Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

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”

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

Gay and Baptist: How an Oxymoron May Save the Church Yet

The Rev. Maurice "Bojangles" Blanchard, Baptist minister arrested for attempting to marry his spouse in Kentucky [USAToday image]

The Rev. Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard, Baptist minister arrested for attempting to marry his spouse in Kentucky [USAToday image]

Louisville, Kentucky – An ordained gay Baptist preacher and his life partner who were refused a marriage license in Jefferson County accepted arrest rather than betray their Christian conviction that anti-gay laws are unjust. By implication, the Rev. Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard and his husband, Dominique James, both members in good standing in a local Baptist congregation, stood in contradiction to the widely held cultural and spiritual assumption that gay people are “abominations” before God, and should have none of the common rights to marriage afforded to all other citizens by the civil state.  Despite the shockwaves their non-violent protest is sending throughout evangelical Protestantism and Baptist life in particular, their act of conscience may save the church yet.

The facts of the protest action carried out by the Rev. Bojangles and Dominique are these:  on Tuesday, January 22, the couple, wearing crosses on their ski caps, requested a license to marry from the Clerk’s Office, and were refused. When asked why she refused them, Ms. Sandy Byerly, manager of the license office, said that she was upholding the law of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, which wrote anti-gay discrimination into the state constitution in 2004 by an amendment saying that “only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be a marriage in Kentucky,” according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.  Further, any clerk who willfully defies state law and issues a marriage license to a same-sex couple anyway will be removed from office and is subject to a year in jail.  After the refusal by the clerk, the gay couple staged a peaceful pray-in until they were arrested and charged with trespassing at 5 p.m., when the clerk’s office closed for the day.  Offered the option of being cited for the offense rather than being arrested, the Baptist preacher and his spouse told the Metro Police officer that they had a “spiritual obligation” to resist the injustice of a law that denied them their civil right to marriage.  As the Rev. Bojangles said prior to entering the clerk’s office, “If we don’t act, we are accomplices in our own discrimination. We have to resist.”  The couple was led to a waiting patrol car, and were transported to the Metro Corrections Center where they were booked.  Jefferson County Clerk Bobbi Holsclaw told reporters that the ordained minister and his spouse were protesting in the wrong place. Instead of disturbing the clerk’s office, she said, they should instead have taken their argument up with the state legislature.

Selah (Hebrew for “pause”–found in the Book of Psalms).

The vast majority of Christians in the United States consider themselves law-abiding citizens, and shy away from public acts that defy law and order.  Among ordained ministers, the aversion to any controversial word or deed, inside or outside of the congregation, is particularly high.  Preachers, by-and-large, consider the office of prophet to be a historic artifact of First Testament history, not an obligation for modern spiritual shepherds.  Prophetic action of the sort the good Reverend took in the county clerk’s office is decidedly not a career enhancing choice.  Controversy in the ministry can get ministers fired, and their families booted out of the parsonage.

The Rev. Bojangles knew all of that–but he acted anyway, in obedience to the spiritual dictates of his conscience and in solidarity with LGBTQ people in over thirty states where same-sex marriage has been outlawed by constitutional amendment. As he told the Courier-Journal, he felt anxiety about the prospect of arrest, but he and his spouse of six years were “trusting in God and deeply called to do this.”  They faced the humiliation and degradation of the refusal in the clerk’s office, they said, in order “to stand up for ourselves and countless others.”

Selah, again.

Gay Baptist spouses stage peaceful pray-in until arrested in Jefferson County Clerk's Office

Gay Baptist spouses stage peaceful pray-in until arrested in Jefferson County Clerk’s Office

Both gay men are members of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, the church that ordained Bojangles in May of last year.  Highland’s Pastor, the Rev. Joe Phelps, said that Bojangles and Dominique let him know what they were going to do prior to the peaceful protest. Pastor Joe also acknowledged that he understood there would be considerable friction for the church because of what these two Baptists were intending to do.  Yet, neither he nor the good Baptists of Highland Church have flinched at the storm of publicity whipped up since their Timothy (a term for a member ordained by a local church to the ministry, harking back to the example of the Apostle Paul’s protégé Timothy) and his husband withstood the anti-gay, anti-same-sex marriage law. In a public statement to the church and the world at large, Pastor Joe wrote on January 24, “As for my reaction to Bojangles and Dominique’s action: I’m proud to pastor a church where members are willing to put their reputations on the line in order to challenge unjust laws in a manner that is respectful and non-violent.”

While Christians and others of good conscience may justly disagree over the specifics of the deeds of Bojangles and Dominique, and in general oppose one another’s views on same-sex marriage and the status of LGBTQ people in the church of Jesus Christ, Pastor Joe said he had to stand with his parishioners, and he believed that their sisters and brothers in the faith should, as well. “And I do believe that the laws against same-sex marriage are unjust,” he went on to say. “We experienced the consequence of this just last week, when the five-year partner of a man in critical condition in the ER had to wait several hours until a ‘legitimate’ next-of-kin arrived before being told that he had died on the scene.”

Pastor Joe concluded, “There can be debate about whether the arrest is good or bad for the cause of civil rights for LGBT persons, but that they acted with integrity and the convictions of their hearts cannot be debated.”

Such words and deeds are rare in any Christian circles these days, on the so-called religious right or progressive left.  Matter of fact, putting words like “gay,” “ordained Baptist minister,” and “civil disobedience” together affirmatively in the same sentence feels like a bald-faced oxymoron: a brain-aching contradiction in terms! But given the damage done to the lives, psyches, and families of LGBTQ people in the name of religion, decisive action to reverse the course of prejudice in the faith community looks essential, if the church is to be true to its Savior and its own soul.  These days, encounters with such amazing oxymorons may be the only way the church can be awakened to its true role in society: speaking and acting FOR the underdogs of this world, and not against them.

Leander E. Keck's "Who is Jesus?"

Leander E. Keck’s “Who is Jesus?”

Some might call the stand Pastor Joe, the Rev. Bojangles, and Br. Dominique took as action “for the sake of Jesus Christ” as well as for the underdogs of today’s world. Professor of New Testament Leander E. Keck wrote in his landmark book, Who Is Jesus? History in Perfect Tense, that voluntarily becoming despicable in the eyes of society is a powerful characteristic of taking up Jesus’ work among the outcast and the despised of every age–in effect, facing the risks “for Jesus’ sake.”  Of such courageous souls, Keck notes, “Such persons usually do not talk of their own suffering but talk of others’ for whose sake they are ready to accept what may befall them.”  In this day and age, these words could have been penned expressly for oxymoronic Baptist preachers and those who cherish them who stand up to the opprobrium heaped on LGBTQ people.  “Such voluntarily suffering,” Keck wrote, “has two names: one is love, the other is Jesus–in perfect tense” (p. 183).

Will the real Christians of this age please stand up?  Some are, apparently, accepting despicable consequences on behalf of the outcasts, and “for Jesus’ sake,” as well.

Amen.

January 27, 2013 Posted by | Baptist Church, gay men, GLBTQ, Kentucky, KY, Law and Order, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Maurice "Bojangles" Blanchard, Protests and Demonstrations, Public Theology, religious intolerance, Same-sex marriage, Social Justice Advocacy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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

   

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