Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Hate Is In The Air: The Awful Cost of Demonizing LGBT People

Hate Crime Arson in Florida is one symptom of growing violence against the LGBT community.

Hate Crime Arson in Florida is one symptom of growing violence against the LGBT community.

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.”

Fr. Mychal Judge and Mark Bingham, gay heroes of 9/11

Fr. Mychal Judge and Mark Bingham, gay heroes of 9/11

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.

September 11, 2015 Posted by | 9/11, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Arson, Diana Butler Bass, Flight 93, Florida, Fr. Mychal Judge, Gay Bars, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Kentucky, LGBTQ, Liberty Counsel, Mark Bingham, Mat Staver, Mike Huckabee, New York City, Pennsylvania, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Same-sex marriage, Special Comments, Ted Cruz, transgender persons, Transgender women, U.S. Supreme Court, Vicki Nantz Films, Washington | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gay and Baptist: How an Oxymoron May Save the Church Yet

The Rev. Maurice "Bojangles" Blanchard, Baptist minister arrested for attempting to marry his spouse in Kentucky [USAToday image]

The Rev. Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard, Baptist minister arrested for attempting to marry his spouse in Kentucky [USAToday image]

Louisville, Kentucky – An ordained gay Baptist preacher and his life partner who were refused a marriage license in Jefferson County accepted arrest rather than betray their Christian conviction that anti-gay laws are unjust. By implication, the Rev. Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard and his husband, Dominique James, both members in good standing in a local Baptist congregation, stood in contradiction to the widely held cultural and spiritual assumption that gay people are “abominations” before God, and should have none of the common rights to marriage afforded to all other citizens by the civil state.  Despite the shockwaves their non-violent protest is sending throughout evangelical Protestantism and Baptist life in particular, their act of conscience may save the church yet.

The facts of the protest action carried out by the Rev. Bojangles and Dominique are these:  on Tuesday, January 22, the couple, wearing crosses on their ski caps, requested a license to marry from the Clerk’s Office, and were refused. When asked why she refused them, Ms. Sandy Byerly, manager of the license office, said that she was upholding the law of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, which wrote anti-gay discrimination into the state constitution in 2004 by an amendment saying that “only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be a marriage in Kentucky,” according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.  Further, any clerk who willfully defies state law and issues a marriage license to a same-sex couple anyway will be removed from office and is subject to a year in jail.  After the refusal by the clerk, the gay couple staged a peaceful pray-in until they were arrested and charged with trespassing at 5 p.m., when the clerk’s office closed for the day.  Offered the option of being cited for the offense rather than being arrested, the Baptist preacher and his spouse told the Metro Police officer that they had a “spiritual obligation” to resist the injustice of a law that denied them their civil right to marriage.  As the Rev. Bojangles said prior to entering the clerk’s office, “If we don’t act, we are accomplices in our own discrimination. We have to resist.”  The couple was led to a waiting patrol car, and were transported to the Metro Corrections Center where they were booked.  Jefferson County Clerk Bobbi Holsclaw told reporters that the ordained minister and his spouse were protesting in the wrong place. Instead of disturbing the clerk’s office, she said, they should instead have taken their argument up with the state legislature.

Selah (Hebrew for “pause”–found in the Book of Psalms).

The vast majority of Christians in the United States consider themselves law-abiding citizens, and shy away from public acts that defy law and order.  Among ordained ministers, the aversion to any controversial word or deed, inside or outside of the congregation, is particularly high.  Preachers, by-and-large, consider the office of prophet to be a historic artifact of First Testament history, not an obligation for modern spiritual shepherds.  Prophetic action of the sort the good Reverend took in the county clerk’s office is decidedly not a career enhancing choice.  Controversy in the ministry can get ministers fired, and their families booted out of the parsonage.

