Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Acts of Violence in Texas: Houston and Dallas Send Wake Up Call to the Nation

Stop-Living-in-Fear-824x429Last week the Fright-Right overwhelmed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) with a campaign Mayor Annise Parker called, “a wad of deliberate, fear mongering lies.” In the first major test of LGBTQ equality since the Supreme Court of the United States made marriage equality the law of the land, justice advocates living behind the Red State Line were unable to dispel the ugly toilet myth that Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance was a ploy by sexual predators to invade women’s bathrooms with rape on their minds. The conservative pulpits and the media-for-hire scared enough of the electorate in the country’s fourth largest city to deal a telling blow against the illusion that non-hetero equality is a settled issue in Red State America.

Meanwhile, in Dallas, the carnage of rising violence against the LGBTQ community rages on, seemingly unabated, though activists, local merchants, and the powerful Tavern Guild in the Cedar Springs/Oak Lawn “Gayborhood” have at long last joined hands in a united front to oppose it. Since the unsolved murder of transgender woman of color, Ms. Shade Shuler, in the Medical District in late July of this year, there have been more than ten savage attacks on LGBT people, with a car jacking at gunpoint a block from one of Dallas’s most frequented gay bars, and a severe beating elsewhere in the community just this past Sunday night. Ironically, the two latest assaults took place mere hours after a major street protest marched through the streets demanding for an end to the violence. Young gay men are being actively and consistently hunted in the Gayborhood of Big D for the first time in many years, and the as-yet-unidentified queer hunters have used ball bats, fists, box cutters, and pistols to shock the community into what the post-SCOTUS Marriage Equality Decision era is beginning to look like below the Mason-Dixon Line.

The message the opponents of LGBTQ equality want to deliver is fear. Fear of bodily harm on the streets of one of the most vibrant gay neighborhoods in the Lone Star State, and fear of perverts in the rest rooms of one of America’s most diverse and inclusive cities. This is what the backlash against LGBTQ justice is shaping up to look like. The truth is, no matter what the Supremes have ruled in June, nothing definitive is settled yet on the matter of equality for non-normative sexual and gender-expressive minorities in the USA. Many autopsies will be done on the HERO vote in Houston and the campaign that led up to it. Suffice it to say that the Reactionary Right is simply better at stirring up their voter base with fear than progressives. We may believe reason will be the victor in the long term, but reason cannot take out of people what irrationality put in them to start with.

LGBTQ communities have long known that violence against its residents is meant to be a terror-message for all LGBTQ people. The truth is that, no matter the success of federal anti-bias hate crime legislation six years ago with the enactment of the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Law, assaults and murders of transgender women of color and gay men are registering historic highs today, with no sign of slacking off. So many alleged hate crimes against these very populations in Dallas are a bellweather the nation cannot afford to ignore. Hate crime violence is not simply a local problem in the streets of Big D. It is a symptom of a mounting backlash that seems to be growing in intensity wherever the noise machine of the Fright-Right can find willing bad actors to do its bidding. It will not stop in Houston and Dallas, or in Red State America, until this whole society comes to grips with how susceptible all of us are to messages of fear.

The large human rights advocacy groups must take heterosexist, homophobic, transphobic fear mongering seriously, and get out on the streets like the progressives of Houston and the street activists of Dallas. This is the hard grassroots work of converting hearts and minds in the face of unreasoning, deliberate fear. Local and state governments must join hands with merchants, opinion leaders, and residents of every county, town, and city where lives and livelihoods are at stake, to combat the cynical fearfulness being propounded by a dedicated and well-funded few who hope to stampede equality back into the darkness of the benighted past.

This is not where we Texas progressives thought we would be after SCOTUS ruled in favor of the rights of all of us to exist, love, and marry whom we choose. The call back to the hard work of relationship building and confronting fright with the force of our persons and integrity, from local elections to national elections, is not the message the LGBTQ and allied communities wanted to hear, but that seems to be the take-away from Houston and Dallas for those who have ears to hear. So, if the Right is better at Fright, we must triumph through love, effective deeds of love done the hard way. Only love can cast out fear in the end.

November 11, 2015 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Cedar Springs/Oak Lawn Neighborhood, Dallas hate crimes, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Houston HERO ordinance, Matthew Shepard Act, transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Laramie’s LGBT Decision Awakens Us

Matthew_Shepard-ART-SM

Matthew Wayne Shepard, artwork copyright by Peeler/Rose Designs.

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.

This plaque on a UW park bench is the sole memorial to Matthew Shepard currently in Laramie, Wyoming.

This plaque on a UW park bench is the sole memorial to Matthew Shepard currently in Laramie, Wyoming.

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.

