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Matthew Shepard: 13 years ago today

6 Oct

On October 7, 1998, Aaron Kreifels was riding his bike through a field in Wyoming. He wasn’t expecting that day to be different from any other beautiful sunny afternoon in the vast plains surrounding Laramie, but that day would change many lives.

Aaron spotted what he initially thought was a scarecrow next to a fence. Then he noticed a glisten of blood. The sun sparkled on what he barely recognized as a face. What Aaron had discovered was the 22 year-old Matthew Shepard, clinging to life.

Most of you know what happened next. Matthew held on for five more days and as his parents held his hand and prayed, Matthew slipped away quietly on October 12th, leaving in his wake a new movement for equality.

The outcries for justice and for greater protections were immediate and resonating.

Since then, Matthew’s mother Judy has made it her personal mission to protect all young LGBT people from Matthew’s horrific fate. In founding the Matthew Shepard Foundation, she has created safe spaces in and outside of schools for kids, and worked with parents to ensure their children learn to erase hate from their lives.

But overwhelmingly what you saw in 1998 was a community ready to act, ready to change something. And Matthew’s story was the catalyst for that. Many of you have seen or read the Moises Kaufman play, The Laramie Project – Matthew’s story as told through interviews of those who were living in Laramie at the time – some of his friends and some who just happened to be riding a bike through the plains of Wyoming that day. If you think of nothing else today, please consider the importance of telling your story – how your story can change the world around you.

This young boy, unbeknownst to him, has changed the world with his.

TN Principal Assaults Student for Wearing Pro-Gay T-Shirt

4 Oct

Sequoyah HS principal Maurice Moser assaulted student for wearing pro-gay t-shirt

A few weeks ago, we brought you the story of Sequoya High School in Tennessee, where senior Nathan Carroll was attempting to start a Gay Straight Alliance.

After starting a petition in the school for the GSA, Nathan was threatened with suspension should he continue to pursue that course of action. I followed up by speaking with Principal Maurice Moser, who informed me that the only reason the GSA was not possible was due to the fact they couldn’t find a faculty sponsor. Moser went on to accidentally inform me that he’d assisted other clubs with finding one, and when I pressed him to find out why he wasn’t helping these students, he became very flustered and combative.

Today, the ACLU is reporting that Principal Moser has assaulted one of his students for wearing a t-shirt promoting the Gay Straight Alliance. 17-year old senior Chris Sigler was reportedly shoved, bumped in the chest and verbally harassed by Moser for wearing the t-shirt that said “GSA: We’ve got your back.”

“It is totally unacceptable that a young man who was peacefully exercising his First Amendment rights would have his speech shut down by the public school principal,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “Last week’s incident clearly illustrates the hostile environment LGBT students face at Sequoyah High School. Given this context, it’s especially important that supportive voices like Sigler’s can be heard in order to overcome the school’s resistance to a GSA.”

According to the ACLU press release, a teacher ordered Sigler to cover up the shirt in the future after he wore it Tuesday. Sigler, knowing he had a right to wear the shirt, wore it again Friday, and resisted an order to remove the shirt. Sigler says that Moser then ordered all students out of the classroom, except for Sigler’s sister Jessica, who refused to leave. According to both students, Moser then grabbed Sigler’s arm, shoved him, and chest-bumped him repeatedly while asking “Who’s the big man now?” Sigler’s mother reported that when she arrived at the school, she saw her son seated in a desk with Moser leaning over him and shouting in Sigler’s face. The Siglers filed a report about the incident that afternoon with the Madisonville Police Department.

“All I want is to have a GSA at my school to help stop the bullying against gays and lesbians and their friends who support them,” Sigler said. “The shirt was a way to use my voice and show my support for the club. The way I was treated shows even more why we need a GSA here.”

“All students deserve a safe and respectful learning environment. Harassment, abuse or censorship of any student – regardless of sexual orientation – is absolutely reprehensible as well as illegal,” said Amanda Goad, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “We expect the police to investigate this quickly and fairly, and take statements from all witnesses who were present.”

The ACLU has sent a demand letter to the school district can be viewed here.

