Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Remembering Matthew Shepard on the 12th Anniversary of His Murder

Laramie, Wyoming – Matthew Shepard was brutally assaulted on a lonely ridge overlooking Laramie, Wyoming on this day twelve years ago. He died in a coma in Fort Collins, Colorado, with his family by his side.  Much has changed.  Much has not.  His hate crime murder has set the pattern by which all LGBTQ hate crimes murder victims are remembered, both for good and ill.  Good, in that many American’s are more keenly aware of the problem of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes and the issues surrounding the struggle for human rights equality because of his death.  Millions of people around the world came to know about other hate crimes murder victims through the lens of Matthew’s story.  His family foundation, The Matthew Shepard Foundation, has done untold good advocating for justice, equality and the embrace of diversity in American life.  His mother, Judy Shepard, has become one of the most visible and effective spokespeople for human rights in our time–a true conscience for the nation.  It is no mistake that the long-awaited federal hate crimes law, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, is named in honor of Matthew, largely through the dogged persistence of this estimable woman who will not take “no” for an answer.  It was a proud day for all of us when President Obama signed the bill protecting LGBTQ Americans from bias-motivated crimes last October, inclusive of transgender people and disabled persons, as well.  But there is a downside to the way Matthew Shepard’s story is remembered in this country too, one neither he nor his family are guilty of–and one we must all act to redress.  The story of Matthew Shepard has tended to overshadow the remembrance of any other LGBTQ hate crimes victim, especially if that person was non-white, older and therefore less attractive, disabled somehow, or feminine in gender presentation.  This has been true of the many gender variant youth of color who have died in staggering numbers as the 21st century has dawned.  In the case of 15-year-old Sakia LaTona Gunn, an African American lesbian Aggressive, murdered at a bus stop in Newark, New Jersey, relatively few media stories on her outrageous murder broke into the national press compared to the thousands that flooded the channels when Matt died.  Much ink has been spilled over why this was so, but in order to honor Matthew, we must demand that ALL LGBTQ stories are told with the passion and respect his has been.  Finally, following Judy Shepard’s example, we must use this anniversary to cry out for Safe Schools for all children.  As she wrote on the Matthew Shepard Foundation blog in early October, “Our young people deserve better than to go to schools where they are treated this way. We have to make schools a safe place for our youth to prepare for their futures, not be confronted with threats, intimidation or routine disrespect. Quite simply, we are calling one more time for all Americans to stand up and speak out against taunting, invasion of privacy, violence and discrimination against these youth by their peers, and asking everyone in a position of authority in their schools and communities to step forward and provide safe spaces and support services for LGBT youth or those who are simply targeted for discrimination because others assume they are gay. There can never be enough love and acceptance for these young people as they seek to live openly as their true selves and find their role in society.”  In October 2008, I spoke at “Hope Not Hate,” an anniversary service for the city of Austin, Texas, commemorating the deaths of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., both unwitting martyrs to the cause of true equality in American life.  I said at that time, in part, “We who believe in justice cannot rest! We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes! When a mother like Judy Shepard challenges us to send a different message to America than the one delivered by the men who killed her son, we must embrace that memory with all its pain, and break out of defeat into action.”  I believe more fervently in the work of erasing hatred today than ever.  Rest in Peace, Matthew, Sakia, and all our sisters and brothers.

~ Stephen V. Sprinkle, Director of the Unfinished Lives Project

October 12, 2010 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, Bullying in schools, Colorado, gay men, gay teens, Gender Variant Youth, harassment, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ suicide, Matthew Shepard, Matthew Shepard Act, Matthew Shepard Foundation, Media Issues, Remembrances, Sakia Gunn Film Project, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, transgender persons, transphobia, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Remembering Charlie Howard: Murdered 26 Years Ago

