Atlanta, Georgia – Trapped between anguish over family disapproval of his sexual orientation and nationwide protests over the police killings of black men, a young man climbed a tree in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park and hanged himself. Police discovered the body of 22-year-old London Jermaine, aka Michael George Smith Jr., hanged by the neck near the Charles Allen entrance to the popular urban park early on July 7. Smith, a resident of Midtown and computer science student, had migrated from Hackensack, New Jersey to take up a new life in Atlanta. While there is no evidence of foul play reported by Project Q Atlanta, Smith’s death is a casebook of reasons why the suicides of young gay men may be “murder by suicide,” in which the victims are driven by despair to take their own lives after anti-gay shaming.
Because of his large social media footprint, we are able to trace the pressure that drove him to seek a way to stop the hurt he felt. On June 13, Smith posted a complaint and cry for help: “Being Gay in America is Hard. Being Black in America is Hard. Imagine being both #NoH8.” Family played a large part in browbeating Smith because of their extreme negative attitudes toward gays. On June 17, he posted a screen capture of a text message from a brother, and a sharp reaction to the disapproval of his mother: “God doesn’t born gay people. You make yourself gay.” Smith added this status to the duplicated message: “My mother is teaching my siblings to dispise Gays.. I’m done with Life. I’m Hurt To The Core.” According to posts on his Facebook page, he was also facing health issues.
Just minutes before his drop from the tree in Piedmont Park, Smith left this despairing message on Facebook: “I’ll see y’all in the next Life…Deadass [followed by emoticons] Father forgive me”
Bossip.com reports the storm of criticism Atlanta Police and Mayor Kasim Reed faced following the discovery of Smith’s body. Widespread speculation about a possible “modern lynching” dogged the investigation, and put bulletins to the public on the fast track. With the nation aflame with anger and confusion over the apparently unjustifiable shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota, Atlanta officials feared that the public hanging of a young black man could cause an outbreak of violence in their city. The APD reported finding a tall rolling trash receptacle beside the scene of Smith’s death with a footprint on its top corresponding to his shoe. They also found pollen on his clothing indicating he climbed the tree to the limb where the rope that asphyxiated him was tied. There were no signs of struggle, the police reported.
The FBI were called in to carry out an investigation separate from the APD, and spokesperson Special Agent Stephen Emmett issued this statement to Project Q confirming the conclusion that Smith carried out his own death: “A review of the findings of the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s report by both APD and the FBI failed to indicate any signs of foul play or other evidence that would support going forward with a federal hate crime based investigation.”
Young gay men are under severe pressure due to the tension over advances in LGBTQ rights in the U.S., especially young gay men who are African American. Michael George Smith Jr. faced an almost perfect storm of difficulties from family, the culmination of too many deaths of young black men at the hands of unaccountable police officers, and questions about his own health. Too many young men, both those of color and white alike, have succumbed to despair, underlining the epidemic numbers of suicides in the LGBTQ community, compared with the rate of suicide for the dominant ethnic population. The Trevor Project, the nation’s leading anti-suicide hotline, details the grim suicide statistics for lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. While suicide is the greatest cause of death in the U.S. for young people from 10 to 24, gay youth are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, and gay youth from highly disapproving families are 8.4 times more likely to attempt to take their own lives than children of families that are accepting.
The degree of hostility towards LGBTQ Americans, especially young gay men of color, is exacting a terrifying cost from the ranks of the nation’s youth. Whether from opposition rooted in conservative religious traditions, ignorance, or backlash against newly minted rights for the LGBTQ community, the loss of young lives like Michael George Smith Jr.’s is not simply tragic. It is a national health emergency.
Orlando, Florida – The names of the deceased in the worst mass shooting is U.S. history are slowly being released to the public. 50 died in the initial homophobic attack on the Pulse Nightclub, and 53 were hospitalized. Printed here are the 49 names assembled by Huffington Post by 7 p.m., June 13. All but one of the victims has been identified, and authorities are notifying next of kin. The effort to inform those many more who loved them also is ongoing, as well. We publish them here with their ages at the time of their deaths. All those who were gunned down by unreasoning hatred of who they were have names…lives…loves…. Everyone one, those named here and those remaining to be named, was someone’s child, sister, brother, friend, lover, co-worker, team member. All are our Rainbow Family, and we shall not forget them. May they have found rest, and may their deaths, heinous as the crime was that took away their lives, usher in a better world than they ever knew. One where Everybody is Somebody, and nobody is nobody.
