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

Gay NC Veteran Burned, Beaten, Dies: A Special Comment

Stephen Patrick White, burned and beaten to death, and his alleged assailant, Garry Gupton (insert photo).

Stephen Patrick White, burned and beaten to death, and his alleged assailant, Garry Gupton (insert photo).

Greensboro, NC – A gay veteran of Iraq who was savagely attacked, beaten, and set on fire by a younger man who checked into a hotel with him finally succumbed to his injuries on Saturday. Stephen Patrick White, 46, a well-regarded member of the gay community in Piedmont North Carolina and a patron of Club Chemistry, a popular gay bar in Greensboro, was fatally assaulted by Garry Joseph Gupton, 26, a city employee of the Water Services Department. The two met, according to witnesses at Chemistry, and left the club together late on November 8, as this blog previously reported. They checked in to the Battleground Inn.

White’s injuries were horrendous. He suffered burns over 52 percent of his body, and had large portions of his arms amputated in an attempt to save his life. Gupton was arrested on the scene and charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. The City Water Services Department subsequently fired Gupton from his job as a consequence of the investigation. Now, Gupton is charged with first degree murder. Q Notes reports that the Greensboro police are saying that there is no evidence of a hate crime in this case. The Q Notes report includes this statement from a Greensboro PD spokesperson:

“He (Gupton) never verbalized to us that he intended to kill somebody,” said Susan Danielsen, a Greensboro police spokeswoman. . . . There’s absolutely no evidence to indicate that this is a hate crime.”

She added: “We’re not sure what caused Mr. Gupton to act so violently. This is not a crime motivated by hate.”  

But Danielson could not refrain from adding that while the Greensboro PD are “sure this is not a hate crime,” they have no other explanation for Gupton’s heinous acts, including his use of fire in his deadly attack on White.  “We’re not sure what caused Mr. Gupton to act so violently,” Danielson went on to say to Q Notes. Then, as if she had opened a door she did not want to open, Danielson concluded, “This is not a crime motivated by hate.” 

At this point, all the public has to go on is the assurance of the police that a brutal attack against a gay man who was naked in a hotel room that included a weapon often reserved particularly for the “purification” of “sodomites,” fire, was not a hate crime. Police in the Tarheel State are not permitted to investigate bias-motivated crimes of violence against LGBT people anyway, since the state has refused to include them in its hate crimes statutes. Nonetheless, the police seem eager to rule out hate crime in this instance.

Let us say for the time being they are correct. There was no hate against homosexuality expressed in this crime, explicitly. This, the police are suggesting, was a consensual sexual situation gone terribly bad. Still, the public is left to ask who brought the flammable material into the room? Why was fire used in this case–a give-away for extreme passions and, yes, hatred of the victim targeted in attacks involving burning someone, in this instance as in the instances of thousands of other gay men and lesbians, to death?

However this crime went down in the Gate City, an entire LGBT community is left fearful, shocked, and wondering. Chris Srgo, Executive Director of Equality North Carolina, vocalized the anguish of the statewide community in a statement on Saturday:

“Stephen White’s death is a tragic loss for the Greensboro community and North Carolina. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Stephen’s family. Equality NC promises to follow this investigation closely to ensure that it is thorough and justice is served. The loss of a community member is always tragic, but this loss is unacceptable. As fellow citizens of Greensboro, my husband Ryan and I mourn tonight and stand in solidarity with the LGBT community in Greensboro.” 

Of course, it is wrong to suggest that an obvious marker for homophobia (perhaps internalized homophobia), the use of the torch to burn a gay man (where the despicable term “faggot” originates–the burning at the stake of gay men as if they were dry wood), inevitably leads to the conclusion that Stephen White was attacked so savagely because of his sexual orientation. Yet, is it not also a mistake of equal magnitude to conclude that because the suspect, Gupton, never verbalized that he intended to kill someone that night, he simply went berserk, and finding flammable liquids at hand, thought to use fire as a way to punish his naked pick up for the night?