Remembering Charlie Howard on State Street Bridge, Bangor Daily News Photo

Bangor, ME – Charles O. “Charlie” Howard was drowned to death by three young men at 10 p.m. on July 7, 1984.  His murder was the first full-blown hate crime murder against a gay person to be recognized as such in all of New England, if not the whole United States.  The young men, Shawn Mabry, 16, Jim Baines, 15, and Daniel Ness, 17, ran him down on the State Street Bridge in the heart of downtown Bangor, beat and kicked him brutally, and then heaved him over the the railing into the Kenduskeag Stream below.  Charlie screamed that he didn’t know how to swim.  At 12:10 a.m. the next morning, police rescuers found his drowned body a few hundred feet from the bridge.  A large eel had wrapped itself around his lifeless neck.  An autopsy confirmed that he died of drowning, most probably hastened by a severe attack of asthma, a disease that had plagued Charlie all his life.  He was 23 years old.  The young attackers spent one night in jail, and then were released without bond into the custody of their parents.  LGBT folk and their allies were galvanized by the murder of one of their own, and a fledgling equality organization started in the state in Charlie’s memory.  Mabry, Baines and Ness were tried as juveniles, and sentenced to an “indeterminate term” in Maine Youth facilities in South Portland.  Because of the nature of the law for juveniles, the convicts had to be released by their 21st birthdays.  Mabry and Ness served 21 months apiece.  Baines, the youngest, served two years.  Fourteen years later, in 1998, Matthew Shepard was murdered on a ridge overlooking Laramie, WY, also because he was gay.  Without what had been learned so painfully in the loss of Charlie Howard, there might very well have been no frame of reference for what happened to Matt.  Echoes of Charlie Howard still reverberate in Maine.  Bangor voted a non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people.  Laramie has not done so yet.  Maine has a state hate crime law on the books, and the government is fairly scrupulous in enforcing it.  Wyoming has never passed such a law protecting its LGBT citizens.  Supporters finally won permission to erect a monument to Charlie near the bridge where he died.  There is no such monument remembering Matt in Laramie.  Matthew Shepard’s story is know around the world.  Charlie Howard’s has remained pretty much a New England story.  But Charlie’s story has changed lives for the better.  And in sheer effect, his supporters have won more respect and practical protection for LGBT people in Maine and New England than Matt’s has yet to achieve in the nation as a whole.  We at the Unfinished Lives Project remember lovely, goofy, maddening, flaming, edgy, and graciously generous Charlie Howard today.  He did not die in vain.  We must work to see to that, for him and for all the sons and daughters of America who died just because of who they were and whom they loved.  Rest well, sweet brother.  We have not forgotten you.

July 7, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, drowning, gay men, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Maine, Matthew Shepard, Monuments and markers, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Stomping and Kicking Violence, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ricky Martin Speaks Out Against Anti-LGBT Hate Violence in Puerto Rico

Legendary Latino entertainment idol, Ricky Martin (né Enrique José Martín Morales) spoke out against anti-LGBT hate crimes in his native Puerto Rico on Sunday in an op-ed written for El Nuevo Dia.  Martin, who has been the subject of persistent rumors concerning his own sexual orientation for years, is one of a growing chorus of Puerto Rican and other Latino/Latina entertainers who are decrying the spiking incidence of homophobic attacks on gay and gender non-conforming men in the United States Territory.  The brutal murder of Jorge Steven López Mercado, the 19-year-old gay man who was found decapitated, dismembered, and partially immolated in Cayey last month, has drawn national and international attention to the problem of cultural homophobia in the Caribbean.  Now, with the emerging story of what may well be another anti-gay murder in Ponce this past Wednesday, Martin and others have taken it upon themselves to speak out.  Olga Tañón, the talk radio personality, René Perez,the reggaeton artist, and 2001 Miss Universe Denise Quiñones are among other celebrities who are becoming outspoken on the issue along with Martin.  Boy in Bushwick quotes Martin as writing, “The deaths of James Byrd, like that of Matthew Shepard, Jorge Steven López, Marcelo Lucero and Luis Ramírez, like other victims of violent hate crimes, should be unacceptable to all human beings; because we are all human beings.”  Martin urged his readers to move beyond mere acceptance and toleration.  “If we accept each other, humanity will come together,” Martin wrote. “And if humanity comes together, equality for human rights will become a reality. If equality for human rights becomes a reality, peace will be within our reach.”  For high-profiled Martin, 38, to speak out so openly against homophobic violence is something of an event in itself.  He has consistently denied rumors about his own sexual orientation since the days he was lead singer for the pop group Menudo, and played a popular character in television’s General Hospital.  In 1999 he was named one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People.”  But it was as a singer that the photogenic Puerto Ricaño made his most lasting reputation, with such English-language hits as “Livin’ La Vida Loca.”  Last year Martin announced the birth of twin sons by a surrogate mother.  The babies, Matteo and Valentino, were frequently photographed in their father’s arms, furthering a wholesome image Martin’s publicists have attempted to blend with his smoldering on-screen persona that made him a pop idol in the late 1990’s.  Martin has forayed into public affairs before.  He created the “Ricky Martin Foundation” which gave a million dollars’ worth of musical instrument to Puerto Rican public schools. The Foundation is also deeply involved in helping children who are victims of child prostitution and/or pornography, especially in India but also all around the world.  According to Martin, “This is the biggest problem our society is going to face within the next 10 years.”  This Sunday’s op-ed column, however, is the most outspoken Martin has ever become on the issue of LGBT concerns, and is both a measure of his growing maturity and the degree to which the recent horrific murders of gay men on his home island has shaken him in recent days.

