Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Searching for LGBTQ Justice this Christmas 2012

"Magi," J.C. Leyendecker, 1900.

“Magi,” J.C. Leyendecker, 1900.

“We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

“O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.”

When the Reverend John Henry Hopkins Jr. wrote the lyrics for the universally loved, “We Three Kings,” in 1857, the term “homosexual” had not yet been coined, and would not be for another twelve years.  We know now that “homosexuality” was a socially created term, invented by European social scientists in the latter 19th century to describe a new species of person.  “Homosexuals” were a problem on the scene of the Industrial Revolution.  Men (especially, at the time) were singled out and scrutinized because they were not procreating, adding children to the labor forces of the era that manned the “dark Satanic mills” of Northern and Western Europe and the United States.  From the invention of homosexuality by the medico-political regimes of the age, gay men and lesbians were problems society had to examine, quarantine, and cure.  So, there never was a time that “homosexuality” as a term was not biased against the humanity and dignity of same-sex loving people.

Christmas 2012 offers us a stunning perspective of change.  In Europe, even as Pope Benedict XVI inveighs against gay relationships, much of the continent has embraced its LGBTQ citizens and secured their rights to live and love as the fully worthy human beings they always have been.  In the United States, major strides have been taken against anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been fully repealed, allowing fully open service in the U.S. military by LGBTQ servicepeople, and this election cycle has brought the election of the first openly lesbian U.S. Senator (Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin), three new states that have made same-sex marriage legal (Maryland, Maine, and Washington), and, for the first time, a state has refused to enact anti-LGBTQ bias into a state constitution by a public referendum (Minnesota).  But, on the other hand, the murder of LGBTQ people has never been higher, tensions across the nation concerning upcoming Supreme Court rulings on Prop 8 and the constitutionality of DOMA are mounting, and there is no comprehensive federal protection for LGBTQ persons in the labor force.  What are we to make of this moment in the struggle for human rights and full equality, then?

President Barack Obama who came out publicly for marriage equality in May 2012 said in an interview with Pink News“One of the things that I’m very proud of during my first four years is I think I’ve helped to solidify this incredibly rapid transformation in people’s attitudes around LGBT issues — how we think about gays and lesbians and transgender persons.” We are engaged in changing the minds of our fellow citizens about who LGBTQ people are, as the President suggests.  Instead of being a suspicious “species,” a variation of some straight ideal for human kind, we are neighbors, friends, relatives, loved ones, co-workers–in other words, everyday people as worthy of respect and acknowledgement as anyone else.  And, as the President says, we are closer to changing the collective American mind in this direction than ever. Speaking of his own daughters, President Obama said, “You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”  Looking back across the last four years of his presidency, Mr. Obama observed that the United States is “steadily become a more diverse and tolerant country.
There’s been the occasional backlash, and this is not to argue that somehow racism or sexism or homophobia are going to be eliminated or ever will be eliminated,” he went on to say. “It is to argue that our norms have changed in a way that prizes inclusion more than exclusion.”  

Magi, and activists, and clergy, and just plain people of good conscience still seek the Light of justice for LGBTQ people in this country and around the world. As we lean forward toward Bethlehem this Christmas season, may the searchers find courage in each other, and in the power of an idea whose time has come.

Merry Christmas to the Friends and Fans of Unfinished Lives!

December 22, 2012 Posted by | Christmas, DOMA, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), Employment discrimination, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Pope Benedict XVI, President Barack Obama, Social Justice Advocacy, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. Supreme Court, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Searching for LGBTQ Justice this Christmas 2012

DOMA Discrimination Against Lesbian Army Veteran Challenged in Court

Tracey Cooper-Harris, highly decorated Army veteran, denied spousal benefits because she is lesbian

Los Angeles, California – A highly decorated lesbian veteran of the U.S. Army is being denied disability benefits because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and today the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed an important lawsuit to challenge DOMA on her behalf. Tracey Cooper-Harris served with honor in the U.S. Army for 12 years, and received an honorable discharge in 2003 after having received more than two dozen medals and commendations.  But because she married a person of her own sex in California, a perfectly legal marriage still in force, the United States government is denying her and her spouse Maggie equal disability benefits to those heterosexual spouses are receiving.