The Rev. Bojangles knew all of that–but he acted anyway, in obedience to the spiritual dictates of his conscience and in solidarity with LGBTQ people in over thirty states where same-sex marriage has been outlawed by constitutional amendment. As he told the Courier-Journal, he felt anxiety about the prospect of arrest, but he and his spouse of six years were “trusting in God and deeply called to do this.”  They faced the humiliation and degradation of the refusal in the clerk’s office, they said, in order “to stand up for ourselves and countless others.”

Selah, again.

Gay Baptist spouses stage peaceful pray-in until arrested in Jefferson County Clerk's Office

Gay Baptist spouses stage peaceful pray-in until arrested in Jefferson County Clerk’s Office

Both gay men are members of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, the church that ordained Bojangles in May of last year.  Highland’s Pastor, the Rev. Joe Phelps, said that Bojangles and Dominique let him know what they were going to do prior to the peaceful protest. Pastor Joe also acknowledged that he understood there would be considerable friction for the church because of what these two Baptists were intending to do.  Yet, neither he nor the good Baptists of Highland Church have flinched at the storm of publicity whipped up since their Timothy (a term for a member ordained by a local church to the ministry, harking back to the example of the Apostle Paul’s protégé Timothy) and his husband withstood the anti-gay, anti-same-sex marriage law. In a public statement to the church and the world at large, Pastor Joe wrote on January 24, “As for my reaction to Bojangles and Dominique’s action: I’m proud to pastor a church where members are willing to put their reputations on the line in order to challenge unjust laws in a manner that is respectful and non-violent.”

While Christians and others of good conscience may justly disagree over the specifics of the deeds of Bojangles and Dominique, and in general oppose one another’s views on same-sex marriage and the status of LGBTQ people in the church of Jesus Christ, Pastor Joe said he had to stand with his parishioners, and he believed that their sisters and brothers in the faith should, as well. “And I do believe that the laws against same-sex marriage are unjust,” he went on to say. “We experienced the consequence of this just last week, when the five-year partner of a man in critical condition in the ER had to wait several hours until a ‘legitimate’ next-of-kin arrived before being told that he had died on the scene.”

Pastor Joe concluded, “There can be debate about whether the arrest is good or bad for the cause of civil rights for LGBT persons, but that they acted with integrity and the convictions of their hearts cannot be debated.”

Such words and deeds are rare in any Christian circles these days, on the so-called religious right or progressive left.  Matter of fact, putting words like “gay,” “ordained Baptist minister,” and “civil disobedience” together affirmatively in the same sentence feels like a bald-faced oxymoron: a brain-aching contradiction in terms! But given the damage done to the lives, psyches, and families of LGBTQ people in the name of religion, decisive action to reverse the course of prejudice in the faith community looks essential, if the church is to be true to its Savior and its own soul.  These days, encounters with such amazing oxymorons may be the only way the church can be awakened to its true role in society: speaking and acting FOR the underdogs of this world, and not against them.

Leander E. Keck's "Who is Jesus?"

Leander E. Keck’s “Who is Jesus?”

Some might call the stand Pastor Joe, the Rev. Bojangles, and Br. Dominique took as action “for the sake of Jesus Christ” as well as for the underdogs of today’s world. Professor of New Testament Leander E. Keck wrote in his landmark book, Who Is Jesus? History in Perfect Tense, that voluntarily becoming despicable in the eyes of society is a powerful characteristic of taking up Jesus’ work among the outcast and the despised of every age–in effect, facing the risks “for Jesus’ sake.”  Of such courageous souls, Keck notes, “Such persons usually do not talk of their own suffering but talk of others’ for whose sake they are ready to accept what may befall them.”  In this day and age, these words could have been penned expressly for oxymoronic Baptist preachers and those who cherish them who stand up to the opprobrium heaped on LGBTQ people.  “Such voluntarily suffering,” Keck wrote, “has two names: one is love, the other is Jesus–in perfect tense” (p. 183).

Will the real Christians of this age please stand up?  Some are, apparently, accepting despicable consequences on behalf of the outcasts, and “for Jesus’ sake,” as well.