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26
Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Cory James Connell, 21
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Stanley Almodovar III, 23
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20
Luis S. Vielma, 22
Kimberly Morris, 37
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25
Amanda Alvear, 25
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
Frank Hernandez, 27
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24
Akyra Monet Murray, 18
Antonio Brown, 29
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 25
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31
Delphi, Indiana – A prime suspect in the murder of a gay Texan whose body was found near his burned out truck last weekend has been arrested, and awaits extradition back to Texas. Click2Houston.com reports that 22-year-old David James Brown Jr. of Conroe was apprehended and taken into custody on November 17 without resistance by authorities. The Dallas Voice adds that the arrest was made in a CVS Pharmacy parking lot. Brown has been charged with capital murder.
Marc Pourner, 28, was found dead from blunt force trauma to the head in a stand of trees in Montgomery County, Texas on Saturday night. Evidence suggests that Pourner was gagged and bound prior to being bludgeoned to death. His truck was completely burned out near where his body was found. Many, including his father, Mark Pourner, suspected that the crime was motivated by anti-gay bias, and now that an arrest has been made, Mr. Pourner is sticking to his earlier suggestion that his son’s death may indeed have been associated with Marc’s sexual orientation. The Dallas Voice adds that the proximity of young Pourner’s murder to the recent vote in Houston defeating the HERO Ordinance thanks to a heated, heterosexist and transphobic media campaign contributed credence to the anti-gay hate crime speculation on the case.
Mr. Pourner told Click2Houston, “I’m ecstatic there’s an arrest made. Now I want to be attending a trial and shortly after that I want to be attending an execution.” He went on to say that Brown and his son were only acquaintances, but that he would make no more statements about a motive in the case as long as the investigation was proceeding, other than his feeling that sexual orientation bias may have played a part in the killing. The family have announced their intention to begin a scholarship benefiting LGBT students in memory of Marc.
Friends, family, and some Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department deputies attended a Wednesday night vigil to share memories of Marc, and to underline their concern for his family and the LGBT community in the Houston metro area, which is currently on alert because of the crime.
According to an article in the Huffington Post, Brown was best friends with Marc Pourner’s boyfriend. Authorities are saying that it is still too early to make a hate crime determination.
Montgomery County, Texas – The body of a gay man was found murdered in a stand of trees in Montgomery County, north of Houston, on Saturday. His truck was also found at the scene by Sheriff’s Deputies, burned. Authorities told KTRK Television 13 that the victim, identified as 28-year-old Marc Pourner of Spring, Texas, may well have been restrained prior to his murder.
The victim’s father, Mark Pourner, who identified the corpse of his missing son on Saturday, told journalists that Marc was a well-liked bookkeeper for Randall’s Food Market, “a good friend to many and a man with a big heart.” Speaking to an interviewer for KTRK, Marc’s father said that the “speed and cold efficiency” with which his son had been killed indicated to him and the family that whoever did this had killed before, and, in all probability, would kill again. When questioned about a possible motive, he said that the family believed this was a hate crime murder, and that his son was openly gay.
Pourner’s roommates and friends grew worried after receiving a “disturbing phone call” Thursday night, and when he did not report for work last Friday, they alerted the authorities. About Magazine News reports that “a person of interest” tipped off the Sheriff’s Department, leading to the discovery of the body. The corpse showed evidence of blunt force trauma to Pourner’s head, and signs of having been tied and gagged. A source described as close to the investigation says that an arrest in the case is near at hand.
Speaking to Project Q on behalf of the Sheriff’s Department, Lt. Brady Fitzgerald described the investigation and the area where Pourner’s body was discovered:
“We responded to that area and we located the burned vehicle. The body was close to the vehicle in a pathway,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a residential area that is sparsely populated. It was thick in the woods where they discovered the vehicle itself and the body. It would obviously have to be intentionally placed there.” When questioned about the details of the investigation, Fitzgerald went on to say, “We are still looking into the case. If he was murdered in reference to him being gay, it would be a hate crime and that’s the way it would be investigated if that was a motive.” Though he would not affirm that an arrest was imminent, Fitzgerald did tell Project Q that there was no evidence that Pourner had been robbed.
An online campaign has been started to pay for the expenses of the funeral.