May 17, 2015 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard, Matthew Shepard Act, University of Wyoming, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Breaking News: FBI Issues Hate Crimes Stats for 2013

FBI Hate stats, 2013Washington, 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.

December 8, 2014 Posted by | 2013 Hate Crimes Statistics, Bisexual persons, FBI, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

French Homophobia Skyrockets 78%; Forces Reassessment of LGBTQ “Progress”

Paris victim Wilfred de Bruijn, "the face of homophobia in France," and French anti-gay marriage protestors.

Paris victim Wilfred de Bruijn, “the face of homophobia in France,” and French anti-gay marriage protestors.

Paris, France – The number of documented homophobic attacks is ballooning out of control, says a report published by the French anti-homophobia watchdog, SOS Homophobie.  Since the passage of France’s pro-LGBTQ marriage law, advocates have been shocked by a rise of 78 percent in violent crimes against gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual residents in France during 2013.  The ominous meaning of this spike in violence in a supposedly “enlightened” European culture is forcing advocates, activists, and government officials to rethink narratives of progress on the issue of human equality.

SOS Homophobie, the only organization with reliable statistics on attacks against LGBTQ people in France, says that a violent physical attack against queer people is occurring no less than once every two days, and increase of 54 percent since 2012, but this statistic does not reflect the whole story.  The SOS Helpline received an astounding 3,500 calls in 2013, as opposed to 1,977 in all of 2012, registering an overall increase in anti-gay hate crime of the reported 78 percent.  “In the last twenty years the number of reports of incidents [of homophobia] received by our association have not stopped growing, but in 2013 they exploded,” notes the most recent SOS Homphobie report.  The report also found that the number of anti-gay insults online rose from 656 in 2012 to 1,723 cases in 2013, and the number of incidents that occurred in a school increased by 25 percent.

Justice and Interior ministries have been caught napping by these startling numbers, according to EDGEBOSTON.  An ideology of “inevitable progress” on matters of human rights has caused Gallic cultural leaders to be blindsided by the shift towards anti-gay rhetoric and physical violence since the legal embrace of same-sex marriage.  “There’s no doubt the rise in homophobic acts was linked to the context of the opposition against gay marriage,” Gregory Premon, spokesperson for SOS Homophobie, said to The Local. “Homophobic words and statements became trivialized during this period and helped legitimize insults and homophobic violence.”

A Dutch resident of northern Paris, who was punched and kicked senseless on a street near his home last month, has become the “face” of this new wave of anti-gay violence in France.  Wilfred de Bruijn’s skull was fractured in five places and he lost a tooth in the attack, according to The Independent.  He and his boyfriend Olivier were walking arm-in-arm at the time of the savage assault. “I woke up in an ambulance covered in blood, missing tooth and broken bones around the eye,” Mr. de Bruijn told The Local. “I’m home now. Very sad. Olivier takes care of me. Forbidden to work for at least 10 days.”  

Mr. de Bruijn places the blame for the attack upon the shoulders of anti-same sex marriage protestors, and a group has taken credit for the brutal act. Le Printemps Français (“The French Spring”), whose membership is believed to be largely comprised of hardline Catholics and royalists, now boasts that it sanctioned and carried out the assault against Mr. de Bruijn and his lover.  The shift from anti-LGBTQ marriage to a more general disgust against all queer and gender variant people is becoming more and more obvious.  As Mr. de Bruijn said to The Independent, “The [anti-gay-marriage campaigners] know very well what can happen if you repeat, repeat, repeat that these people are lower human beings. Of course, it will have a result.”

Though the French government has reacted with outrage to the news of the attacks on Messieurs de Bruijn and Olivier, and another recent gay victim, Mr. Raphael le Clerca in Nice, confidence in governmental authority to cause social change in such a charged environment has been seriously shaken in what was once a bastion of culture and forward thinking.  In the U.S. context, as well, the rise in Western European homophobia and heterosexism is not to be taken lightly.

Geography of homophobic Tweets in the USA in 2013 (source: The Atlantic Magazine).

Geography of homophobic Tweets in the USA in 2013 (source: The Atlantic Magazine).

While the Marriage Equality movement is advancing on the judicial front, most recently in the southern and western states of Arkansas and Idaho, it cannot be ignored any longer that incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence, especially against gay men and transgender people, has risen each year since the passage of the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in October 2009.  The heat of anti-gay rhetoric from the Religious Right Wing has intensified, and homophobic Christianist preachers like Scott Lively have pressed their hate agenda abroad wherever they have gotten the chance, in Russia and the Slavic countries of the former Soviet Union, and in Central Africa, for example.  While the attention of U.S. advocacy groups is upon Marriage Equality and a looming struggle in the U.S. Supreme Court, anti-LGBTQ attitudes have largely gone unaddressed, thanks to a blind belief in “inevitable social progress,” the irrelevance of domestic religious bigotry, and trust that the younger generations of Americans will finally tip the balance towards tolerance throughout the U.S. population.