The North Carolina state motto is “Esse Quam Videri” (“To Be Rather Than To Seem”). Perhaps it would do investigators and lawmakers in Tarheelia well to move beyond what they seem to want to believe in this instance-to the point that they refuse to investigate or legislate even the possibility of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes-, and to answer the nagging question about the motive for the use of fire to kill another gay man the Old North State.

November 19, 2014 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Equality North Carolina, gay veterans, GLBTQ, Greensboro, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, LGBTQ, North Carolina, Special Comments | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gay NC Veteran Savagely Burned, Beaten, Robbed in Downtown Hotel By City Employee

Garry Joseph Gupton, 26, doused his gay victim with fire and beat him into unconsciousness.

Garry Joseph Gupton, 26, doused his gay victim with fire and beat him into unconsciousness.

Greensboro, NC – A decorated gay veteran wounded in Iraq was beaten with a phone, pieces of furniture, a large television, and then set afire by a city employee he met at a local gay bar. 46-year-old Stephen White, a regular customer at Greensboro’s popular gay venue, Chemistry, was discovered naked, savagely beaten, and burned over 52% of his body at the Battleground Inn at approximately 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, November 9, according to Q Notes. Garry Joseph Gupton, a 26-year-old Greensboro city employee, was arrested at the scene and charged with the near-fatal attack. Police are saying that assault was carried out “with intent to kill.” Employees of the bar say that Gupton met White Saturday night and they took a cab from the club. Since White is a well-known patron of Chemistry, everything seemed “normal.” In the aftermath of the attack, the gay community is left speculating that Gupton came hunting for an openly gay man to kill. White’s hand and a portion of his arm had to be amputated because of the severity of his burns at Wake Forest Medical Center in Winston-Salem. He remains in critical care. Hospital officials say that White faces months of surgery, skin grafting, and rehabilitation.

WFMY Television reports that Gupton, a member of the Greensboro City Water Resources crew, has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon, and inflicting serious injury with intent to kill. He was initially being held on $150,000 bond pending further charges. At his first court appearance on Wednesday, Gupton’s bond was increased to $250,000, and he asked for a court appointed attorney to be assigned to him.

White’s friend, Riki Dublin, told WFMY that the brutality of the attack on the Iraq War veteran staggers her imagination. “I am just in awe of the magnitude of the hate that is involved and I truly do not believe this man has a soul. Cause you, I just couldn’t ever imagine any human treating another human like that,” she said. After announcing a fundraiser for White, who does not have insurance, Dublin went on to say, “It’s hard. When you send your son off to war and he comes back, and he comes back injured but he comes back alive and then he is brutally attacked… here on our own dirt, it’s hard to fathom.” The fundraiser was scheduled for the following Saturday to defray White’s massive medical bills.

Stephen White, decorated Iraq War veteran, victimized by savage attack.

Stephen White, decorated Iraq War veteran, victimized by savage attack.

The owner of Chemistry, Drew Woffard, also stepped up, calling upon the Greensboro community to support White, according to The Advocate. In a statement issued to Q Notes, Woffard announced a November 15 benefit at the club, and said, “Stephen has a long road ahead of him but he is a fighter and he is definitely not alone. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we are all fighting for him. Also I remind you to please use caution when leaving our bar or any bar with someone you don’t know. I never would have dreamed something like this would happen here in Greensboro… but let’s make sure it never happens again.” 

The Advocate went on to report that no agency yet plans to charge Gupton with a hate crime, and investigators are not bothering to do so. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force notes that North Carolina’s hate crimes statutes do not include LGBT persons as a protected class. Victims of anti-gay violence like White are left exposed, since North Carolina’s law does not address violence perpetrated against persons because of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

If there ever was a case that screamed “hate crime,” this horrific attack does. The use of fire as a weapon in anti-LGBTQ violence has a long and fearsome history, dating back to the Spanish Inquisition. Scholars have noted a decided uptick in cases of bias-driven hate crimes against lesbians and gay men incorporating fire as a deadly weapon. As Stephen White struggles to recover from this heinous act of violence, and Garry Gupton awaits justice to be meted out as it can be in a state that ignores anti-LGBT crimes, the gay community in the Tarheel State is left to ponder what form of murderous intent would set a young man like Gupton to stalk and purge one of their own with fire.