Amen.

January 27, 2013 Posted by | Baptist Church, gay men, GLBTQ, Kentucky, KY, Law and Order, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Maurice "Bojangles" Blanchard, Protests and Demonstrations, Public Theology, religious intolerance, Same-sex marriage, Social Justice Advocacy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Teen Lesbian Attacked “Just For Being Gay” in Louisville

Teenage Lesbian victim of brutal hate crime attack showing her split lip and knocked out teeth. Her jaw was broken in multiple places by three adult males yelling anti-gay epithets [WAVE 3 News image].

Louisville, Kentucky – A 16-year-old lesbian and her two young male friends were viciously attacked by men shouting anti-gay slurs as they beat the teeth out of the girl’s mouth.  Early on Tuesday morning, the young Hornback brothers, 13 and 15, who had accompanied their lesbian friend to a local store, desperately called their mother as the attack commenced.  They told their mother that a group of four “grown-ups” were harassing their friend for being gay, and then cut the call short when one of the men struck the girl. Ms. Andi Hornback told WAVE 3 News that she could hear one of her sons scream as the adult men knocked the young lesbian to the ground, broke her jaw, and repeatedly kicked her in the stomach as they yelled hatefully.  Police are now investigating the violence as a hate crime that has shattered the peace and calm of the Wyandotte Park community in Louisville.

One of Ms. Hornback’s sons suffered a concussion as he jumped in to rescue his friend. With her voice trembling from emotion, Ms. Hornback told reporters how she felt when she heard her child cry out in fear and pain.   “I can’t even describe it to you,” she said , “I’m getting ready to cry, hearing my child scream and know that they were hurt and they were scared and I couldn’t get there fast enough.”  EMS personnel and police were already on the scene by the time Ms. Hornback arrived.

The young lesbian who was the focus of the attack was lying on the pavement with blood gushing out of her mouth. Speaking on behalf of the girl’s family, Brenda Hickerson detailed her injuries for WCSH 6 News: “Her jaw is broken in several places and she has to have a plate put in her jaw. She has teeth knocked out of her mouth and she has scrapes and bruises.” Shaking with frustration and anger, Hickerson said, “She was on the ground with blood just pouring out of her face. These grown men put her on the ground, kicked her in her stomach, kicked her in her face and punched her in the face and kept going until a bystander yelled stop and called 911.”

The four adults in the group that attacked the teens included two white men, one African American man, and a woman whose race has not been identified in the press.  The Hornback boys say that the woman played no part in the attack on their lesbian friend.  Brenda Hickerson believes that the woman’s conscience will plague her until she comes forward.  Hickerson says she is convinced this was a vicious hate crime. “Otherwise, you are saying that this is right to hate,” she said, “and it’s just not right!” 

In an ironic twist, Louisville churches figure prominently in the background of this anti-lesbian attack.  The adults pressed their attack on the teenager in front of two Wyandotte Park area churches.  The pastor of St. James Church, a self-described non-denominational and evangelical congregation, has decried the crime.  According to other clergy, the young lesbian who was the focus of the attack is a member of a local Baptist Church that openly welcomes and affirms gays and lesbians.

Hickerson, wearing a rainbow PRIDE shirt in her television interviews, said she has no doubt as to why this attack was so brutal. “This was a hate crime,” Hickerson said, “There were hate slurs and this was not a robbery because they didn’t take anything from them.” She continued, “I think she was targeted for being a strong lesbian young girl.”