We know, however, who is killing LGBTQ people in such alarming numbers in the U.S.A.: the very young who are supposedly their saviors.  The persons who murder and maim queer folk in the United States are predominantly young men from 17 to 35 years of age.  We also know that the under appreciated cultural power of religion to spawn false narratives of government oppression of “religious freedom” lies just below the surface of American society.  And American public and private schools are hotbeds of un addressed bullying and violence against gender variant youth, with outrageous consequences for vulnerable children every week in these United States.

The Marriage Equality movement is not essentially about changing foundational attitudes towards people of difference.  It is about stretching societal and cultural boundaries just enough to let same sex couples inside, where they can enjoy a similacrum of “normal life.”  Marriage is a conservative issue in American life, and always has been.  The serious and radical work of changing hearts and minds to accept challenging differences in society remains to be done, and cannot be ignored if Americans do not want to face the crisis their French allies are currently facing “just across the Pond.”

It is past time Americans take to heart the trenchant remarks of a French government spokesman outraged by the recent rise of homophobia in France: “The hatred and homophobic remarks have no place in our country and are punishable by law. The government strongly condemns these acts. These outbursts are unacceptable. When the most basic civil rights of our citizens are attacked, the authority of the state is at stake.”

May 14, 2014 Posted by | Anti-Gay Hate Groups, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Bullying in schools, France, French homophobia, gay bashing, gay men, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Matthew Shepard Act, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Scott Lively, SOS Homophobie, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on French Homophobia Skyrockets 78%; Forces Reassessment of LGBTQ “Progress”

Rush Limbaugh Demeans Matthew Shepard’s Hate Crime Murder

Attempts to demean Matthew Shepard and his murder are a Right Wing fetish.

Attempts to demean Matthew Shepard and his murder are a Right Wing fetish.

Palm Beach County, Florida  –  Conservative radio bombast Rush Limbaugh attempted to undercut the powerful anti-gay hate crime narrative of the murder of Matthew Shepard during a broadcast on Monday, February 24, from his top secret studio in Florida.  In the show, entitled “When did the ‘hate crime’ concept begin?”, Limbaugh launched a diatribe against Jason Collins’s decision to wear Number 98 on his basketball jersey in memory of Matthew Shepard who died because of anti-LGBT bias in 1998.  Collins, the first openly gay person to play on an NBA court this past Sunday for the Brooklyn Nets, came out back in April 2013 to both accolades and brickbats.

According to the broadcast transcript, Limbaugh attempted to win sympathy and outrage from his Dittohead audience for being the “original” target of hate crime language back in 1998. He had one major problem, however–the internationally embraced story of Matthew Shepard’s hate crime murder for being gay by Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney in October 1998.  So, Limbaugh proceeded to undermine the hate crime dimension of the Shepard murder that gripped the nation and the world and galvanized the human rights movement, eventually leading to the passage of the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act  in 2009.  Limbaugh said to his audience:

“[Jason Collins is] the first openly gay player to actually play in a professional sports game.  It happened last night, the Brooklyn Nets against the Los Angeles Lakers.  This is the Nets play-by-play announcer Ryan Ruocco, as Jason Collins — who, by the way, took the number 98 in solidarity with Matthew Shepard, who it’s now been proven didn’t happen, but was reputed to have been beaten up by a bunch of anti-gay bigots.”  In the transcript, Limbaugh provided readers with a hotlink to a book by right wing darling Stephen Jimenez purportedly “disproving” the anti-gay hate crime aspect of the Shepard case.

As Unfinished Lives reported last year at the publication of Jimenez’s book, these rather tired arguments are part of the continuing scheme to erode all anti-gay hate crimes narratives by attacking the archetypal Shepard story. Some of Jimenez’s own major sources have decried and disavowed his use of their names in his book of allegations, among them Henderson’s defense attorney who said that none of the “evidence” Jimenez advances was admissible in court when he was defending his client, and it is without merit now.  The Matthew Shepard Foundation, where Matt’s memory is making a difference by saving lives throughout the world, issued a strong rebuttal to this problematic book Limbaugh takes as gospel.  In the New York Daily News, the Shepard Foundation statement reads, in part:  “Attempts now to rewrite the story of this hate crime appear to be based on untrustworthy sources, factual errors, rumors and innuendo rather than the actual evidence gathered by law enforcement and presented in a court of law.”  

rush-limbaugh-260x300The extremist Right Wing, epitomized by Limbaugh, famously called “Comedian Rush Limbaugh” by Keith Olbermann on Countdownhas made a virtual cottage industry out of demeaning the lives and deaths of LGBT people for over 16 years.  Their agenda is running out of gas.  This latest attempt also fails to obscure the ugly truth that Matthew Shepard and over 14,000 other American queer folk have been murdered for their sexual orientation and/or their gender identity and expression since 1980.