November 13, 2014 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Bludgeoning, gay men, gay veterans, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, LGBTQ, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, North Carolina | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gay Student Condemned By Church Dies By Suicide

Ben Wood, 21, bullied by Church Youth Leader, takes his own life.

Ben Wood, 21, bullied by Church Youth Leader, takes his own life.

Asheville, North Carolina – William “Ben” Wood was 21 when he died on the floor of his dorm at UNC-Asheville.  Friends who found him said that he was drawn up in a fetal position on May 8, 2013, having slashed open his veins.  The loss of this sensitive, justice-seeking young gay man is a tragedy by most accounts–his friends and school mates say he was a fine student, but in recent months his grades and school performance had plunged.  The university junior couldn’t deal with the prospect of going back to his neighborhood in Asheville without being a student any longer, according to his mother’s account in the Reconciling Ministries Network Blog.  As a teen, he had been irreparably wounded by a Youth Leader at his home church as he prepared to go on a Mission trip with his friends from the United Methodist Youth Fellowship.

His mom, Julie Wood, recounts how the misguided Youth Leader singled out her son for being gay in front of his peers.  The leader said, You all know, we all know, that Ben is gay.  Who here is comfortable being around him?”  Demanding a response from each youth in the group, the Leader then said, “Do you understand that Ben is going to hell?”  Once again, the Youth Leader pressed each youth for an answer about Ben.  Crushed, exposed, and broken by the experience, Ben came home while his UMYF friends left on the bus for the Mission Trip.  His mother, who stalwartly contends that their home church is a loving and supportive place, says that this was the trigger experience she believes led to the suicide of her son a few agonizing years later.  Mrs. Wood writes:

“Ben was told that he was not worthy of going on the mission trip.  He had been shamed, humiliated, and betrayed.  He was told that he did not deserve to be a part of the group.  He was no representative of God. 

Out of our front window, I saw the goldish colored Caviler abruptly whip into our driveway.   Ben ran up the porch steps and stood in the doorway.  One look, and I knew, something horrible had happened.  The flushed sides of his cheeks quivered as did his lip.  His breathing was rapid and his eyes just about to spill over. 

The church bus was loaded with Ben’s friends to go on that mission trip while my betrayed and broken son, walked alone around Salem Lake.   He must have felt so very abandoned and isolated. 

While he never lost his compassion for others, I think that this was the day that he gave up on people and God.” 

Skeptics may argue that there is no clear correspondence between the suicide of a young gay man years after the shaming incident that took place in a church youth group in his teens.  Others will say that the church is basically a loving and supportive place, but is put in a hard situation by teachings like those of the United Methodist Church that send an ambiguous, essentially rejecting message about lesbians and gay people.  On the one hand, the social teachings of the church say that every person, including “homosexuals,” is of “sacred worth.”  On the other, the United Methodist Church stubbornly rejects homosexuality as “incompatible” with Christian teaching–denying ordination and marriage to LGBT people, and defrocking their clergy who carry out same-sex marriage ceremonies, or who live openly as lesbian or gay people.

So, who stands guilty of Ben Wood’s death?  The Youth Minister who was applying what he believed the teachings of his church on homosexuality to be?  Ben’s so-called “friends” who one-by-one (under pressure from an adult leader, of course) abandoned Ben to shame and broken heartedness?  The theologians and clergy of the church, who cannot seem to reconcile the love of God on the one hand, and social heterosexism and homophobia on the other?  And what of Ben’s own responsibility to transcend the suffering of his youth–though this latter argument is little more than blaming a victim for his own demise?

Bens’ obituary says he was a genuine, complex, and worthwhile human being.  The Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel  records that Ben “was a member of Sedge Garden United Methodist Church and was a Junior at UNC-Asheville. Ben had a kind and loving soul, with a great sense of humor. He was particularly compassionate to the needs and struggles of others more than himself and was a great journalist. To his younger sisters, Ben was a great big brother who shared lots of walks in the creeks and scavenger hunts with their stuffed animals.”  The obituary goes on to say that three clergy spoke at his funeral, and that his own maternal grandfather was a clergyman.  But Ben found so little hospitality and comfort from the churches around him and the clergy who served them that he could not and did not reach out to them in his darkest hours.  So, a sensitive, socially conscious young man, who happened to be gay and Christian, took his own life.