This homicide takes place in the context of a heated election in nearby Houston focusing attention on the LGBT community, and in the wake of a series of violent attacks against gay men in Dallas that have taken place within the last month. Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, founder and director of the Unfinished Lives Project, said, “It would be folly for Texas authorities to divorce this savage, anti-gay homicide from the homophobic and transphobic campaign against the HERO ordinance in Houston, and from the fallout after the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in late June of this year. The LGBT community in Houston is on high alert following the demeaning heterosexist election, and the possible correlation between this killing and the outbreak of anti-LGBTQ violence in Dallas is coincidental only to those who intentionally look the other way.” Sprinkle went on to say that physical violence spikes after media attention like the Marriage Equality decision and the defeat of the equal rights ordinance in metro Houston.
Sarasota, Florida – The Associated Press carried this headline at 2 a.m. on September 11: Investigators Search for Man Who Set Fire at Gay Nightclub. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department officials say that neighbors of the popular gay nightclub reported it being on fire at approximately 9 a.m. this past Sunday. Officers are searching for a man in a dark, long-sleeved shirt and light colored shorts, carrying a gas can, who walked up the door of Throb Nightclub, and had his image captured by a surveillance video camera. He allegedly started the fire and ran from the scene. Authorities of the Florida State Fire Marshall’s Arson Unit and the sheriff’s office are asking the cooperation of the public in the search for a hate-filled perpetrator.
This troubling story caught the attention of Vicki Nantz, documentary film maker and LGBT advocate, who traces this anti-LGBT violence back to the speech and actions of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk jailed for contempt of court for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, and her attorney and co-founder of arch-conservative Liberty Counsel Mat Staver. Nantz, Producer/Director of films investigating violence against women and the LGBT community, warns her Facebook friends on this 9/11, “Be safe out there, everyone. Hate is in the air.”
What 9/11 has to do with an outbreak of anti-LGBT violence in southwest Florida fourteen years since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center Towers, the Pentagon, and the highjacking of United Airlines 93, drew the attention of Diana Butler Bass, the widely acclaimed commentator on the United States religious scene. Bass wrote on her Facebook wall for September 11, “One day, someone will write a book about how, in the early 21st century, we went from fearing and hating terrorists to fearing and hating people of differing political opinions. The sad and haunting legacy of 9/11 is thus.”
The disrubing irony of the heightened atmosphere of anti-LGBT rhetoric and violence on the 2015 anniversary of 9/11 noted by Nantz and Butler Bass is the courageous role openly gay heroes played on September 11, 2001. The Rev. Fr. Mychal Judge, Franciscan Chaplain of FDNY and one of the first firefighters to die in the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers, won his title as “the Saint of 9/11” that day. Avid rugby player Mark Bingham was one of the brave and desperate men who stormed the cockpit of UA Flight 93 over Pennsylvania, sacrificing himself to bring down the jet liner before its hijackers succeeded in crashing it into the White House or the U.S. Capitol Building. Both were openly gay men who threw themselves into the breach for their fellow human beings at a time of crisis and disaster. Both died sacrificially, not as any of the demeaning epithets being aimed at LGBT people by Cruz, Huckabee, Staver and their ilk since the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all fifty states, but as American heroes.
Butler Bass makes a convincing connection between the fear of terrorists stoked by politicians and pundits since the original September 11, and the demonization of persons of differing political views today. Fear not only twists the guts of the public. Its primitive energy offers craven haters with an ideological agenda to advance a ready vehicle to advance it. And she is also right that fear of the other has seeped so deeply into the American psyche that no community is immune from the temptation to spread rumor and innuendo against those who oppose them politically. Some LGBT people, for example, have indulged themselves in making cruel comments about the physical appearance of Kim Davis and her marital history. The vulnerability of LGBT people in America, however, calls for a reconsideration of post-9/11 manipulation of public fear.
Nantz helps us see that the threat of acts of violence against the lives and property of LGBT people is not simply another example of the political system in the Washington beltway gone awry. It has real consequences, from the arson at a gay nightclub to the epidemic murders of transgender women of color throughout the country. The hate in the air in post-9/11 America is a combination of the historical cultural loathing of LGBT people, and the cynical manipulation of a once-supreme white patriarchal group by the likes of presidential candidates and their legal and media henchmen. While they would deny any connection between their incitement of anti-LGBT sentiment and any outbreak of violence, their words and deeds are in the background of every hate crime perpetrated against the sexual and non-normative gender communities of America, and the reach of their cynical ideology is increasingly global. This anniversary of 9/11, our LGBT neighbors, families, co-workers, and friends are less safe in their persons, jobs, and property than they were even a year ago.