The Shepard murder captured the world’s sympathy, outrage, and imagination as no other anti-gay hate crime murder story had done before.  As Gay Star News reports in its story on the Limbaugh allegations:  “Shepard, a 21 year old college student, died after being tortured in a hate crime in Laramie, Wyoming. Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson each received two consecutive life sentences for his murder. The prosecutor in the case alleged that McKinney and Henderson pretended to be gay in order to gain Shepard’s trust so they could later rob him. McKinney originally pleaded the gay panic defense, arguing that he and Henderson were driven to temporary insanity by alleged sexual advances by Shepard. After meeting Shepard at a bar, the pair took him to a remote area outside of Laramie. Once there they robbed him, beat him severely, and tied him to a fence with a rope from McKinney’s truck while Shepard pleaded for his life.”

As Dr. Stephen Sprinkle explains in his award-winning book, Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims (Resource Publications, 2011):  “The public outcry at [Matthew Shepard’s] cold-blooded killing meant the hate crime that cut his young life short became the holotype in the American psyche for all instances of oppression against people in the sexual minority.   It also sent a chill into the bones of the religio-political Right Wing.  Power to enact protection statutes for LGBT people coalesced around Matt’s death so swiftly that the Wingers feared anti-LGBT hate crime legislation might actually become law.   Their strategy was to kill the story, or failing that, change the narrative.   Cut the power of moral outrage out from under Matt’s murder, they reasoned, and they would blunt the mounting public sentiment for an end to anti-LGBT oppression.”   

None of Comedian Rush Limbaugh’s or Stephen Jimenez’s allegations concerning Matthew Shepard’s murder hold water.  It seems the extremist Right Wing is all out of ideas.

February 25, 2014 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Florida, gay bashing, gay men, gay panic defense, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Jason Collins, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard, Matthew Shepard Act, Matthew Shepard Foundation, National Basketball Association (NBA), New York, Rush Limbaugh, Social Justice Advocacy, Stephen Jimenez, Torture and Mutilation, Unfinished Lives Book, Unfinished Lives Project, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rush Limbaugh Demeans Matthew Shepard’s Hate Crime Murder

Gay Bashing in North Texas Leads to Hate Crime Charge

Gay bashing victim Arron Keahey, 24, after teen assailant savagely beat him last Labor Day.

Gay bashing victim Arron Keahey, 24, after teen assailant savagely beat him last Labor Day.

Dallas, Texas – A Springtown man who lied about his encounter with a gay man via social media in September has been charged with a bias-motivated hate crime.  According to a press release by the Dallas Division of the FBI, Brice Johnson, 19, has been charged with “willfully causing bodily injury to a person because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation of that person in a federal criminal complaint.”  On September 2, 2013, 24-year-old gay man, Arron Keahey, connected to Johnson through the social app, MeetMe, being led to believe that Johnson was gay.  The FBI press release details how Johnson led on Keahey to lure him to his home: “During their communications, Johnson said that he was interested in engaging in sexual activity with A.K. He invited A.K. to his home, gave A.K. his cell phone number and address, and they exchanged text messages planning their sexual activity.”

As soon as Keahey arrived at Johnson’s home, the assailant beat Keahey savagely, bound his wrists with an electrical cord, and rolled him into the trunk of a car.  Johnson drove to a friends house with his injured victim bleeding in the trunk.  Upon learning that Johnson had bashed the gay man so severely, Johnson’s friends threatened to call the police themselves if Johnson did not rush Keahey to a hospital.  Johnson drove his victim to a hospital in Fort Worth where he was treated for ten full days for smashed facial bones, lost and broken teeth, and multiple skull fractures.  Johnson concocted a story that he had found Keahey wounded, and being such a Good Samaritan, took him to the Harris Methodist Hospital.  Officers investigating found evidence to the contrary on Johnson’s cell phone where he had recorded a gay slur to refer to Keahey’s contact number.  Johnson then changed his story to say that he was “pulling a prank” on Keahey by the use of the slur to refer to him because of his sexual orientation.  Keahey has sworn that he had never had any sort of sexual or physical contact with his attacker prior to the moment Johnson lashed out at him on the night of the crime.

At the time of the incident, North Texas news media and law officers were reluctant to say that the assault that nearly killed Keahey was a hate crime.  Only after an extensive investigation with the FBI who were called into the case because of the possible anti-gay violence did the Parker County Sheriff’s Department and the Springtown Police Department come to final agreement that Keahey had told the truth all along, and that he had indeed been the victim of a hate crime due to extreme animus against his sexual orientation.  Though it remains unsaid in the FBI press release, the U.S. Department of Justice was able to step into the case investigation because of the provisions of the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in October of 2009.  Otherwise, like so many under-investigated attacks against LGBT people, this hate crime would have gone uncharged and unpunished.