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Professor of Practical Theology at Brite Divinity School, and a native North Carolinian himself, issues this opinion and prayer for other young LGBT persons: “The churches and their leadership have much to answer for in the deaths of young people like Ben Wood.  While we may not be able to point to a smoking gun linking the suicide of young persons condemned by church teachings to the culpability of the churches, there is no doubt that Christian heterosexism and homophobia contribute to the climate that denigrates LGBTQ people and creates undue suffering in their lives.  Indeed, there are progressive and welcoming churches and clergy, and for them we give thanks.  But they are too few, and the silence of church people about the prejudice condemning LGBTQ folk is a major contributing factor in the horror of spiritual violence against them.”

Dr. Sprinkle concludes:  “Let us be crystal clear about this: the heterosexism and homophobia Ben Wood experienced in his life is a Christian heresy–one the churches and clergy of every stripe must find the courage to repent of and repudiate.  And we must do everything we can to make amends to youth like Ben, and to their families.”

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Brite Divinity School, Bullycide, gay men, gay teens, GLSEN, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, North Carolina, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, United Methodist Church | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Savage Gay Bashing in Western North Carolina Called “Flat-Out Terrible”

Gruesome result of anti-gay hate crime in Asheville, NC [WBTV-News image].

Asheville, North Carolina – A gay couple was harassed, cursed, and then brutally attacked because of their sexual orientation on September 23, but the repercussions are still being felt in this nominally gay-friendly city.  The Citizen-Times reports that Charlotte gay men  Mark Little and Dustin Martin had anti-gay slurs shouted at them by two women driving a slow-moving car in the early morning hours of a quiet Sunday morning as they walked along Otis street. Martin “had enough” of the epithets, and shouted back at the women to stop.  Little said that at that moment, a black male rushed out of the vehicle and attacked Martin, punching him several times in the chest.  When Little intervened, the assailant turned on him, beating him to the ground and gashing his face.  “I screamed for him to stop, and he hit me in the face on the left side, and blood went everywhere. I was lying on the concrete,” Little told the Citizen-Times. Though three weeks have passed since the homophobic assault, both men say they remain “shaken” and fearful when any car pulls up beside them.

The Asheville Police say very little about the case, since it is still under investigation. Even though there is abundant testimony that the attack was bias-motivated and therefore a hate crime, since North Carolina does not have a gay hate crime provision in the state code, the incident can only be classified as a simple assault. The police do not have suspects in the case, only descriptions of the assailant and the four-door sedan in which he sped from the scene.

According to WBTV-News in Charlotte, Little and his partner Martin are frustrated that the Asheville Police are not taking the attack seriously enough.  “I feel like that when the cop first came on the scene he just felt like it was just an ordinary crime,” Little said. “But what had happened is we were hit just because we were gay.” As On Top Magazine observes, this bashing incident occurred only a few months after the notorious anti-gay Amendment One was passed overwhelmingly by the voters of the Old North State.

In an interview with The Citizen-Times, Monroe Gilmour, coordinator of Western North Carolina Citizens Ending Institutional Bigotry, called the homophobic assault “flat-out terrible.”  Gilmour went on to say, “Our experience over 20 years of working with victims of hate activity is that we need to make sure the targets of this hate do not feel alone. That is why it is so important that we publicly speak out and take constructive action to show that Asheville is about something very different from the hate of that incident.”

The irony of this hate crime is all the more severe since Martin and Little love Asheville, one of North Carolina’s most gay-accepting cities, and have made weekend getaways there regularly from their home in Charlotte.  Now, apparently, no city or town in the state is free of the new tide of right wing, anti-gay hate expressed in Amendment One.