Cooper-Harris, who achieved the rank of Sergeant for her service in Kyrgyzstan and Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, was diagnosed in 2010 with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disabling disease of the brain and central nervous system for which there is no known cure. Government doctors determined that Cooper-Harris contracted MS as a result of her military service. Faced with a daunting future, she is trying to get her affairs in order as any responsible spouse would. Cooper-Harris received individual disability benefits, but since DOMA is still federal law, the government says that she and her spouse are not eligible for the spousal benefits her service truly entitles them too–all because of anti-gay discrimination, even after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT).

Cooper-Harris said, “I dedicated 12 years of my life to serving the country I love. I’m asking only for the same benefits the brave men and women who served beside me enjoy. By refusing to recognize our marriage, the federal government has deprived Maggie and me of the peace of mind that such benefits are meant to provide to veterans and their families.”

The federal lawsuit, Cooper-Harris vs. United States, filed February 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, challenges the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the laws governing the Veterans Affairs policy that denies equal treatment before the law for Cooper-Harris and other married same-sex persons in the nation. Christine P. Sun, Deputy Legal Director of the SPLC, said, “The government’s refusal to grant these benefits is a slap in the face to the gay and lesbian service members who put their lives on the line to protect our nation and our freedoms. Especially given the recent repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it’s shocking that the federal government continues to demean Tracey’s years of service and the service of many others in this way.”  The case is being litigated on Cooper-Harris’s behalf pro bono (at no charge) by the SPLC.

February 1, 2012 Posted by | African Americans, California, DADT, DOMA, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Social Justice Advocacy, Southern Poverty Law Center, U.S. Army | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on DOMA Discrimination Against Lesbian Army Veteran Challenged in Court

Texans of Faith Storm U.S. Capitol for Human Rights

Washington, D.C. – The largest delegation of fair-minded Texas faith leaders since the conception of LGBT rights are on their way to the Nation’s Capitol to participate in the third Human Rights Campaign’s Clergy Call for Justice and Equality, May 22 – 24.  Twenty-two clergy, theologians, and seminarians from across the Lone Star State are registered for this year’s lobbying effort on Capitol Hill.  The Human Rights Campaign Religion and Faith Program mobilizes people of faith to advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people every other year, and among the important items on the agenda will be the full implementation of the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), anti-bullying efforts across the nation (such as the one just passed by the Texas House, strengthening the penalties for harassment and bullying in public schools), and the status of the Dream Act. Texans have a particularly tall order as grassroots citizen lobbyists, since both U.S. Senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, have consistently voted against human rights initiatives during their legislative careers in Washington. At the core of the Texas delegation are fifteen students, faculty, and alumni of Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, the largest from any seminary or divinity school in the state.  Brite, founded in 1914 by an endowment from Marfa rancher Luke Brite, is located on the campus of Texas Christian University.  In former years, Brite was conservative on the issue of LGBTQ-inclusion, but now is the only accredited institution of theological higher education in Texas to extend welcome status to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender persons by action of its board of trustees.  Among the faculty are two openly gay and lesbian professors, and the number of LGBTQ students in the Fort Worth school is growing. “Students are learning how to take a stand for justice by becoming clergy for whom all people matter, and are eager to work for equality in public forums like Clergy Call. Our students are taking their roles as public theologians seriously,” said Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Associate Professor of Practical Theology at the Divinity School, and Theologian in Residence at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. “Each of the students who have traveled to Washington chose voluntarily to participate in Clergy Call because they believe faith calls them to be here.”  Billed as the largest interfaith gathering of LGBTQ and Allied Clergy and Faith Leaders in the United States, Clergy Call will bring representatives of faith communities from all fifty states to the capitol for training in faith messaging, skill-building for advocacy with legislators, interfaith worship, and person-to-person lobbying of senators and congresspeople.  This year’s headline speakers include Rabbi Denise Egger, Rev. Harry Knox, Bishop Gene Robinson, Bishop Yvette Flunder, Rabbi David Saperstein, Rev. Nancy Wilson, and Bishop Carlton Pearson.  Dr. Sharon Groves is the Director of the HRC Religion and Faith Program, based in Washington, D.C.