December 22, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Decapitation and dismemberment, gay men, gay teens, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, Latino and Latina Americans, Legislation, Matthew Shepard, Media Issues, Popular Culture, Puerto Rico, Social Justice Advocacy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ricky Martin Speaks Out Against Anti-LGBT Hate Violence in Puerto Rico

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

Bowing to Pressure, Puerto Rican Authorities Ready to Investigate Gay Teen Murder As Hate Crime


Family Mourns at López Mercado Funeral, Nueva Dia photo

Boston – EDGE Boston reports Wednesday that the heinous murder of Puerto Rican gay teen, Jorge Steven López Mercado, will be investigated as an anti-LGBT hate crime.  This is a victory for LGBT activists on the island and on the mainland who have repeatedly called for the police to pursue the case as a hate murder.  Pedro Julio Serrano, point person for LGBT activism in Puerto Rico, drew international attention to the heterosexist and homophobic attitude of police investigators who at the onset of the case, blamed the gay youth for his own death.  Serrano and others blasted police investigator Ángel Rodríguez Colón for stating to the press that gay people who live their lives openly can simply expect bad things to happen to them.  Colón was replaced as overseer of the case.  After meeting with representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, Puerto Rican authorities finally have agreed to conduct the investigation as a hate crime murder.  Pointing out that no LGBT person has ever been tried under the provisions of the Puerto Rican hate crimes statute of 2002, the ACLU argued that it was past time for alleged murderers like Juan A. Martínez Matos, who has confessed to slaughtering 19-year-old López Mercado in an anti-gay rage, to be prosecuted as a bias-motivated perpetrator.  Matos is apparently preparing to plead some form of insanity or ‘gay panic’ defense based on accounts of his childhood.  Nueva Dia reports that Henry Ramirez, ACLU executive in Puerto Rico as well as head of the Legal Clinic at the University of Puerto Rico, convinced Puerto Rico Department of Justice Secretary Antonio Sagardía that the time for deflecting the issue of hate crimes against LGBT people in the Commonwealth is long past.  In a statement to the public, Ramirez said, in part, “The ACLU has tried to get the government to accept its responsibility to investigate cases… that are hate crimes, particularly that of young Jorge Steven López Mercado.  We should not be satisfied with the possibility the federal government will do what our government is not interested in doing; which is to protect every citizen.”  The FBI is monitoring events, and may yet intervene in the case with federal charges.  LGBT advocates have long pointed out that the social climate for LGBT Puerto Ricans is hostile.  Conservative Roman Catholic and Protestant attitudes are well-entrenched and powerful throughout most of the Commonwealth.  Heterosexist and homophobic machismo plays a role in pathologizing LGBT people, as well.  Police attitudes are reflective of these negative cultural assumptions.  The López Mercado case may prove to be a watershed for LGBT advocacy in Puerto Rico, and perhaps other places in the Caribbean.  The manner of his death, decapitation, dismemberment, and partial immolation of his body are hallmarks of homophobic rage and bias-motivated hate crime in such obvious ways as to make a hate crime conclusion unavoidable.  López Mercado’s youth also makes this case notable from a media standpoint.  In many ways, Jorge Steven López Mercado may turn out to be Puerto Rico’s Matthew Shepard.

November 26, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, Decapitation and dismemberment, funerals, gay men, gay panic defense, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Legislation, Matthew Shepard, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Puerto Rico, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Bowing to Pressure, Puerto Rican Authorities Ready to Investigate Gay Teen Murder As Hate Crime

Anti-Gay Monument Struck Down

Matthew Shepard


Advocate.com reports that the US Supreme Court has ruled against Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, in their petition to build an anti-gay monument condemning slain LGBT icon, Matthew Shepard.  Phelps wanted to erect the monument in a governmental plaza in Kansas reading, “Matthew Shepard Entered Hell October 12, 1998, in Defiance of God’s warning ‘thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is an abomination.’ Leviticus 18:22.”


Phelps Anti-Gay Monument

Phelps Anti-Gay Monument

The Supremes ruled unanimously that government parks receiving monument donations are under no obligation to accept them all.  Phelps previously attempted to erect a similar monument condemning homosexuality and Matthew Shepard in a city park located in Shepard’s hometown, Caspar, Wyoming.  The city council rejected the offer. 

Shepard, who was openly gay, was brutally murdered by two young men from Laramie where he was attending the University of Wyoming, in October 1998.  The news of the heinous hate crime murder rocked the nation, and awakened millions to the existence of anti-LGBT violence in their own backyards.  Both his attackers, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, are serving life sentences.  To date, no federal hate crimes prevention statutes have been enacted into law.  The Matthew Shepard Act is under consideration during this Congress once again.

March 4, 2009 Posted by | gay men, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Monuments and markers, Remembrances, Wyoming | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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