Brice Johnson, 19, charged by FBI with bias-motivated hate crime.

Brice Johnson, 19, charged by FBI with bias-motivated hate crime.

According to a report by the Dallas Morning News, one of the major news outlets most reluctant to name anti-gay hate crimes as they demonstrated in this case, it was a Springtown Police Lieutenant, Officer Curtis Stone, who first suggested in his report that the Labor Day beating might be a “possible” hate crime.  WFAA-TV which covered the September attack and interviewed Keahey, spun the story to subtly suggest that the gay man’s use of the MeetMe app had led to the crime.  Such an intimation may be factually accurate, but does not take into account the use of social media daily by millions of heterosexual people to hook up with the reasonable assumption that they will be safe in doing so.  While there is always risk in meeting unknown people through web-based or phone-based media, no one at WFAA has issued a warning that straight men and women who fall victim to violence after using social media are somehow responsible for their own victimization–a suggestion that LGBT hate crimes victims are to blame for violence against them.  The WFAA story ends with Keahey agreeing that he had “learned a painful lesson.”

Johnson appeared in court for the first time on Thursday to be charged with a hate crime.  The statutory maximum penalty is a ten year sentence in a federal penitentiary, and a $250,000 fine.

It took five full months for the Department of Justice and the FBI to firm up the hate crime charge against Johnson that the Springtown Officer had first suggested.  No one in Springtown or Parker County, or North Texas for that matter, wants to have to admit that anti-gay hate crimes take place there.  But they do.

February 21, 2014 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, Dallas Morning News, FBI, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Media Issues, MeetMe.com, Slurs and epithets, Social Media and Smartphone Apps, Texas, U.S. Justice Department, WFAA-TV | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay Bashing in North Texas Leads to Hate Crime Charge

Gay Hate Crimes Blog Celebrates Fifth Anniversary

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Unfinishedlivesblog.com founder and director, speaks at Dallas Day of Decision Rally last week [Robbie Miller photo].

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Unfinishedlivesblog.com founder and director, speaks at Dallas Day of Decision Rally last week [Robbie Miller photo].

Dallas, Texas – Unfinishedlivesblog.com, the premier amateur academic blog dealing with anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in the United States, marks its fifth birthday today.  Conceived on the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in 2008, the blog and its umbrella parent movement, The Unfinished Lives Project, sought to change the national conversation on acts of physical violence against the queer community.  A part-time labor of love, written as time permits between teaching responsibilities, speaking opportunities, and educational events around the nation, this cyber effort continues to widen and deepen the circle of readers worldwide who remember  and advocate for LGBTQ hate crimes victims. With nearly 500,000 visitors to date, Unfinished Lives Blog has reached more minds and hearts than its originator, Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, could have possibly foreseen half a decade ago.

“Adding the responsibility of writing, monitoring networks of news sources, and updating the blog seemed daunting at first,” Sprinkle admits.  “Nevertheless, communicating with such a wide audience of concerned people on the injustice of murder and assault against LGBTQ people simply because of irrational prejudice and hatred, has become an enormously energizing dimension of my life’s work. And, we at the Unfinished Lives Project have learned how to do this as we went along,” Sprinkle noted.  “Remembering the victims of homophobic and transphobic violence must become second nature to the LGBTQ community if it ever is to become a People among the Peoples of this country, and of the world family of Peoples.  We like to think that we are making some contribution to the maturation of the LGBTQ community by our work.” 

Five years on gives the Unfinished Lives Project a chance to revisit some of its more notable achievements.  Since 2008, the blog has:

  • Posted 564 articles to date on hate crimes and told the stories of hate crimes victims throughout America and the world
  • Contributed to the struggle to enact the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act into federal law in 2009
  • Provided local coverage of the Raid on the Rainbow Lounge and the events stemming from it in the summer of 2009
  • Pressed for the Repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (DADT) in 2010
  • Covered the alarming rise in transgender hate crimes, with a special focus on transgender youth of color
  • Chronicled the alarming stories of LGBTQ youth bullied in schools throughout the nation
  • Gained readership in more than 183 nations, principalities, territories, and protectorates worldwide
  • Built and maintained a searchable website available free of charge for research on anti-LGBTQ hate crimes
  • Supported the publication of Dr. Sprinkle’s award-winning book, Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Murder Victims (Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications, 2011)
  • Provided coverage of Unfinished Lives events in 9 states and the District of Columbia

1UnfinishedLivesSprinkle has continued to be Director and main writer for the blog, but says that he is indebted to the ongoing contributions of members of the Unfinished Lives Project Team.  “We could not be the player in the cyber world we are today without the hard work of friends like web masters Todd W. Simmons, Adam D.J. Brett, and the invaluable support of Sandra Jean Brandon,” Sprinkle said.  He also thanks the loyal readership that has lent their voices and advocacy to the struggle to eliminate hate crimes violence from society. “They are helping to change the national conversation on hate crimes,” Sprinkle said. “We are moving beyond dry statistics.  The stories of real human beings give life and passion to the ongoing effort to make our neighborhoods safe for love and life to bloom and flourish.”