Though the ACLU can only really protect these students’ constitutional rights, this physical and verbal intimidation from the principal of the school must be met with stronger action and a call for the principal’s resignation. If the story is true, Moser should be arrested and charged with assault as a hate crime. If this is the example being set for students in a time when bullying has become fatal, this is a man who should not be in charge of a school.

Sources say that the anti-gay hatred in Monroe County runs deep. One source claimed that churches in the area were telling parishioners to fight the GSA as hard as they can. Another source indicated that religious corruption has dictated governmental affairs there for a long time.

The Tennessee Equality Project has created a Change.org petition demanding a full and fair investigation into the assault. It seems when the Monroe County Sheriff questioned individuals involved in the incident, he left out the only non-participatory witness, Chris’ sister. The petition states:

“The Sigler family filed report about the assault which is being investigated by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department. Deputies interviewed Chris Sigler, his teacher and Principal Mosby, but did not question Jessica Sigler who witnessed the entire incident. Given the level of intimidation and hostility that GSA-supportive students have experienced in recent weeks, TEP believes that the Sheriff is not fully and fairly investigating the assault of Chris Sigler by his Principal by leaving a key witness out of the investigation.”

Please sign the petition to demand a fair investigation into Chris’ assault.

Please check out our investigation and update to this story here.

Christian Pastor Orders Assault on Gay Son Attempting to Enter Church

3 Oct

Jerry Pittman Jr and his boyfriend Dustin Lee

Last Wednesday night, Jerry Pittman Jr. and his boyfriend Dustin Lee went to visit Jerry’s father’s church – The Grace Fellowship Church in Humboldt, TN.  When they pulled up in their car, Jerry heard someone shout “Sick ’em” and his uncle and two other deacons ran for the car and began attacking the couple.

The New Civil Rights Movement reports that while beating the two young men through the windows of the car, the deacons were heard shouting anti-gay language. In an interview with WBBJ TV, an ABC affiliate – the men told reporters that when police arrived, they refused to take a statement from them or allow them to press charges. There were twenty churchgoers standing outside the church as the attack occurred and not a single “Christian” attempted to stop the assault.

WBBJ Reports:

“My uncle and two other deacons came over to the car per my dad’s request. My uncle smash me in the door as the other deacon knocked my boyfriend back so he couldn’t help me, punching him in his face and his chest. The other deacon came and hit me through my car window in my back,” said Pittman. He said bystanders did not offer assistance. He said the deacon yelled derogatory homosexual slurs, even after officers arrived. He said the officers never intervened to stop the deacons from yelling the slurs.

Once officers arrived, the deputy on the scene additionally refused to stop the church-going folk and deacons continue to shout anti-gay slurs at the couple.

The couple has filed charges against the deacons and Pastor Pittman. The Sheriff in the interview, as you will see takes no time to place potential blame on the gay couple. One has to wonder if he would do the same thing if a rape victim came to him.

See the full video here.


							

Texas Teacher Harassed by “Christian” Student Claiming 1st Amendment Rights

28 Sep

Dakota Ary

Some of you may have heard about Dakota Ary, the Fort Worth high school student who claims he was suspended for expressing his religious beliefs. Ary claimed that his German teacher broached the topic of homosexuality and Christianity when Ary stated “I am a Christian and I believe that homosexuality is wrong.” Ary was then sent from the classroom and suspended for 3 days.

Up until today, the teacher in question had not been allowed to speak about the incident, but via the group LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S., a rather different story is being told. According to teacher Kristopher Franks, a group of four students, (of which Ary is one) has been harassing him based on their suspicion that he is gay. Franks’ version of the story follows:

On the particular day in which this incident occurred, Mr. Franks was opening class when the topic of Christianity in Germany was broached by one student, who asked what churches were there, another whether they read the Bible in English, etc. Franks asserts that the topic of homosexuality was not broached in any way, and that Ary‘s assertions to the contrary are entirely false. At this point, Ary declared, with a class audience, “Gays can’t be Christians; homosexuality is wrong,” looking directly at Mr. Franks. Franks says he understands and affirms students’ right to free speech, and that he is perfectly prepared to lead a respectful discussion on topics such as gay rights that allows for the assertion of opinions with which he disagrees. He has led such discussion in the past in his sociology classes. But in this case, hr feels the context makes it clear that this remark was made ad hominem, aimed specifically at him to devalue him and any information he might share on the topic of religion, on the basis of his perceived sexual orientation.

LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S. goes on to request assistance in making sure Franks’ side of the story is heard fully. The contact info will be at the end of this post. One can’t help but consider the case of another student who took it upon himself to spread his beliefs about homosexuality while still young, impressionable and naive. We’ve written about Ryan Miner here before and his crusade to keep a Gay Straight Alliance group from forming on his former college campus. Miner  said some rather vile things in the press and like former Senator Rick Santorum, he now finds himself with a Google problem.

When Miner has applied for jobs, he’s admittedly found a great deal of difficulty in getting hired due to his previous bigoted statements. In this day and age, let’s face it – unless you’re working at the National Organization for Marriage, you will have to work with some LGBT people – and who wants to hire someone who is a known bigot and will likely cause friction among their coworkers? Miner has recently issued an apology for the things he said, though in an effort to discover Miner’s earnestness, we requested he do more (i.e. volunteer for an LGBT charity, donate to LGBT causes, etc). Our requests for Miner to back-up his new found “respect” for the LGBT community have gone unanswered.

Please read the rest of the post from LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S and help in any way you can.

It would be very helpful, and a grace rendered to the threatened teacher, Mr. Franks, if you and other community members would write letters and/or email messages to the school board members, assistant superintendent, and Western Hills High School principal, calling on them to give a respectful, caring, and full hearing to Mr. Franks’ side of the story. Time is of the essence: He is being interrogated by an external investigations group today, though no specific allegations have yet been made against him by the ISD. I will post their names, phone numbers and email addresses below. Please keep all messages respectful and restrained, calling simply for a fair, respectful and caring hearing of Mr. Franks’ side of the story, unswayed by the public outcry generated by the slanted media coverage. Do not go into the speculations or reports of his side of the case; that is for him to present.

Walter Dansby
Interim Superintendent
Fort Worth ISD
Email: walter.dansby@fwisd.org
Phone: 817.871.2000

James Wellman
Principal
Western Hills High School
Fort Worth ISD
Email: james.wellman@fwisd.org
Phone: 817.815.6000

Ray Dickerson
President
Board of Education
Fort Worth ISD
Email: ray.Dickerson@fwisd.org

Carlos Vasquez
Board Member, District 1
Board of Education
Fort Worth ISD
Email: carlos.vasquez@fwisd.org

Norman Robbins
Board Member, District 7
Board of Education
Fort Worth ISD
Email: norman.robbins@fwisd.org

Husband and Child of Hate Crime Victim Shut Out By Mississippi Laws

7 Sep

James Craig Anderson

On June 26th, a group of white teens beat and then ran James Craig Anderson over with their truck. A witness said one of the teens shouted out “White Power!” as they drove the truck over Anderson. Obviously the teens are being charged with a hate crime.

19-year old Daryl Dedmon is one of the teens being charged with the crime after bragging to friends later that night. In his description of the events to his pals, Dedmon used racial slurs. The Southern Poverty Law Center is reportedly working with the family and their lawyer to investigate whether some of the teenagers involved may have ties to a gang with white-supremacist leanings.

Anderson’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit agains the teenagers police say are responsible for the hate crime.

Ironically, under Mississippi law, Anderson’s partner of 17 years – who he was raising a 4-year old daughter with – cannot participate in the lawsuit. As their laws do not recognize same-sex partnerships, James Bradfield and his daughter will see no justice in the brutal murder of a beloved husband and father.

If a Trans Person is Murdered and No One Notices, Did It Happen?

29 Aug

About a year ago, I heard the term “cisgender” for the first time. Naturally, I looked it up and it describes “individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity.” i.e. – the opposite of transgender or intersex.

In my personal journey to be accepted, understood and embraced as a gay person and understanding that I am a part of the “LGBT Community,” I have frequently felt a disconnect both personally and as a member of this group between the LGB and the T.

While this divide has become clear from the actions of political leaders who advocate for the stripping of transgender people from anti-discrimination legislation, I have personally lived in a place of misinformation and undereducation on the plight of my own transgender brothers and sisters – and that must change.