How we have declined from honoring the LGBT heroes of September 11 for their courage and sacrifice, to this 9/11 anniversary when anti-LGBT fear is being manipulated by calls for so-called “Religious Liberty” (read, “the re-imposition of oppression against gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people”), is the book that cries out for someone to write. Hate is in the air this 9/11, and what it portends is something every American should be worried about.
After 17 years of dogmatic slumber and denial over the grisly murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, Laramie’s City Council passed the state’s first broad LGBT protection ordinance. Council members voted 7–2 to prohibit discrimination in the city limits against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity in matters of housing, employment, and access to public facilities such as cafés. Like Rip Van Winkle rousing from a long sleep, the city that still only memorializes Matt with a plaque on a park bench awakened and finally addressed its phobias head-on. What took place in Laramie on May 12 was not just a one-off decision. It has implications for the rest of the nation, too.
Like Laramie, no town wants to admit that a bias-driven hate crime took place there. Locales loathe bad publicity. They fear being labeled. So, they deny the problem in a variety of ways. They indulge in blaming the victim. Or sweep the killing under the rug. Or blame “outside agitators” and “other mitigating factors.” The common refrain is “Things like that just don’t happen here.”
But they do happen in American hometowns everywhere, all the time. The only healthy, sane thing for a city or town to do when a murder marks a place forever is to own up to it squarely, and do something to address the root causes that allowed prejudice to take root in the first place. Ask Dallas. Or Memphis. Or Birmingham. You surely can’t make the facts go away. You can and you must rebuild your civic reputation by ensuring that justice and equality for all your citizens take the place of dehumanization and denial. Laramie started that painful process by doing the right thing last Wednesday night.
For seventeen long years, local townsfolk and university students of conscience lobbied Laramie’s elected officials, tried to reason with them, and stood up to their xenophobic neighbors. They opposed the powerful anti-human rights forces that were invested in re-writing the story of the nighttime abduction and brutal beating of slim, slight Matt Shepard by two local men gone bad that unfolded before the world in the Albany County Courthouse. Too many gay people saw no evidence that anything would ever change in Laramie, so they packed up their talent and their verve for living, and left town one or two at a time. Though LGBT people and their allies lost the argument year after year, those who remained persisted in pointing out that the perpetrators, Henderson and McKinney, weren’t “outsiders.” They were homegrown products of Laramie public schools, men who grew up in the same city as Pioneer Days and UW Cowboy Pride. Matt Shepard was not to blame for his own death, no matter what deniers contended, they argued. After losing a close vote to enact a similar statewide discrimination law in February, Wyoming Equality and local advocates mounted the effort that finally passed the first broadly inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance in the “Equality State.” Its provisions will go into effect before the end of the month.
No victim of hate crime ever “had it coming.” No family ever deserves the horror and grief Judy, Dennis, and Logan Shepard have suffered. The public outcry raised by Matt’s death roused other states and municipalities long before Laramie woke up to what happened at the Fireside Lounge and on that cold, high ridge with the buck fence above town. In October 2009, President Obama signed The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, saying, “We must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits – not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear.” Now, Laramie transgender high school student Rihanna Kelver can more confidently go about her life, relieved that she will not lose her job because of how she identifies, one of the first practical results of this ordinance.
Throughout the rest of the country, however, hate crime violence against LGBT Americans is hitting historic highs. With widespread publicity concerning the cause célèbre of the day, Marriage Equality, attacks on vulnerable persons, especially gay men and transgender people of color, are alarmingly on the rise. Thinly veiled efforts to turn back the clock on equality cloaked in the garb of “religious freedom,” the RFRAs, are proliferating around the nation. Seeking to stall justice, retrogrades like Texas are trying to enact pre-emptive laws inoculating the states against a possible Supreme Court decision striking down the bans against same-sex marriage.