October 14, 2012 Posted by | Amendment One, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, gay bashing, gay men, GLAAD, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, North Carolina, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Matthew Shepard’s Fatal Beating, 14 Years Ago

Matthew Wayne Shepard, (1976 – 1998).

Laramie, Wyoming – October 7 marks the 14th anniversary of the fatal beating of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old gay man who became the icon of the movement to stop anti-gay hate crimes in the United States and around the world. Shepard was bludgeoned senseless with a .357 Magnum pistol and tied to the foot of a buck fence on a cold Wyoming night. Two local men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, picked Shepard up from the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, abducted him to a high ridge outside of the university town, and brutally attacked him.  They stole his shoes.  Blood spatter at the scene covered a fifty foot radius.  Drag marks investigators found indicate that Shepard had to be bodily forced out of the pickup truck cab by his victimizers.  After he was discovered nearly dead the next morning, Shepard was rushed first to Laramie’s emergency facility, and then to Fort Collins, Colorado where he lingered a full five days before dying on October 12, 1998.  He never recovered consciousness.

Rather than leave Matthew as a two-dimensional icon, no matter how compelling, this anniversary, the Unfinished Lives Project offers a video of him taken two years before his death while he was attending Catawba College, a small United Church of Christ affiliated school in Salisbury, North Carolina.  Ironically from our present time, Matthew was interviewed briefly along with his then-boyfriend, Lewis Krider, about the anti-gay policies of North Carolina U.S. Senator, Jesse Helms. For a brief moment, we see and hear the young man whose death raised the world’s consciousness to the horror of hate crimes. Today, the Matthew Shepard Foundation continues the work Matthew surely would have longed to see done for the sake of peace, justice, and human freedom to love and be loved.  An award winning book authored by the founder and director of the Unfinished Lives Project, Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims, opens with a chapter on the struggle to maintain Matthew’s legacy and witness against the forces of right wing revisionism.  Matthew lives on in the hate crimes prevention act that bears his name and the name of James Byrd Jr.  His memory is strong in the LGBTQ community, and he is a continuing inspiration to everyone who loves peace and justice in a violent world.  Rest in peace, Little Brother.  Rest in peace.

October 8, 2012 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Catawba College, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard, Matthew Shepard Act, Matthew Shepard Foundation, North Carolina, Senator Jesse Helms, Social Justice Advocacy, U.S. Senate, Unfinished Lives Book, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Matthew Shepard’s Fatal Beating, 14 Years Ago

Anti-Gay Sect Leader Pleads Guilty for Murdering 4-Year-Old Boy and Adult Woman

Jadon Higganbothan, 4, (l) shot for allegedly being gay, and Antoinette McKoy, 28, (r) murdered for being unable to bear children.

Durham, North Carolina – The leader of an anti-gay sect has pleaded guilty to murder for killing a 4-year-old boy because he thought the toddler was gay, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Peter Lucas Moses, 27, the leader of a polygamous group known as the “Black Hebrews,” has agreed to testify against his mother, brother, and sister in order to avoid the death penalty for himself. He faces two life sentences for the murders of Jadon Higganbothan, 4, and Antoinette Yvonne McKoy, 28, if convicted of the crimes.

WRAL-TV reports that members of the Black Separatist cult addressed Moses as “Lord,” and lived together in a house in Southeast Durham. In October 2010, because he believed he saw Higganbothan touch one of his sons “inapproriately” (the boy had allegedly spanked Moses’ son on the bottom), he ordered the boy’s mother to take him into the garage, where Moses shot the child in the head.  The women in the group had arranged computer speakers in the garage to play the Lord’s Prayer in Hebrew loudly enough to drown out the sound of the gunshot.  Two months later, when Moses found out that his consort McKoy could not have children and had decided to escape the cult, he shot her to death in a bathroom of the house.  On June 8, 2011, investigators found the bodies of Higganbothan and McKoy buried in trash bags in the basement of another house belonging to the sect.  Moses’ fingerprints were found on the tape used to secure the trash bags, and his handgun was proven to have been used in both murders.

The father of the little boy, Jamiel Higganbothan, told WRAL-TV News that he was furious the District Attorney had offered Moses a plea deal to save his life. “Me and my family wanted the death penalty,” Higganbothan said after the deal was announced. Moses’ brother, P. Leonard Moses, his sister, Sheila Moses, and his mother, Sheilda Harris, have been charged with accessories to the murder of Antoinetta McKoy. Jadon’s mother, Vania Sisk, and two other women who lived with Peter Moses, Larhonda Renee Smith and Lavada Quinzetta Harris, have been charged with murder in McKoy’s killing, and as accessories to the murder of the little boy.

The Black Hebrews, according to the SPLC, have roots going back to Black Separatist  and Black Nationalist movements in the 19th century.  They hold that they, not the Jews, are the true descendants of the Israelites in the Hebrew Bible.  While most members of the modern movement in the United States are non-violent, a growing number of cells have become increasingly anti-Semitic, anti-gay, and prone to violence. They hold that modern Jews are imposters. These extremists also condemn whites for enslaving Blacks, and say that they are worthy of death or slavery because of it.

June 14, 2012 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Anti-Semitism, Black Hebrews, GLBTQ, gun violence, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Mistaken as LGBT, North Carolina, religious hate speech, religious intolerance | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Anti-Gay Sect Leader Pleads Guilty for Murdering 4-Year-Old Boy and Adult Woman

Dallas Gay Community Rallies for Marriage Equality

Senior Pastor of Cathedral of Hope Dallas, Dr. Jo Hudson and GET EQUAL Texas Regional Director, Daniel Cates speak out for human rights and marriage equality (Dallas Voice photo).

Dallas, Texas – A swiftly gathered crowd of nearly a hundred people converged on the crossroads of the LGBTQ community in Dallas on Wednesday to speak out in support of President Barack Obama who publicly declared his decision to endorse same-sex marriage in the United States.  Called together at the Legacy of Love Monument by Daniel Cates, Regional Director of GET EQUAL Texas to protest the victory of the anti-gay marriage amendment to the North Carolina state constitution, events in Washington, D.C. caused Cates to recast the rally in support of President Obama’s endorsement of Marriage Equality for all Americans.

The crowd was a rainbow cross-section of the LGBTQ and Allied community in North Texas: activists and organizers, clergy and lay leaders from churches and synagogues, journalists and television reporters, enthusiastic gays, lesbians, transgender and bisexual people, straight allies, and some plainly curious about what all the flag waving, speeches, and homemade signs were all about. Messages were strong.  Cates read the words of slain gay San Franciscan Harvey Milk, to rally the crowd to recruit others to the cause of “100 percent equality” for LGBTQ people. Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson, Senior Pastor at Dallas’s Cathedral of Hope, set the tone for this historic day, declaring that for the first time in history, a sitting United States President has declared his support for same-sex marriage.  Dr. Hudson quoted the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying today the “long arc of history” had bent a significant distance toward justice.

The Dallas Voice reports that Dallas Stonewall Democrats President Omar Narvaez thanked President Obama, saying he was proud “to say that President Obama has evolved.”  Narvaez encouraged the crowd to become politically involved in support of progressive Democratic candidates up and down the slate this November.  Rafael McDonnell of the Resource Center of Dallas, called by Cates “the most important and effective rights activist in North Texas,” said that this day was a “rainbow-colored, neon-lighted, star spangled, red letter day” in the struggle for human rights. Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, Professor at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth and Theologian-in-Residence at Cathedral of Hope, told the cheering rally that President Obama’s public declaration of support was the most powerful reply to the victory of Amendment One in North Carolina that he could imagine.  Citing his admiration for the amazing campaign of the NC NAACP to defeat Amendment One in his home state, Sprinkle called upon the crowd to reach out to African Americans, Latinos and Latinas, Asian Americans, women, and other marginalized groups in the nation who are the LGBTQ community’s “natural allies.”  “We need to let President Obama know that when the extremist right wing strike out at him, which they surely will, we in the LGBTQ community will have his back!” he declared.

Other speakers, including leadership from Equality Texas, local bloggers, and members of the crowd who had a word to speak, called upon Texans to remember that they have much to do in the Lone Star State to win equality here at home.  Dr. Hudson said, “There will come a time when Lesbian couples and Gay couples will marry each other in justice of the peace offices, courthouses, and churches right here in Texas!”   As the Dallas Voice reports, “Many [attendees] shared stories of losing loved ones and not having any rights to keep their things or claim their true relationship, while others shared stories of progress in uniting an anti-gay neighborhood and overcoming their own struggles for equality.”  The gathering sang the great Civil Rights theme song, “We Shall Overcome,” holding hands as the Dallas traffic sped by.

The news organizations such as the local Fox News affiliate, NBC Channel 5, and CW 33 Dallas/Fort Worth News covered the event with video cameras rolling.  Their presence shows the far-reaching significance of the news made by President Obama and the LGBTQ community of North Texas.

May 10, 2012 Posted by | African Americans, Amendment One, Brite Divinity School, Cathedral of Hope, Dallas Stonewall Democrats, Equality Texas, GET EQUAL Texas, GLBTQ, Latino and Latina Americans, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, North Carolina, North Carolina NAACP, President Barack Obama, Protests and Demonstrations, Resource Center of Dallas, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dallas Gay Community Rallies for Marriage Equality

The Outrage of Pulpit Homophobia: A Special Comment By a Baptist

Sean Harris (l), caught in the act of pulpit bullying.

Fayetteville, North Carolina – Pastor Sean Harris did not make news around the blogosphere because he preaches against gay people. He should have, of course, and been opposed for it. But homophobic messages from American pulpits are given passes every Sunday of the world. Because he got caught fanning the flames of homophobic bullying against children, however, he has become an infamous example of what can no longer be tolerated in any pulpit anywhere. In a sermon at Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, home to Fort Bragg, Pastor Harris shouted that any “limp-wristed” boy acting like a girl should be punished with physical violence.  His wrist should be “cracked” and he should receive the blows of his father’s fists, the preacher said with great enthusiasm.  Girls were not left out of his sights, either.  Pastor Harris went on the say that girls could “play sports,” but they were supposed to conform to his notions of what a girl looked like, dressed like, acted like, and “smelled like.”

“Smelled like”? Pastor Harris’s sermon does not pass the “smell test.”  Love of God and neighbor are apparently foreign to him, and the shouts of affirmation he received as he preached his homophobic message had nothing to do with the Good News. His message of harsh punishment smells like something dying, not something being born again. Sadly, there are too many like him in the pulpits of this nation, so-called men of God who give God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit a bad name.

It doesn’t take a theologian to know what Pastor Harris is up to.  He is trying to say that God hates gay people, even those in the larval stage. He is a strong supporter of North Carolina’s proposed anti-difference amendment to the state constitution, Amendment One, which will be voted on shortly in the Old North State.  Same-sex marriage is already illegal in North Carolina, but pulpit politicians like Harris want to inscribe discrimination in the constitution of the only southern state in the country that has had the good sense not to do so yet.  So, Pastor Harris feels free to advocate violence against children who are stereotypically suspected of being gay.

Pastor Harris is abusing his pulpit in the name of a homophobia embedded within him, and which he reads back into scripture and Christian faith–a practice that is controversial at the very least, and has been repeatedly shown to be false by ministers, scripture scholars, and church leaders for decades.  It is the oldest ministerial slight-of-hand in the Christian faith: find an outcast group it seems safe to demean, then proof text a Bible verse to support your bias (but be sure to wash your hands of the violence your words inspire and the attacks people you instigate carry out!).  Jews, Blacks, women, and now gay people and their supporters in North Carolina know all about it.  And it is no longer tolerable or acceptable for other Christians to put up with silently any longer.  Where is the outcry from clergy?  From church members who know better? Where is the demand that religion based bigotry must stop?  Where are the voices of school administrators, teachers, and school board members who know full well that attitudes and advocacy like Harris’s lead to children being bullied to death in classrooms and school playgrounds?

Pastor Harris now says he wants to “retract” his advice about parental violence against their children.  But he defiantly affirms that he still hates sinners like gay people, calling them “abominations,” homophobic biblicism’s shorthand for the worst curse imaginable.  I would hope he changes his mind and heart about his fellow human beings, the ones God loves just as much as God loves his Berean Baptist flock.  But I am not holding my breath until he does.  I have worked educating ministerial students, speaking on panels in schools and universities, and writing on the role religion based homophobia plays in hate crimes for decades, and these two things I have learned about “true believers” like this pulpit abuser: You cannot take out of a person by rationality what rationality did not put into him. Neither can appeals to humanity change a heart of stone.

Though I suspect he would argue with me until Judgement Day, I know that every child is precious in the sight of God–even those who will one day identify as gay, lesbian, transgender, or something else.  God doesn’t make junk.  And, contrary to the homophobia he was taught somewhere and seems to have swallowed whole, being gay, just like being straight, is a gift from God, too.

One other thing is sure: what Pastor Harris is preaching about the gender identity and expression of children did not come from God.

Here is a scripture that came to me while I was listening to Pastor Harris’s diatribe in the guise of a sermon: John 11:35 – “Jesus wept.”  ~ Rev. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Baptist minister and professor of Practical Theology in Fort Worth, Texas

May 2, 2012 Posted by | Amendment One, Bullycide, Bullying in schools, gay bashing, gender identity/expression, Gender Variant Youth, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, Internalized homophobia, LGBT teen suicide prevention, North Carolina, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Special Comments, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gay Bashing Targets Two North Carolina Women

Sarabeth Nordstrom and Erin Johnston, brutally attacked by homophobes in Boone, North Carolina (Q Notes image)

Boone, North Carolina – Two women perceived to be lesbians were targeted by anti-gay violence at a fast food restaurant in Boone, North Carolina.  Sarabeth Nordstrom and Erin Johnston, a junior exercise science major at Appalachian State University, were verbally harassed with anti-lesbian slurs at the restaurant on February 11 by two females and a male, according to Q Notes.  When Nordstrom and Johnston left for home, the lone male and one of the female harassers followed them.  According to Equality North Carolina, the male initiated the attack upon the women at approximately 2:30 a.m. in the parking lot of the apartment complex where the victims lived.  Nordstrom was struck in the face repeatedly, sustaining a broken nose, eye socket, and cheekbone.  Johnston was knocked to the ground when she tried to call 911 for help, and stomped again and again. Her ribs were broken, her meniscus was torn, and she suffered wounds to her mouth and her nasal cartilage.  They were treated at Watauga Medical Center and released.

The victims said they had never met their assailants prior to the incident.  The alleged main attacker, Ketoine Jamahl  Mitchell, 19, turned himself into Boone Police, and was charged with two counts of assault on a woman, one count of assault inflicting serious injury, and one count of assault with a deadly weapon.  Brooklyn Lacrossa Canter, 18, was arrested in early March, and charged with aiding and abetting the assault.  Mitchell, who has a larceny record in Caldwell County, is being held in the Watauga Detention Center on a $6,000 secure bond, according to The Appalachian Online. Authorities have set April 17 for the first court appearance of Mitchell and Canter.

As Equality North Carolina points out, there is no hate crimes protection for lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, and transgender people in the state law codes.  Since this savage attack, ENC has agitated for the passage of the Safer Communities Act by the NC State Legislature, which specifies LGBT people as a protected class from physical harm.  Since anti-gay slurs were shouted by the assailants at the victims during the harassment and attack, by definition this was a hate crime–one law enforcement authorities in North Carolina are not yet equipped to acknowledge or combat.

The Appalachian State community has rallied to the support of the victims.  On March 2, a University Forum addressed the question of violence against gay people and women, and on March 5 a benefit was held to give the women a hand with their expenses since the attack.  A petition to Governor Bev Perdue and the state legislature to amend the NC hate crimes statutes is collecting signatures on Change.org, and can be accessed here.  A Facebook page has been created in support of the petition.

April 1, 2012 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Appalachian State University, Beatings and battery, Equality North Carolina, gay bashing, GLBTQ, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, North Carolina, Slurs and epithets, Stomping and Kicking Violence | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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