Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Anti-Gay NC Church Members Indicted for Kidnapping and Assaulting a Gay Man

Matthew Fenner, Gay Christian, kidnapped, beaten, and strangled to free him from "demon possession."

Matthew Fenner, Gay Christian, kidnapped, beaten, and strangled to free him from “demon possession.”

Spindale, North Carolina – Five members of a controversial church in rural Western North Carolina have been indicted for felony anti-gay kidnapping and assault on a 21-year-old gay man. A grand jury indicted Justin Brock Covington, Brooke McFadden Covington, Robert Louis Walker Jr. and Adam Christopher Bartley on second degree kidnapping and assault charges. A fifth person, Sarah Covington Anderson, was indicted on Monday, December 8 on second degree kidnapping as well as simple assault and assault by strangulation, according to QNotes. Matthew Fenner, currently an anthropology student a the University of North Carolina, told the Associated Press that he was surrounded by members of the Word of Faith Fellowship and attacked on January 27, 2013. Fenner brought the charges against his assailants, he said, because he was one of several others who had been victimized by the church in recent years, and his attackers made him fear for his life. As Fenner said to WRAL News“The line between religion and abuse, they are crossing it quite severely. That’s why I’m doing this. They have to know you cannot hurt people.” An attorney for the five indicted church members claims that Fenner’s charges are unfounded and “a complete fabrication.”

In a period of self-questioning and self-doubt about his sexual orientation, Fenner and his mother joined the 750-member Rutherford County church and started to attend the church’s school, he said.  “My mom and I were always really close and I just thought maybe I can keep an open mind and see if it works — see if I can change. Obviously, that was really a stupid decision because you can’t change who you are. But in my mind it seemed like the right thing to do,” he told the AP. Fenner worked as a tutor and attended church services. He said that when church members began to suspect he was gay, incidents of harassment began against him.

The church has become a flash point of controversy in the Spindale community, exercising strong influences upon the social and political life of this small town 63 miles southeast of Asheville. WRAL reports that former church members say the congregation’s leadership tries to control many aspects of its membership’s lives, including personal dressing habits, where to live and work, and when to have sexual relations with their spouses. In 2012, another gay man, Michael Lowry, accused members of the church with assaulting him for being gay, but later recanted his claims, a pattern of abusive control sometimes seen when individuals are intimidated for bringing charges against anti-gay congregations. Lowry, no longer a member of the church, now says he was manipulated into retracting his accusations. National gay and lesbian rights advocacy groups have criticized the Word of Faith Fellowship for abusing several young men for being gay whose parents were members of the church. Control over members thoughts and ideas even caused Fenner’s own mother and brother, who are members of the church, to disbelieve his account of the attack, and to testify against him in court proceedings. But Fenner would not be dissuaded from pressing for justice in his case, even though it took nearly two years for authorities to take him seriously and bring the indictments against his alleged assailants.

Suspects indicted for attacking, kidnapping Matthew Fenner. Left to right: Sarah Covington Anderson, Robert Louis Walker Jr., Justin Covington, Adam Bartley and Brooke Covington.

Suspects indicted for attacking, kidnapping Matthew Fenner. Left to right: Sarah Covington Anderson, Robert Louis Walker Jr., Justin Covington, Adam Bartley and Brooke Covington.

The church practices “deliverance,” a ritual including “blasting,” high-pitched screaming prayers and thumping suspected gay people to liberate them from their “demons of homosexuality.” Fenner testified that three members of the church asked him to join them at the back of the sanctuary at the evening service on January 27, 2013, but were soon joined by 15 to 20 other church members who commenced the attack upon him. They held him against his will for over two hours, forcing him into a chair and threatening him with confinement in the sanctuary if he did not “confess his sins.”  Justin Brock Covington, Brooke McFadden Covington, Robert Louis Walker Jr. and Adam Christopher Bartley allegedly beat him physically and forced him down into the chair while other members surrounded and screamed at him to stop resisting. In a police affidavit, Fenner testified, “By this point, Sarah [Covington Anderson] began to tell me how much she couldn’t stand to be around me and that I was disgusting because of my sexual orientation. I told her that I was sorry that I didn’t know what she wanted me to tell her and to which she then slapped me with a great amount of force across my left cheek. At this point I was really starting to get scared.” He identified Covington Anderson as the assailant who strangled him about the neck. As Fenner told WSPA Channel 7 News“My head was like being flung back, my vision was going brown and black. I couldn’t breathe and I’m sitting here thinking if I don’t get out of this, I’m probably going to die.” 

Covered in bruises on his collarbone, neck, chest, and shoulders, Fenner finally got free of the assault, and ran to his grandmother’s home. His own mother refused to believe his account of what had happened to him. But Brent Childers of the North Carolina-based advocacy group, Faith In America, has no doubt that what unfolded on that night was nothing less than religious-based bigotry. “It’s pretty clear to me,” Childers told WRAL, “that these individuals wanted to inflict pain on Matthew because of his sexual orientation.”

Josh Farmer, the church’s attorney, says he looks forward to a jury trial to demonstrate that no one carried out any physical harm to Fenner. But that is not preventing this determined young man from pressing forward with the case because he knows it is the right thing to do. “This is the only way that I can get my voice out there to say look, this kind of stuff is happening. It happened to me and it just kind of sheds some light onto the things that are going on in there and that people do know, but can’t really have the facts to go with it,” Fenner said to reporters from WSPA Channel 7.

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-Gay Hate Groups, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Faith In America, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, kidnapping, LGBTQ, North Carolina, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Strangulation, Word of Faith Fellowship | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Anti-Gay NC Church Members Indicted for Kidnapping and Assaulting a Gay Man

Bad Hombres: Arrests in Possible Anti-LGBT Violence in West Texas

Brewster County, TX – Two men have been arrested and charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 19-year-old man in Terlingua, Texas on Sunday, December 6 in what is unfolding into a possible anti-gay hate crime story. While the sexual orientation of the victim remains officially undisclosed, local sources allege that the teenager is gay.  Daniel Martinez, 46, has been charged with sexual assault and is being held on $35,000 bond. Kristopher Buchanan, 27, is being held on outstanding warrants from other counties. The suspects are expected to face additional charges.  Pink News summarizes reports from Texas saying that the victim ,whose name has not been released by law enforcement, was abducted outside a bar in Terlingua, a town on the Texas-Mexico Border, and driven in his own car to a remote area in southern Brewster County.  The Big Bend Gazette reports that the youth was sexually assaulted by the pair before his car was set afire.  He was forced into a private residence where his attackers sexually assaulted him again.  He managed to escape, running three miles across the desert to a highway where a Brewster County Sheriff’s Deputy spotted him and took him to a hospital for treatment.  Officials say that the victim is currently recovering in an undisclosed location.  Law enforcement has been tight-lipped about the crime, but both local and LGBT press have speculated that the assault was an anti-gay hate crime.  Some have gone so far as to equate the attack with the fatal pistol-whipping of hate crime victim Matthew Shepard.  When questioned about the investigation, Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson told reporters that the case is being treated as a kidnapping, sexual assault and auto arson. “Everybody’s in jail,” said Dodson. “That’s the best part.”  A rally was held last night in support of the victim.

December 15, 2009 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Arson, gay teens, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Kidnapping and sexual assault, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Matthew Shepard, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Protests and Demonstrations, rape, Texas, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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