The future offers opportunity to Unfinished Lives Blog as it enters its second decade of service.  LGBTQ hate crimes continue unabated in the United States, rising to record high numbers of murders each year since 2010.  Worldwide human rights efforts are spreading at breakneck speed, and the forces of repression and irrational hatred are mounting to squash them.  Unfinished Lives Blog intends to meet the challenges with creativity and passion.  In October 2013, the Unfinished Lives Project will visit the Republic of South Korea where Dr. Sprinkle’s book is being published in the Korean language by Alma, a division of Munhakdongne Publishing Group, to spread the word on hate crimes and hate crimes prevention. As Sprinkle says every time he is offered the chance, “We who believe in justice cannot rest.  We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes!”

Happy Fifth Anniversary, Unfinished Lives Blog!  Here’s to many more!

June 30, 2013 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Brite Divinity School, Bullying in schools, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Independent Book Awards (IPPYs), LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Rainbow Lounge Raid, Social Justice Advocacy, South Korea, Texas, transphobia, Unfinished Lives Book, Unfinished Lives Project, Unfinishedlivesblog.com | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay Hate Crimes Blog Celebrates Fifth Anniversary

Oregon’s “Pink Poodle” Gay Bashing Draws Federal Hate Crime Charges

Gay Bashing victim David Beltier (l), partner Jeremy Mark (r), and their poodle Beauty.

Gay Bashing victim David Beltier (l), partner Jeremy Mark (r), and their poodle Beauty.

Hillsboro, Oregon – A bizarre anti-gay crime case at a busy highway street crossing has attracted national attention as Federal prosecutors issued hate crimes charges against a man whose homophobic rage was sparked by the sight of a pink poodle.  The assailant, George Mason Jr., 22, was charged this week with a violation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act for attacking a gay man with a heavy bolt cutter and screaming anti-gay slurs during a peaceful, midday stroll with his boyfriend and their pink-dyed poodle on March 1.  Multiple witnesses say Mason shouted slurs at the gay couple from his SUV, did a U turn, raced back to the intersection, and allegedly attacked David Beltier with his fists and the bolt cutter. Beltier sustained blows to the upper arm, and to the back of his head.  The assault could very nearly have cost Beltier his life.

Portland, Oregon court documents record the hate crime in legal language, but preserve the horror of the assault, coming from a complete stranger: “(Mason) willfully caused bodily injury and, through the use of a dangerous weapon, attempted to cause bodily injury to (Beltier), who is gay, because of (Beltier’s) actual and perceived sexual orientation.”  The Associated Press, in a story carried by the Columbus (IN) Republic, also reports that Mason faces Oregon state charges including second-degree intimidation, second-degree assault, unlawful use of a weapon, and reckless driving. The intimidation charge is a bias-motivation charge in the Oregon state code. Mason’s wife, Saraya Gardner, who was in Mason’s vehicle at the time of the attack, has also been charged in the case for obstructing justice.

George Mason Jr.  Alleged gay basher enraged by the sight of a pink poodle.

George Mason Jr. Alleged gay basher enraged by the sight of a pink poodle.

In an interview in Komonews.com, Beltier and his partner, Jeremy Mark, recounted that they were crossing the street with their pink-dyed poodle, Beauty, when the attack occurred.  Beauty, explained Beltier and Mark, had been harmlessly dyed pink with Kool-Aid for a bit of pre-Easter fun, and to match their two other pastel-dyed dogs. The sight of the pink poodle proved too much for Mason, who screamed profanities at the couple from his moving vehicle.  The intersection was filled with witnesses who blared their horns in protest of the attacker.  Beltier credits the witnesses with saving his life.  “If I didn’t hear all the other people honking, all the people seeing what was going on, he could have probably severely hurt me, maybe even killed me right there and then,” he said.  The New York Daily News reports Mark’s account of the slurs Mason hurled at his boyfriend. “[Mason] was saying, “Your poodle is a weird color and that’s just un-American” and “f— you, you f–s” and shouting,” Mark said.