July 19, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, gay bashing, gay teens, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Kentucky, Lesbian teens, LGBTQ, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Two Women Plead Guilty to Gay Bashing and Kidnapping in Kentucky

Alexis Jenkins and (Mable) Ashley Jenkins, both 19, convicted of anti-gay hate crime in Eastern Kentucky

Lexington, Kentucky – Two teenaged women pled guilty on Wednesday as accomplices in the kidnapping and assault of a gay man in Harlan, Kentucky. The women are the first persons convicted under the provisions of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in October 2009.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky announced that Alexis LeAnn Jenkins and Mable Ashley Jenkins, both 19 years old, entered guilty pleas to assisting a pair of cousins, Anthony Ray Jenkins and David Jason Jenkins, in a brutal assault and attempted murder against Kevin Pennington, an openly gay man whom the quartet abducted to Kingdom Come State Park on April 4, 2011.  The women’s pleas were sealed for another two days, according to LGBTQ Nation.  If they are found guilty of the charges, and no plea bargain agreement is in play, the women could face life sentences. It may be that they agreed to cooperate with federal authorities in order to receive lesser sentences, which will be handed down against them in August as the court schedule now stands. Alexis Jenkins is the spouse of Anthony Jenkins, and (Mable) Ashley Jenkins is his sister and a cousin of (David) Jason Jenkins.

The announcement of the guilty pleas come a day after a federal grand jury indicted Anthony and Jason Jenkins of kidnapping, conspiracy, and carrying out a deadly attack on Pennington because of his sexual orientation. The cousins have entered not guilty pleas to all charges, and will have their day in court on June 18.

In a statement issued Friday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the roles played by Alexis and Ashley Jenkins in the near-deadly attack on Pennington became clearer:  “The women admitted they lured [Kevin] Pennington into a truck with two other defendants, Anthony Ray Jenkins and David Jason Jenkins. The truck was driven to an Eastern Kentucky state park where Pennington was allegedly assaulted by the male defendants,” the statement says. “Both women waived their right to be indicted and pleaded guilty to the charges brought by U.S. Attorney [Kerry B.] Harvey and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.”

Though the Jenkins cousins recruited the women to entice Pennington into their Silverado pickup, Alexis and Mable were equally as intent on the gay man’s murder as were the men, according to the details of the federal indictment filed against Anthony and Jason. Kentucky.com reports that the women allegedly cheered on the Jenkins men as they beat Pennington senseless, yelling “Kill the faggot!” Pennington, who is 28, suffered injuries to his chest, head, face, and neck.  Had he not escaped his attackers, he has no doubt he would have been killed. Prosecutors indicate that the savagery of the gay bashing is not what qualified it as a federal hate crimes case.  Instead, the fact that the defendants transported the victim in their vehicle on a federal roadway allowed the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to become involved in the investigation and prosecution of the crime.  The Kentucky Equality Federation appealed to the U.S. Justice Department to intervene in the case, since local judges and other law enforcement officers were reluctant to carry the investigation forward in an effective way.

April 14, 2012 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, FBI, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Kentucky, Kentucky Equality Federation, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, U.S. Justice Department, women | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Two Kentucky Men Charged By Feds With Anti-Gay Hate Crime: First Use of U.S. Hate Crimes Law

Cousins Anthony Ray Jenkins (l) and David Jason Jenkins (r), indicted under the Shepard/Byrd Hate Crimes Act for anti-gay attack.

Lexington, Kentucky – Two cousins face the first charges filed by the Federal Government under the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act for attacking a gay man, as announced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Lexington.  According to the Associated Press, David Jason Jenkins, 37, of Cumberland, Kentucky, and Anthony Ray Jenkins, 20, of Partridge, Kentucky were indicted early this week by a federal grand jury for a savage April 2011 attack upon Kevin Pennington, a gay man who refused to perform sexual acts upon the cousins.  The Jenkins cousins were also indicted on federal kidnapping, assault, and conspiracy charges. Both men pleaded not guilty to the charges. If convicted, each defendant could face a life sentence in prison.