Meanwhile, like Laramie prior to Wednesday night’s anti-discrimination victory, the rest of the nation seems to have drifted back into a Rip Van Winkle coma while innocent LGBT people by their thousands face brutalization and harm in towns and cities every succeeding year. Laramie, the longtime hold out for LGBT protections, has awakened to its responsibility for its most vulnerable residents. If Laramie can do it, after so many years of misdirection, denial, and historical revisionism, surely the rest of us must wake up to our responsibilities, as well.
Justice must bloom in the thousands of urban and rural settings where everyday Americans live and work. It is high time for all forms of heterosexism and homophobia to be put on notice that hate is not an American value. Local advocates must press their elected officials to pass anti-discrimination laws and make them stick. One of the most encouraging signs of this awakened determination to do right by everybody is the Golden Rule attitude of Laramie resident Mike Sumner who said during public speak out time before the City Council vote, “As a Christian I do sin when I fail to follow the loving and compassionate example of Jesus Christ,” he said. “And I believe that a vote against this ordinance is the same as throwing the first stone.”
Drop the stones in your hand, America. Laramie has shown us how to do it.
New York City, New York – What began as a celebratory drink in a NYC BBQ restaurant concluded horrifically when a patron attacked two gay men with a wooden chair after barraging them with homophobic slurs. The Advocate reports that the gay couple, Jonathan Snipes, 32, and Ethan York-Adams, 25, dropped in to Dallas BBQ to toast Cinco de Mayo with margaritas Tuesday night when the assault took place. Snipes told investigators that he was texted around 11 p.m. that a member of his family had died suddenly, and as he was hastily exiting the premises with York-Adams, he accidentally toppled over a drink belonging to another customer. The heavy set baldheaded customer spat out slurs against the couple, allegedly saying, “White faggots! Spilling drinks!”
Snipes took exception to the slur, and called on the man not to use antigay language toward his friend and himself, at which point the angry customer lept to his feet and assaulted Snipes. The New York Daily News reports that the assailant punched Snipes to the floor, and then kicked him in the head and spine, shouting, “Take that, Faggot!” Other customers and restaurant staff parted the brawling assailant from the couple, who retreated to get away, when the bearded, baldheaded attacker launched into the two gay men, beating them over the head with a wooden chair. A bystander, Isaam Sharef, captured the savage beating on video, which may be watched here. The room filled with screams and confusion. A staffer can be heard shouting out, “Stop, stop, stop!” York-Adams, who was helping his partner to a seat following the initial attack, was knocked to the floor. Snipes collapsed into a booth, stunned by the blow. Customers attempted to restrain the assailant, who rushed out of the restaurant.
Police say that Snipes and York-Adams absorbed at least one heavy blow from the chair, but declined to go to hospital, because Snipes said he had no health insurance to cover the costs of treatment. Snipes said that the blows from the baldhead, bearded man snapped the cartilage in his ear, bruised his head, and knocked one of his teeth loose. Snipes told DNAinfo, “These guys attacked us specifically because they knew we weren’t their type of people. It was disgusting.”
The NYPD is still investigating this incident, but have declined to call it a hate crime, as of yet. Various sources say that the obviousness of the bigotry displayed by the attacker will mean authorities will have to classify this assault as yet another anti-LGBTQ hate crime in the Big Apple.
Chelsea, the location of the restaurant, has been believed to be a safe neighborhood for lesbians and gay men. The old “common wisdom” will have to be revised, now. The violent attack makes it abundantly clear that homophobic assaults against LGBT people are by no means a thing of the past.
Washington, DC – The Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued its 2013 hate crimes statistics today: Hate Crime Statistics, 2013, the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s first publication to present data collected under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2009. A snapshot of the findings may be garnered from the press release that may be accessed here. Hate Crimes against persons because of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender non-conformity comprised over one fifth of the total. 20.2 percent were targeted because of anti-sexual orientation bias, 0.3 percent for anti-gender bias, and 0.5 percent for anti-gender identity bias. 1,461 persons were victimized because of bias against sexual orientation.
To be a gay man, or to be perceived as a gay man, remains the most dangerous sexual orientation identification in the United States. 60.9 percent were victims of crimes motivated by their offenders’ anti-gay (male) bias. 22.5 percent were victims of anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (mixed group) bias. 13.1 percent were victims of anti-lesbian bias. 1.8 percent were victims of anti-bisexual bias. 1.6 percent were victims of anti-heterosexual bias.
