser: You cannot take out of a person by rationality what rationality did not put into him. Neither can appeals to humanity change a heart of stone.

Though I suspect he would argue with me until Judgement Day, I know that every child is precious in the sight of God–even those who will one day identify as gay, lesbian, transgender, or something else.  God doesn’t make junk.  And, contrary to the homophobia he was taught somewhere and seems to have swallowed whole, being gay, just like being straight, is a gift from God, too.

One other thing is sure: what Pastor Harris is preaching about the gender identity and expression of children did not come from God.

Here is a scripture that came to me while I was listening to Pastor Harris’s diatribe in the guise of a sermon: John 11:35 – “Jesus wept.”  ~ Rev. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Baptist minister and professor of Practical Theology in Fort Worth, Texas

May 2, 2012 Posted by | Amendment One, Bullycide, Bullying in schools, gay bashing, gender identity/expression, Gender Variant Youth, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, Internalized homophobia, LGBT teen suicide prevention, North Carolina, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Special Comments, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gay Utah Teen Bullied To Death: Emergency Community Summit Called

Jack Reese, 18, latest victim of school bullying against LGBT students.

Ogden, Utah – Last Monday, another gay teenager from Utah took his life in response to intolerable bullying because of his sexual orientation.  Q Salt Lake reports that Jack Reese, 18, of Mountain Green is the latest casualty in the war on gay teenagers taking place in the nation’s schools.  With heartbreaking coincidence, Reese’s boyfriend, Alex Smith, spoke on Reese’s experiences with school bullying to a community event focused on the problem of bullying–without the knowledge that the love of his life had already taken his own life earlier that day. Details of Reese’s death have not been released to the public at this time.

According to Ogden OUTreach, a local LGBT youth service organization, the rate of gay teen suicide in Utah is fully 8 times the national average.  A North Utah mother of a gay son appeals to parents in the community the community in the wake of Reese’s bullycide to wake up and take action against the epidemic of suicide sweeping so many queer youth away.  Allison Black writes to her fellow parents, in part: “Our local community and churches do not always make it easy to openly accept our LGBT (lesbian, gay, transgender, and bi-sexual) friends, family members, and loved ones.  The bullying and suicides need to stop. Parents please do not let outside influences tell you that your gay child is evil or broken.  Follow your heart.”

The Rev. Marian Edmonds, director of Ogden OUTreach, says that in an “off-the-record” comment by a local official, a gay teen takes his or her life at the rate of once a week, though it does not get reported that way to the press.  In a statement to the media, Edmonds said: “The youth I work with all know either a victim of bullying, the loss of a friend to suicide, and most often, both. These youth are bright, creative and loving, yet too often face daily abuse from rejecting families, bullies at school and the loss of their church family. It is time for local schools to incorporate proven techniques for eliminating bullying and homophobia, for churches to preach love and acceptance, and for parents and families to love and accept their children. Each loss of life is a loss for all of us, and it must stop now.”

An emergency community summit aimed at stopping the spread of gay teen suicides due to bullying has been called in Ogden for May 1.  Speakers will include parents from Ogden PFLAG, local opinion leaders, faith leaders, and active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the predominant religious influence throughout the area.  At Alex Smith’s request, a candlelight vigil will be held at the end of the summit in memory of Reese. Rev. Edmonds decries the situation that is robbing Ogden and North Utah of its young people.  “Each loss of life is a loss for all of us, and it must stop now,” she said. Liz Owen, director of PFLAG national, summed up the challenge facing us all: “Sadly, the death of Jack Reese is a reminder that there is still much work to be done.”

April 29, 2012 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bullycide, Bullying in schools, gay teens, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Social Justice Advocacy, suicide, Utah, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Gay Iowa Teen Driven to Suicide by Bullying

Kenneth Weishuhn, 14, bullied to death by his schoolmates for being gay.

Primghar/Paullina, Iowa – An out gay teen took his life in Northwest Iowa on Saturday night because bullying in his high school had become intolerable for him.  Kenneth Weishuhn was just 14 years old.  After coming out as gay barely a month ago, the torrent of anti-gay harassment overwhelmed his gentle spirit. KTIV News reports that he had not anticipated how hated he would become after revealing his sexual orientation to his friends.  His sister Kayla told reporters that her brother was constantly harassed and bullied by boys in her class at South O’Brien High School where Kenneth was a freshman. “People that were originally his friends, they kind of turned on him,” she said.  Bullies set up an anti-gay Facebook page targeting Kenneth.  Then, Kenneth started receiving death threats on his phone.  “A lot of people, they either joined in or they were too scared to say anything,” Kayla concluded.

His mother Jeannie Chambers asked him about the menacing phone calls, but believed Kenneth was handling them well enough. Still, there were warning signs that the pressure was getting to much for the 14-year-old. EDGE On the Net reports that Kenneth told his mother “Mom, you don’t know how it feels to be hated.” Though the school was aware of the bullying and issued a warning to his tormentors, it seemed to do no good. Nothing stopped.  Kenneth’s mother says the school never contacted her about the problem.  Now she is contemplating bringing legal action against the students she feels drove her son to suicide.

The towns of Paullina and Primghar, approximately 50 miles from Sioux City, are having to come to grips with the ugliness of homophobia and hate crime, issues these communities of largely German Lutheran ancestry never thought they would have to face. Counselors have been working with Kenneth’s schoolmates who are devastated by the suicide of their friend.  Many saw him as a loving, loyal friend, and cannot understand how hateful other students have been.  His friends have created a tribute video to express their love and grief at his passing. According to Channel 4 News, authorities are investigating both the in-school and online bullying that targeted Kenneth for being gay.

Kayla says that she has lost her best friend, the only person she could completely trust. Hatred built to a point of no return, she believes. “Things get started, and then they get out of hand,” she told interviewers for Channel 4. “Then they go too far, and you can’t stop it.  He is gone now, and he is not coming back.”  Kenneth’s funeral was conducted on Thursday at Grace Lutheran Church in Primghar.

April 18, 2012 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Bullying in schools, death threats, gay teens, GLBTQ, harassment, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Iowa, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, suicide | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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