CNN quotes the indictment as saying that the cousins enlisted two women to entice Pennington to get into their pickup truck on April 4, 2011 for a trip into the pristine wilderness of the Kingdom Come State Park in Harlan.  “David Jason Jenkins and Anthony Ray Jenkins made a plan to assault Pennington because of his sexual orientation,” the indictment reads. The men wore clothing that made it difficult to see who they were, and disabled the dome light inside the pickup to further obscure their identities.  The FBI affadavit says that when David Jason Jenkins demanded Pennington service him sexually, Pennington refused. Jenkins threatened to rape him. The cousins stopped the truck, dragged Pennington out of the cab, and brutally assaulted him while shouting, “How do you like this, Faggot?”  Pennington reported to human rights advocates, “The whole time I screamed and begged them to stop, I was screaming I’m sorry for whatever I had done to make them want to do this to me. I can remember seeing bright flashes of light every time one of them would stomp or punch me in the head with them telling me he was going to rape me asking me if I was going to suck his [edited] how they would hold me down if they had to and how he was going to [edited] me in the [edited] dry until I bled.” Knocked unconscious, he lay on the forest floor. He awoke and managed to escape while his assailants were debating how best to dispose of his body. Pennington ran to a ranger station, broke a window to gain access to phone, and called police. He suffered multiple injuries, including wounds to his neck, head, back, and face. After treatment, Pennington was released from hospital care, but says he still struggles emotionally with the effects of the attack. Though the two women, Alexis Leann Combs Jenkins and Mable Ashley Jenkins, have been charged with kidnapping and aiding a kidnapping according to the authorities, Edgeonthenet says they have not been indicted by the federal grand jury.

This case is a landmark use of the Shepard/Byrd Act to prosecute an anti-gay hate crime in the nation, and interest around the nation is running high. Since the cousins used a truck and drove their victim on a federal roadway, the case fell under federal jurisdiction.  A U.S. Department of Justice statement read, in part, “The indictment marks the first federal case in the nation charging a violation of the sexual orientation section of the Federal Hate Crimes Law.” Human Rights Campaign’s Michael Cole-Schwartz, who worked for the passage of the Shepard/Byrd Act, said, “It’s vindicating to see that the years of hard work that went into making sure this law was on the books is now being put into place.” Kentucky Equality Federation president, Jordan Palmer, commented on the larger context of the case. “The bigger picture here is that the U.S. attorney’s office is sending a message that you don’t try to hurt someone and you don’t injure them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said. The Kentucky Equality Federation vigorously lobbied the U.S. Department of Justice to become involved in the case.

As a defense, the cousins claim that Pennington had approached them for illicit drugs, and the deal went bad, a common attempt on the part of perpetrators of hate crimes to deflect attention away from the heinous nature of their acts, and to defame the victim. The Jenkins cousins will face their day in court on June 18.

April 14, 2012 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Kentucky, Kentucky Equality Federation, Kidnapping and sexual assault, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, U.S. Justice Department | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fr. Matthew Kelty, OCSO, Passes Away: Out Gay Monk was Thomas Merton’s Confessor

 

Fr. Matthew Kelty, OCSO, Monk of Gethsemani (1915-2011)