Anti-sexual orientation hate crimes add up to the second largest hate crime category reported by the FBI this year. First in number are anti-racial hate crimes, and third in number are hate crimes based on antipathy of one’s religion. A staggering 7,242 persons in the United States were victims of hate crimes last year. Five murders and 21 rapes (15 from agencies that collected data using the revised rape definition and 6 from agencies that used the legacy definition) were reported as hate crimes. While FBI data are collected from cooperating law enforcement agencies around the country, most experts agree that the numbers of hate crimes reported are a severe undercount.
Most hate crime incidents (31.5 percent) occurred in or near residences/homes. More than 18 percent (18.1) occurred on highways/roads/alleys/streets/sidewalks; 8.3 percent occurred at schools/colleges; 5.7 percent happened at parking/drop lots/garages; and 3.5 percent took place in churches/synagogues/temples/mosques. The location was considered other/unknown for 13.2 percent of hate crime incidents. The remainder of hate crime incidents took place at other specified or multiple locations.
The complete FBI report may be accessed here, complete with tables and commentary.
Greensboro, NC – A decorated gay veteran wounded in Iraq was beaten with a phone, pieces of furniture, a large television, and then set afire by a city employee he met at a local gay bar. 46-year-old Stephen White, a regular customer at Greensboro’s popular gay venue, Chemistry, was discovered naked, savagely beaten, and burned over 52% of his body at the Battleground Inn at approximately 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, November 9, according to Q Notes. Garry Joseph Gupton, a 26-year-old Greensboro city employee, was arrested at the scene and charged with the near-fatal attack. Police are saying that assault was carried out “with intent to kill.” Employees of the bar say that Gupton met White Saturday night and they took a cab from the club. Since White is a well-known patron of Chemistry, everything seemed “normal.” In the aftermath of the attack, the gay community is left speculating that Gupton came hunting for an openly gay man to kill. White’s hand and a portion of his arm had to be amputated because of the severity of his burns at Wake Forest Medical Center in Winston-Salem. He remains in critical care. Hospital officials say that White faces months of surgery, skin grafting, and rehabilitation.
WFMY Television reports that Gupton, a member of the Greensboro City Water Resources crew, has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon, and inflicting serious injury with intent to kill. He was initially being held on $150,000 bond pending further charges. At his first court appearance on Wednesday, Gupton’s bond was increased to $250,000, and he asked for a court appointed attorney to be assigned to him.
White’s friend, Riki Dublin, told WFMY that the brutality of the attack on the Iraq War veteran staggers her imagination. “I am just in awe of the magnitude of the hate that is involved and I truly do not believe this man has a soul. Cause you, I just couldn’t ever imagine any human treating another human like that,” she said. After announcing a fundraiser for White, who does not have insurance, Dublin went on to say, “It’s hard. When you send your son off to war and he comes back, and he comes back injured but he comes back alive and then he is brutally attacked… here on our own dirt, it’s hard to fathom.” The fundraiser was scheduled for the following Saturday to defray White’s massive medical bills.
The owner of Chemistry, Drew Woffard, also stepped up, calling upon the Greensboro community to support White, according to The Advocate. In a statement issued to Q Notes, Woffard announced a November 15 benefit at the club, and said, “Stephen has a long road ahead of him but he is a fighter and he is definitely not alone. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we are all fighting for him. Also I remind you to please use caution when leaving our bar or any bar with someone you don’t know. I never would have dreamed something like this would happen here in Greensboro… but let’s make sure it never happens again.”
The Advocate went on to report that no agency yet plans to charge Gupton with a hate crime, and investigators are not bothering to do so. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force notes that North Carolina’s hate crimes statutes do not include LGBT persons as a protected class. Victims of anti-gay violence like White are left exposed, since North Carolina’s law does not address violence perpetrated against persons because of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
If there ever was a case that screamed “hate crime,” this horrific attack does. The use of fire as a weapon in anti-LGBTQ violence has a long and fearsome history, dating back to the Spanish Inquisition. Scholars have noted a decided uptick in cases of bias-driven hate crimes against lesbians and gay men incorporating fire as a deadly weapon. As Stephen White struggles to recover from this heinous act of violence, and Garry Gupton awaits justice to be meted out as it can be in a state that ignores anti-LGBT crimes, the gay community in the Tarheel State is left to ponder what form of murderous intent would set a young man like Gupton to stalk and purge one of their own with fire.