Beltier then picked up the story for Komo News: “After that, [Mason] turns around, he goes back to his car, runs back to his car and brings out this long wrench-looking crowbar tool or something like that, and he comes back after me.”  Mason then struck Beltier on the upper arm and in the back of the head. Beltier’s boyfriend was frantic with fear for his lover’s life.  “I just couldn’t believe it,” said Mark. “I was shouting at the guy to stop. There’s no need for violence. There’s nothing to provoke him. … I was fearing for his life.”

As Mason raced away from the scene of the crime, witnesses tried to block his vehicle, and one witness took off after him, capturing Mason’s license plate number.  The information led to the arrest of Mason and his wife, Gardner.

Though officials advised the gay couple to eliminate the bright pink color from his pet’s fur, Beltier and Mark remain adamant.  They say that they did nothing wrong, and they are not going to let fear dictate their lives.  They just allowed Beauty’s fur to grow out naturally over time.

 

June 28, 2013 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Bludgeoning, FBI, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Oregon, Pink poodle, Slurs and epithets, U.S. Justice Department | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Oregon’s “Pink Poodle” Gay Bashing Draws Federal Hate Crime Charges

Remembering James Byrd Jr.: Hate Crime Murder 15 Years Ago Today

James Byrd Jr. (May 2, 1949-June 7, 1998)

James Byrd Jr. (May 2, 1949-June 7, 1998)

Jasper, Texas – James Byrd Jr., father of three children, never intended to become a key player in the struggle to protect LGBTQ people from hate crime violence.  But when he fell into the hands of three haters by accepting a ride from them on June 7, 1998, he became one of the most famous hate crimes murder victims of all time.

Byrd, 49, was looking for a ride home to be with his family.  Instead, his three abductors, Shawn Berry, Lawrence Russell Brewer, and John King, aged 23 to 31 years of age, drove him out to a lonely road outside of the small town of Jasper, Texas, beat him senseless, urinated on him, and tied his ankles to the hitch of their pick up truck–apparently for no reason other than race hatred.  It was a lynching-by dragging.  Byrd’s killers dragged him three miles along an asphalt road until he died.  Speeding along the road, his body struck a concrete culvert, severing his right arm, shoulder, and head.  Investigators located 81 sites along the route where remains of Byrd’s body were scattered.  Jasper County District Attorney Guy James Gray, said that the murder of James Byrd Jr. was the worst he had seen in over 20 years as a prosecutor.  Berry, Brewer, and King dumped Byrd’s body beside the cemetery of an African American Church, and went on to celebrate their deed at a barbecue–feeling that no one in Jasper County or the State of Texas would miss a lone African American.

They were desperately wrong.  Brewer and King, well-know white supremacists, were early suspects, causing DA Gray to investigate the murder as a hate crime.  The FBI was called in to assist in the investigation within 24 hours of Byrd’s remains being found.  Echoes of lynchings throughout the South amplified the outrage surrounding Byrd’s hate crime murder.  Brewer, King, and Berry were arrested, and eventually convicted of murder as a hate crime.  Brewer and King were sentenced to death, and on September 21, 2011, Brewer was put to death by lethal injection.  King awaits execution on death row.  Berry was sentenced to life in prison.  The Byrd Family opposed the death penalty for the men who killed their beloved James, believing that more deaths could never bring peace or closure to his murder.  Only justice for everyone could.

James Byrd Jr.'s gravesite.

James Byrd Jr.’s gravesite.

In May 2001, Texas enacted the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act into law. Because of advocacy within the Byrd Family, James Byrd Jr.’s name lent credibility to make the statute a gay-inclusive hate crimes protection law, and linked it to the Laramie, Wyoming anti-gay murder of Matthew Shepard. Then, after decades of advocacy, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, extending federal protections to LGBT people in America for the first time in history.  Judy and Dennis Shepard, parents of Matthew, were joined at the White House by Betty Bryd Boatner and Louvon Harris, sisters of James, for the signing ceremony.  President Obama said:

“This is the culmination of a struggle that has lasted more than a decade.  Time and again, we faced opposition.  Time and again, the measure was defeated or delayed.  Time and again we’ve been reminded of the difficulty of building a nation in which we’re all free to live and love as we see fit.  But the cause endured and the struggle continued, waged by the family of Matthew Shepard, by the family of James Byrd, by folks who held vigils and led marches, by those who rallied and organized and refused to give up, by the late Senator Ted Kennedy who fought so hard for this legislation — (applause) — and all who toiled for years to reach this day.”

Then, the President underlined the ongoing significance of the Act named for James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard:

“You understood that 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.  You understand that the rights afforded every citizen under our Constitution mean nothing if we do not protect those rights — both from unjust laws and violent acts.  And you understand how necessary this law continues to be.”