Trappist, Kentucky – The most widely known and beloved monk of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani died peacefully among his brothers today in the Kentucky Hill Country.  Fr. Matthew, né Charles Richard Kelty Jr., was born in South Boston, Massachusetts in 1915. Educated in the public schools of Milton, Massachusetts, he followed his vocation to the religious life, attended the seminary of the Society of the Divine Word in Techny, Illinois, and was ordained a Roman Catholic Priest in 1946.  Fr. Matthew served as a writer for the magazine of the order, and became a Divine Word missionary in Papua, New Guinea from 1947 to 1951. Sensing all the while that his vocation was to the contemplative life, Fr. Matthew petitioned to enter the Abbey of Gethsemani in February 1960.  “A natural love for the monastic life drew me to Gethsemani and fulfilled a lifelong dream,” he said.  At Gethsemani, Fr. Matthew did many things. He once said, “Over the past decades, I have served in various capacities: master of the brothers, shoe shop, tailor shop, vocations office, and retreat house. Monastic life is everything I wanted, my happiness. All dreams fulfilled. But the fulfillment came slowly. Following your dreams and not giving up is my best recommendation.” Two interludes in his life are most worth mentioning.  First, Fr. Matthew served as Prior of Holy Mother of God Monastery in Henderson, North Carolina, a small foundation near Oxford that the Trappists took over from Benedictines in the 1970s. In those days, when I first met Fr. Matthew, he was ebullient, funny, and a committed motorcycle driver.  I can see him in my mind’s eye, zipping down the two-lane state roads, with his habit’s black scapular streaming behind him in the slip stream. I remember he loved and tended peacocks and pea hens that roosted in the pine trees bordering the chapel grounds, and he shared afternoon strolls with his dog and an obstreperous billy goat named “Philip Morris.”  It was during this period that Fr. Matthew protested the war in Vietnam in a most monastic way: he and his dog walked for peace all the way from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. His journey was carried widely in the media.  Standing on the banks of the Potomac River, looking over at the stately marble buildings of government, Fr. Matthew said that Washington looked to him like “frosting over so much burnt cake.” Second, Fr. Matthew received permission from Gethsemani to return to his beloved Papua, but this time as a hermit.  He lived on the coast, loved the Papuans, and sewed clothes for his living as a tailor.  During his hermitage, Fr. Matthew married Lady Poverty.  Upon his re-entrance to Gethsemani, he wrote his spiritual autobiography, Flute Solo. It was in this book that he revealed his homosexuality as a celibate monk.  Many years ago, I nervously came out to Fr. Matthew when I was on one of many retreats to the Abbey.  He was so pastoral, loving, and understanding.  He affirmed his own gayness, and mine, and advised me to live my dreams.  He also helped change my life.  “I will pray for you every day, Stephen,” he said, “as I say mass.”  And I believe he did. Every day. Without fail. Fr. Matthew served as Thomas Merton’s confessor from the days of his entrance to the Abbey and Merton’s death in 1968. He always said Merton was the finest monk of Gethsemani, because he knew that in order for God to get a hearing, you had to have cunning enough to use other means to do it.  Fr. Matthew must have taken those words to heart, for he will be best remembered and loved as the Guest House Chaplain and post-Compline preacher for years.  His homilies are online for readers at the Abbey website.  There are many ways God has of blessing the human race with gayness.  Fr. Matthew was the queerest person I ever met, or am likely to meet.  He hid nothing. He lived as a true child of his tradition, out in the open where God, the pea fowl, and the hierarchy could see. “Who wouldn’t want to live here?” he asked me one day when I was on a Fall retreat at the Abbey. “I am surrounded by good men, and get to wear beautiful clothes!” Now his transition is complete. He is with beloved Jesus, whom he loved as a consort and ascetic for 51 years.  Not bad for an Irishman, eh?.  Requiescat in pace, Padre.  ~ Stephen Sprinkle, Unfinished Lives Project Team Member

February 18, 2011 Posted by | Anglo Americans, gay men, Kentucky, Remembrances, Roman Catholic Church and Homosexuality, Social Justice Advocacy, Thomas Merton | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

Fallen Military Servicemembers

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

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

Remembering Barry Winchell

Barry Winchell horizontal

Today marks the ninth anniversary of the death of hate crime victim Barry Winchell. He served in the United States Army and held the rank of Private First Class. Following a period of ongoing harassment directed at Winchell for having dated a transsexual showgirl, fellow soldier Calvin Glover used a baseball bat to bludgeon Winchell as he slept on a cot in the barracks of Fort Campbell. Winchell died of massive head injuries the following day.

Winchell’s brutal murder prompted President Bill Clinton to review the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy, which many cite as a factor in the hate crime.

Today we remember Barry Winchell, and in our memory we restore to him the dignity and respect belonging to every person, regardless of sexual orientation.

July 6, 2008 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Bludgeoning, Don't Tell (DADT), gay men, harassment, Kentucky, military, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, Remembrances, U.S. Army | , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

   

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