May 22, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Asian Americans, Bisexual persons, Brite Divinity School, Bullying in schools, Cathedral of Hope, Clergy Call, DOMA, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), Dream Act, gay men, gender identity/expression, GLBTQ, hate crimes prevention, Homosexuality and the Bible, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Campaign Religion and Faith Program, Latino and Latina Americans, Legislation, Lesbian women, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Media Issues, military, Military Chaplaincy, Politics, Public Theology, Queer, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transgender persons, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Texans of Faith Storm U.S. Capitol for Human Rights

Dallas Marches to Remember Stonewall

Dallas, TX – Hundreds rallied and marched through the skyscraper canyons of Dallas Sunday night to remember the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, and to fight for human rights.  The Stonewall Rebellion 41st Anniversary March and Rally formed at Founders Plaza near the famous JFK memorial, and marched though downtown Dallas, shouting “Harvey Milk was right/Come out of your closets and fight!”  Marchers from throughout North Texas, as well as contingents from Lubbock and Tyler filled the streets with the sounds of activism.  The route was chosen to maximize exposure to Dallasites throughout the downtown business and residential areas, and the sidewalks were lined with office workers, bus stop patrons, and café diners throughout the Main Street Corridor, even on a Sunday night.  Media including the Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Voice, as well as other media outlets covered the event.  Speakers including Jesse Garcia, C.D. Kirven, Michael Robinson, Nonnie Ouch, Rafael McDonnell, and Daniel Scott Cates gave powerful messages to the LGBTQ community as well as elected officials on the local, state and federal levels.  They called for the overthrow of DOMA, the repeal of DADT, passage of a transgender-inclusive ENDA bill, and full Marriage Equality.  The Rainbow Lounge Raid in Fort Worth last year was a continuing theme of the evening as well.  Dr. Renee Baker of Youth First Texas called on marchers to support LGBTQ youth, especially in view of how vulnerable they are.  Keynote speaker, Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, professor at Fort Worth’s Brite Divinity School, and Director of the Unfinished Lives Project, summed up the speeches with a call to remember Stonewall and act to expand human rights not only for the LGBTQ community, but also for other minorities, as well.  Responding to the noisy Religious Right protestors who kept berating Rally attendees with loud preaching and scripture proof texting, Dr. Sprinkle reminded them that “whoever says they love God and hate their brothers and sisters is a liar, and the truth is not in them!”  Spencer Young gave a moving testimony to those who have died violently at the hands of hatred and homophobia during the concluding Vigil portion of the program.  He recounted the story of Nicolas West, murdered in Tyler in 1993 because he was gay.  Tyler, he reported, has no memorial to West, who was shot multiple times by his murderers and left to die in a clay pit outside of town.  But the Tyler community, where traditional values and negative attitudes toward LGBT people has predominated in the past, staged “The Laramie Project” in West’s honor, giving him a living memorial through the famous stage play recounting the aftermath of Matthew Shepard’s murder in Laramie, Wyoming.

June 28, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, DOMA, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), ENDA, gay men, gay teens, gun violence, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Lesbian women, LGBT teen suicide prevention, Marriage Equality, Native Americans, Politics, Protests and Demonstrations, Rainbow Lounge Raid, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dallas Marches to Remember Stonewall

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

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

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

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


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