So, today, we remember James Byrd Jr.  His death has not been in vain.  The road toward full equality for all Americans is a long one.  Many have died in the 15 years since the murders of Byrd and Shepard at the hands of irrational hatred.  More will die, succumbing to injustices of the worst kind.  But James Byrd Jr. is not forgotten, and his killers have not had the last word on his life.  The struggle continues, and right is on the side of life and inclusion.  This 15th anniversary of James Byrd Jr.’s death, we who believe in justice cannot allow ourselves to rest.  We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes.

June 7, 2013 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Racism, Remembrances, Texas, White supremacist groups, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Remembering James Byrd Jr.: Hate Crime Murder 15 Years Ago Today

Breaking News: Unfinished Lives Project Founder Becomes Official Huffington Post Blogger

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle now blogs for Huffington Post (Keith Tew photo).

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle now blogs for Huffington Post (Keith Tew photo).

Dallas, Texas – The founder and director of the Unfinished Lives Project, Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, has been officially accepted as a Blogger for the Huffington Post.  Dr. Sprinkle’s inaugural blog post on the civil disobedience of a gay Louisville, Kentucky Baptist preacher and his spouse may be found by clicking here. Josh Fleet, representing the Huffington Post Blog Team, informed Dr. Sprinkle that his post had been accepted and posted Sunday on the Religion Page of the highly respected and widely read progressive news and opinion source.  He will be a continuing Blogger for the Religion Page, which is overseen by the Rev. Dr. Paul Raushenbush as Senior Editor.

Sprinkle ventured into the cyber world as a blogger in June 2008 with the launch of Unfinishedlivesblog.com, a web forum for news, opinion, and discussion concerning the alarming rise of anti-LGBTQ violence in American life.  With nearly 500,000 hits on the site currently, a notable achievement for a blog done by an academic and a theologian, the future of Unfinishedlivesblog.com looks promising.  The continuing readership of the blog is, of course, largely due to the unabated rise in hate crimes murders perpetrated against the LGBTQ  community since the Matthew Shepard, James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into federal law by President Barack Obama in October 2009.  Anti-violence programs throughout the United States, as well as the Hate Crimes Program of the FBI have registered higher numbers of bias-drivien murders perpetrated against LGBTQ people in each of the three years since the Shepard Act became the law of the land–and activists see no signs of these horrific statistics lessening in the near term. Sprinkle and the Unfinished Lives Project Team have chronicled this dismaying increase in anti-gay violence throughout the years.

Sprinkle.UnfinishedLives.98111Originally conceived as a supporting platform for the publication of Dr. Sprinkle’s IPPY award winning book on LGBTQ hate crimes murders in the U.S., Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims (Resource Publications, 2011), Unfinishedlivesblog quickly took on a life of its own, thanks to the cyber know-how of two savvy divinity school students, Todd W. Simmons of Houston, Texas, and Adam D.J. Brett of Syracuse, New York. As time passed, Huffington Post became an invaluable source of information on anti-LGBTQ hate crimes and the responses of the queer and religious communities to these outrages.  “Being named a Blogger for HuffPo brings the spiritual and cyber journey of my activist life to a new milestone,” Sprinkle said in response to the news of his selection.

The brave story of the non-violent protest against Kentucky’s repressive anti-gay and anti-same-sex marriage laws by Rev. Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard, and his spouse, Dominique James, sparked a passion in him to write about this news for a wider audience than a personal blog can reach, Sprinkle said.  The unflinching support offered by Blanchard and James’s pastor, the Rev. Joe Phelps, and the congregation of Highland Baptist Church, Lousiville, was also a feature of the story that begged to be shared broadly with the Baptist world, and beyond.  The parent blog post that gave rise to the Huffington Post piece can be found by clicking here.

Sprinkle is himself a openly gay man and an ordained Baptist preacher (with the Alliance of Baptists) who has recently celebrated his 36th year of ordination.  He is the Director of Field Education and Supervised Ministry at Fort Worth’s Brite Divinity School, a post that he has held since 1994.  Sprinkle is Professor of Practical Theology, and the first openly gay scholar to be tenured in the 99-year history of the school.  He also serves as Theologian-in-Residence for Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, a congregation of the United Church of Christ, and the largest liberal Christian Church in the world with a primary outreach to the LGBTQ community.

January 27, 2013 Posted by | Alliance of Baptists, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Brite Divinity School, Cathedral of Hope, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Highland Baptist Church, Huffington Post, Huffington Post Religion Page, Independent Book Awards (IPPYs), LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Matthew Shepard Act, Maurice "Bojangles" Blanchard, Same-sex marriage, Social Justice Advocacy, Unfinished Lives Book, Unfinishedlivesblog.com | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Breaking News: Unfinished Lives Project Founder Becomes Official Huffington Post Blogger

%d bloggers like this: