Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Historic Decision in San Francisco Overturns Prop 8!

l to r: Ted Olson and David Boies

San Francisco, CA – in a landmark decision, Judge Vaughn Walker of the federal bench handed down a keenly anticipated decision yesterday ruling Proposition 8, the 2008 plebiscite on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.  Walker found for the plaintiffs in the case, two same-sex couples, that barring their marriage under the provisions of Proposition 8 is a violation of their due process and equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution.  The attorneys for the plaintiffs, conservative Republican and former Solicitor General of the United States, Ted Olson, and liberal Democrat, David Boies, who once opposed each other during the court battle over the election of George W. Bush in 2000, joined forces to argue to this conclusion.  On the Wednesday edition of the Rachel Maddow Show, Olson and Boies stated that “Equality is both a conservative and liberal issue.”  Their work to press for the overturn of the California law demonstrates that millions of allies for LGBT human rights are working alongside the gay community to win against discrimination in the United States.  The opposition has pledged to appeal the decision, which will ultimately go to the Supreme Court.  Pundits have preliminarily declared that Judge Walker, a President George H.W. Bush appointee to the federal bench, has done a powerful job of establishing the facts of the case–over 80 findings of fact that will make it hard to overturn his decision on appeal.  The Unfinished Lives Project is watching the effect this surge in publicity will have on hate crimes attacks against LGBT people in California and around the nation.  There is a well-established correlation between increased visibility and media coverage of LGBT issues, and violent backlash against vulnerable gay folk.  This landmark decision moves the LGBTQ community one step closer to a more peaceful, equal life for all the citizens of this republic.  The ruling, amounting to 138 pages, is a tour de force of judicial precision.  It is a page turner and worth reading in its entirety.  The entire decision may be found in .pdf by following this link: https://docs.google.com/fileviewid=16CwOdcVWzEocsoGYqbeC0s22vr6bX8udtW3iUe1ol1UZsFRqE3EglP4oFnm4&hl.

August 5, 2010 Posted by | California, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Legislation, Marriage Equality, Politics, Proposition 8, Social Justice Advocacy, U.S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Historic Decision in San Francisco Overturns Prop 8!

Threatening Postcards to Gay Profs Ignite Investigations

Images on hate mail sent to gay professor, John Koster photo for North County Times

San Marcos, CA – Authorities for the county, state, and federal governments launched a co-ordinated investigation last week into menacing postcards being sent to three gay Palomar College professors.  Since mid-2008, 20 postcards threatening murder have been sent to the trio, with 1o of these targeting Dr. Fergal O’Doherty, an open and out gay man who teaches English at the San Marcos campus.  O’Doherty said that FBI agents had contacted him on January 21, informing him that they are carrying out an investigation.  Sending threats through the U.S. Mail is an automatic federal offense.  O’Doherty told Morgan Cook, staff writer for the North County Times, that the cards sent to him have included images of sexual violence and death, the most disturbing of which showed skeletons engaged in sex acts with a repetitive caption reading “I’m glad I’m not dead” 10 times.  The tenth caption omitted the word “dead.”  One of the most recent cards Professor O’Doherty received shows a collage of pop culture images, a Nazi swastika, and a drawing of Elvis Presley sporting devil’s horns.  The caption on this postcard reads, “I want to go to Hell like Elvis.”  Authorities have not yet determined that these cards constitute a hate crime, but colleagues on the Palomar College campus are not waiting for such a determination.  They have founded a group to raise awareness of hate crimes and combat them before they are acted out, called the Palomar College Committee to Combat Hate.  Members of the group are committed to the human rights of LGBT people on the campus.  O’Doherty says that since he is one of the few openly homosexual professors at the 30,000 student community college, located 30 miles north of San Diego, his sexual orientation is probably the magnet for the hate mail.  From the variety of academic and pop culture icons incorporated into the cards, some as eminent as singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen and author Ernest Hemingway, but also including relatively obscure philosophers, O’Doherty speculates that the person creating them is intelligent, well-read, and dangerous.  “[The card-creator] mentions works by writers and philosophers that aren’t even assigned in undergrad classes,” he told the North County Times.  While this is not the first time O’Doherty and other gay faculty have been harassed for their sexual orientation, this is the first time officials have taken the threat seriously.  Even then, when the postcards started appearing, campus police refused to act, apparently believing that they were written by a harmless crank.  With over 13,000 documented violent crimes perpetrated against LGBT people throughout the nation in the decade prior to the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in October 2009, and spiking numbers of anti-LGBT hate crimes in California where Proposition 8 and Marriage Equality are such hotly contested issues, the decision to launch an investigation is more than prudent on the part of law enforcement.  Prevention is possible only when the menace is taken seriously.  That is exactly what Professor O’Doherty knows to be true, as he shows his most recent death threat by mail to the press.

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, California, death threats, FBI, gay men, harassment, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Marriage Equality, Matthew Shepard Act, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Popular Culture, Proposition 8 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Threatening Postcards to Gay Profs Ignite Investigations

Harvey Milk Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

supervisormilk1Washington, DC – Jennifer Vanesco of 365gay.com reports that Harvey Milk, slain San Francisco City Supervisor, will be among 16 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom on August 12, according to the White House.  Milk, gay human rights icon, was shot to death by disgruntled former city supervisor Dan White along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone on November 27, 1978. Milk will be recognized along with Billie Jean King, lesbian tennis great, and a stellar list of others whom the White House calls “agents of change”: Nancy Goodman Brinker, the founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s leading breast cancer awareness organization; Stephen Hawking, the internationally-recognized theoretical physicist; Sen. Edward M. Kennedy; Desmund Tutu; Chita Rivera; Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland; and Sidney Poitier.  Harvey Milk’s profile has risen steadily in the nation since the release of the major motion picture, Milk, directed by gay film maker Gus Van Zandt, and written by gay screen play author Dustin Lance Black.  The timing of the film’s release, during the heat of the marriage equality battle in California over Proposition 8, introduced Milk to a whole new generation of emerging LGBT human rights Presidential-medal-of-freedomadvocates.  Milk’s refusal to “blend in,” his demand that gay people come out openly as a tool of social change, and his willingness to hold accommodationist gay and lesbian leaders as well as straight lawmakers accountable to the gay liberation movement has inspired street activism today on a scale not seen since the 1980s protests over the AIDS crisis during the Reagan Administration.  Now, Cleve Jones, a close associate of Milk’s who is also portrayed in the film, is organizing a national LGBT march on Washington, set for October 10-11, 2009, the first major queer march on the nation’s capitol since 1993.   The Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with the Congressional Gold Medal, are the highest awards that may be given to a civilian in the United States of America.  It is awarded to persons who in the estimation of the President have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”  Milk will be the first victim of an anti-LGBT hate crime murder to be awarded this honor, a significant gesture on President Obama’s part as the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act moves toward enactment into law this fall.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, California, gay men, Hate Crimes, Lesbian women, Marriage Equality, Matthew Shepard Act, Media Issues, Politics, Social Justice Advocacy, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Harvey Milk Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes the Highest Since 1999

Anti-LGBT violence is up 28% in one year

Anti-LGBT violence is up 28% in one year

As Stonewall 40 approaches next week, a New York-based coalition of anti-violence programs reports that bias crimes against LGBT people rose 28% from 2007 to 2008.  The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) confirms the grim trend Unfinished Lives has been reporting for months: hate crimes against members of the sexual minority are not only higher than at any time in a decade, but the degree of brutality in the execution of these crimes has also intensified.  Marcus Franklin of the Associated Press notes for the Huffington Post that the 29 confirmed bias-related murders of queer folk in 2008 reported by the NCAVP matches the number of similar killings it registered in its 1999 report.  The Unfinished Lives Project has noted dramatic increases in anti-LGBT murders and assaults since the latter part of 2008 in California, Michigan, Minnesota, and Tennessee, and has highlighted the extreme savagery of these attacks as in the case of 45 stab wounds in U.S. Army veteran Michael Scott Goucher’s murder in East Stroudsburg, PA, and Duanna Johnson’s shooting death in Memphis, TN.  The Huffpost article issued today quotes Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which co-ordinates the NCAVP nationally with pointing to an increase of violence during the presidential campaign last fall, as well as ominous increases during the high-profile national debates over same-sex marriage, the possible passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and the proposed repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (DADT).  “The more visibility there is the more likely we’re going to see backlash, and that’s exactly what we see here,” Stapel said.  Since the NCAVP reports anti-Transgender hate crimes in distinction from the annual FBI’s hate crimes report that does not, Stapel is able to reference a more accurate picture of the landscape of peril in which LGBT Americans find themselves.  Even so, organizations from only 25 of the 50 states report to the NCAVP, indicating that the

Duanna Johnson, Transwoman, murdered in Memphis

Duanna Johnson, Transwoman, murdered in Memphis

actual number of bias-related hate crimes against LGBT people may be much higher.  Additional factors arguing for higher numbers of these crimes than are reported by either the NCAVP or the FBI are the stigma and despair often associated with violent crimes against queer women and men.  Local law enforcement agencies tend to skew their investigations away from anti-gay or transgender motives as a reflection of the bias rampant in their home locales.  Victims often fear exposure and media scrutiny for themselves and their loved ones, and therefore do not report crimes against their persons.  LGBT victims are often discredited as sources of reliable information and are routinely blamed somehow for their own misfortune.  Finally, as the Unfinished Lives Project has noted in repeated instances, American heterosexism and homophobia have created a climate for LGBT people such that their lives and deaths are valued less than those of other people, causing reports of attacks and murders against them to be far less likely to gain attention.

The high-profile events surrounding Pride 2009 will be a tempting target for hate groups around the country.  At no time since the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998 has the public presence of LGBT people and their allies been more significant than this season.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, California, Hate Crime Statistics, Heterosexism and homophobia, Marriage Equality, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, Tennessee, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes the Highest Since 1999

Hate Crimes Victims Remembered at Dallas Day of Decision Protest

Queer LiberActionHundreds gathered to hear speakers call for protests in the streets to show the determination of the LGBT community to have equal rights.  The Dallas gayborhood rang with with voices of protesters in the largest street demonstration in years along Oaklawn and Cedar Springs.  Blake Wilkinson of Queer LiberAction named Matthew Shepard whose death 10 years ago has not yet been vindicated by federal hate crimes legislation.  He urged protesters to get angry that LGBT advocacy for hate crimes victims is so ineffective that a decade out from the Shepard murder, the queer community still does not have laws protecting LGBT people from being bashed and killed.  Then Wilkinson called on the crowd to channel that anger into effective local, state and national action, starting in the streets, with gay folk taking their message of equality to the people.

The large crowd moved up Cedar Springs Road to TMC, The Mining Company, a popular gay bar on the strip with a large, street side patio, where the rally heard a number of powerful speeches protesting “separate but equal,” second-class status for LGBT Americans.

Dallas Queer LiberAction protest at the Legacy of Love column

Dallas Queer LiberAction protest at the Legacy of Love column (Dallas Voice photo)

May 26, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, gay men, Legislation, Lesbian women, Marriage Equality, Monuments and markers, Popular Culture, Protests and Demonstrations, Social Justice Advocacy, transgender persons | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Hate Crimes Victims Remembered at Dallas Day of Decision Protest

California Senate Approves “Harvey Milk Day,” May 22


By a bipartisan vote of 24-14, the California Senate has approved May 22 as Harvey Milk Day, according to Advocate.Com.  Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the United States, was slain on November 27, 1978 by jealous San Francisco City Supervisor, Dan White, along with Mayor George Moscone. Milk’s murder rocked the gay rights world, and secured a martyr’s respect for the affable politician whose advice to all LGBT activists was “You gotta give ’em hope!”  Milk would have been 79 this coming May 22, the choice of his birthday a deliberate effort to preserve his story and legacy for generations to come.

Harvey Milk Day will be a “Day of Significance” throughout the Golden State.  The designation differs from a state holiday in that state employees will not be given the day off, and state offices will not close.  Nonetheless, the action of the state Senate is unprecedented in recognizing the importance of Milk’s contribution to the struggle for human rights in general, and for LGBT rights in particular.  In view of the controversy surrounding same-sex marriage and Proposition 8, this first annual commemoration becomes even more timely.

Among those testifying in favor of the Harvey Milk Bill was Dustin Lance Black, who received an Academy Award for his screenplay of the film Milk, starring Sean Penn in the title role.  Black expressed his debt to Harvey Milk who kindled hope in him as a Mormon boy in Texas who was isolated and hedged in by anti-gay sentiment.  The sole Republican to join the Senate’s 23 Democrats to vote for the creation of Harvey Milk Day, Senator Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, credited Black’s testimony before the Senate Education Committee with causing him to flip his vote from “no” to “yes.” “I rarely get swayed by testimony,” Maldonado said.

May 15, 2009 Posted by | Bisexual persons, gay men, Lesbian women, Marriage Equality, transgender persons | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on California Senate Approves “Harvey Milk Day,” May 22


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