Over the past several months years decades, the lives of transgender people have been seen as nothing more than disposable by our elected representatives, law enforcement, and even members of our own community. Transgender people have faced abuses far greater than so many in our country and the blatant brutality against them is not only ignored but accepted and mocked by those who should be protecting us all.

Last week, two trans women were shot by an off-duty DC Metro police officer. He had an altercation with the women and their friends in a CVS before the shooting took place. W Police said Officer Kenneth Furr stood on the hood of his car and shouted “I’m gonna kill you,” and fired 5 shots into their car. Three people were injured and luckily none of those injuries were life-threatening. Furr has been charged with a DWI and “assault with a deadly weapon.” I can’t help but think someone screaming “I’m gonna kill you,” and then firing a gun at you should probably fall under the “attempted murder” umbrella, but he’s a cop and the two women were transgender so I guess we’ll let it slide this time…

(l) NY firefighter Taylor Murphy (r) Transgender Model Claudia Charriez

Apparently yesterday, one of New York’s “finest,” a firefighter featured in the famous New York Firefighter calendar beat and strangled his transgender girlfriend. Taylor Murphy thought his girlfriend Claudia Charriez, also famous after appearing on America’s Next Top Model (she was disqualified when her gender identity was discovered) had been flirting with someone else and thought it was acceptable behavior to shatter her cellphone on the ground and then drag her down the street by her hair. After she fled, he met her at her hotel room where he proceeded to punch, kick and choke her. Did I mention the firefighter is 6’3″ and a 220 lb muscle thug? He’s currently in jail and being charged with “assault, criminal mischief and criminal obstruction of breathing.” Must say it’s the first time I’ve heard “criminal obstruction of breathing.” Where I come from – when someone strangles you, they are trying to murder you…thus, attempting murder.

The New York Post, that bastion of liberty and equality, labeled the previous story with the headline “Fireman busted after violently ‘beating’ tranny pal.” Firstly – the Post is well aware that the term “tranny” is just as offensive as other colorful epithets given to racial and sexual minorities. Secondly – if this firefighter’s girlfriend had been born a woman, I wonder if the term “beating” would have had those little quotes around it? Either way, the Post is not only promoting bigotry, they are putting it in their boldest print.

Last week, I attended a small rally to fight transgender violence and police brutality in DC. A trans woman told a story of her boyfriend who chased her around the house, threw knives and other various items at her, punched, kicked and left her bruised and bloodied. The police came and took a report and labeled it “simple assault.”

Many crimes against trans people remain unsolved. Is this due to overworked police departments or police departments who don’t care that a trans person was brutally murdered? Or is it because sometimes our families have disowned us and don’t bother to follow-up on the investigations (57% of trans people experience family rejection according to a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality)? It’s hard to get accurate facts on transgender hate crimes or statistics because outside of Massachusetts and DC, virtually no other police department in the country  have ever reported instances of hate crimes against transgender individuals.

Whether being beaten and raped in the street by strangers, shot by off-duty police officers or strangled by their partners, trans people, and in particular trans people of color are suffering at unimaginable rates. And what’s worse – the people who are supposed to be stopping this are only adding salt to the wound with their clear discrimination when it comes to the treatment of the victims and the criminals in these cases.

In the 1980’s, thousands of us were dying from a virus no one knew anything about. We were being turned away from grocery stores, from laundromats, from hospitals – from our homes. The community was forced to take a stand to protect our own – we cared for one another, we sheltered one another we built communities where all of us were welcome.

Our transgender brothers and sisters are dying – they are being killed at the hands of people who refuse to understand or accept them. The time is now to start standing up and demanding change. Many of us have experienced being treated as though our lives were trivial – but how many of us can say our lives have been regarded as disposable?

HATE: Pride Float Tires Slashed Hours Before Parade

26 Jun

An apparent hate crime took place in the wee hours of the morning today after hours of preparation, dozens of Pride float tires were slashed with a knife in Chicago. The floats were lined up on Chicago’s South Side in preparation for the city’s annual Pride celebration. Some time between 8 p.m. when one of the organizers left and 5 a.m. today when he returned, vandals slashed tires on several floats.

The Windy City Times spoke with Chuck Huser, owner of longtime Pride float provider Associated Attractions -where the crime occurred.

The attackers broken in but did no other damage to the floats, and they took nothing else, leaving Huser to believe this had to be a hate crime. No notes were left.

Huser has filed a police report, but his main focus the morning of the Pride Parade was finding an open tire shop, where they were running back and forth to repair the tires.

“They didn’t want these folks to go out,” Huser said. He added that he has no disgruntled employees or customers, and that most of his workers have been with him more than 20 years.

The start of the Parade may have to be somewhat delayed while Huser and his team work frantically to repair the damaged tires.

Another Hate Crime in South Carolina

2 May

Vonte Fuller (from his Twitter account)

Saturday night, Vonte Fuller was minding his own business at Sideline’s Sports & Spirits in Spartansburg, South Carolina when several men approached him, dumped a pitcher of beer on him and proceeded to use homophobic slurs while beating him with a broken beer bottle.

The bar’s security kicked Fuller and his assailants out of the bar and someone at the bar called an ambulance for Fuller. An officer visited Fuller in the hospital and declined to take a report. It wasn’t until the next day when Fuller’s family took him to the police station, that any report was filed. This story is still being investigated and surveillance videos from the bar are being reviewed to hopefully identify the assailants.

After an April 9th attack on another gay man, hate crime legislation is being re-introduced by State Rep John King. The move is unfortunately little more than symbolic considering a Republican-controlled legislature and a Republican Governor who is against hate crimes legislation, but hopefully this will open eyes to the needs for stronger protection.

Jamaican Gay Murder Advocate Wins Grammy; 28 Gay Jamaicans Win US Asylum

14 Feb

It’s no secret that many Caribbean nations are overwhelmingly homophobic. In fact, just last night, Jamaican Reggae artist, Buju Banton won a Grammy Award – after he advocated burning homosexuals “like an old tire wheel,” and shooting “batty boys” in the head with an Uzi in some of his lyrics.

Gay murder advocate and Grammy Award Winning Jamaican Reggae Artist, Buju Banton

Speaking as someone who also suffered from an anti-gay assault in the Bahamas, it seems that homophobia is deeply rooted in the religious teachings in some Caribbean nations. In recent years, there have been dozens of hate crimes reported in St. Maarten, Jamaica, The Bahamas and others. In fact, in 2006, TIME Magazine dubbed Jamaica “The Most Homophobic Place on Earth.”

The hatred and ignorance is clearly out of control. And considering the recent murder of David Kato in Uganda and the halted deportation of Brenda Namigadde, it’s important to know that you can be safe in countries which don’t criminalize who we are. Immigration Equality is an organization which maintains the largest network of pro-bono attorneys, in addition to its in-house legal staff, dedicated solely to seeking asylum for Lesbians, Gays, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) asylum seekers. So it was good to hear from our friends at Immigration Equality that “An overwhelming number of the victories, 38, were for clients from the Caribbean, with 28 of those for individuals from Jamaica.”

Congratulations to those who won asylum to a place that at least doesn’t criminalize love. Let’s keep hoping for change in those countries where millions more fear their own murders daily.

Ugandan Gay Activist Murdered, Another’s Life Hangs in the Balance

26 Jan

David Kato Kisulle

According to Box Turtle Bulletin and the BBC, Ugandan activist David Kato Kisulle was murdered in his home in Kampala.

He was found having been beaten in the skull with a hammer a his home and there is little more information than that at this time. What we do know is that David was featured in the Ugandan tabloid, “Rolling Stone,” which featured names and photos of gay men under the headline “HANG THEM!”

He was one of three plaintiffs seeking a permanent injunction against the tabloid, which was successful. And in recent days, David had told friends of several death threats he’d received and was in fear for his life.

Since the introduction last year of the “Anti-Homosexual Bill” which has come to be known as the “Kill the Gays Bill” has been the topic of outrage from LGBT organizations around the country. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has brought this bill to light in the US and featured the author of the bill, David Bahati in a two-part interview last month.

 

Brenda Namigadde (photo courtesy ALLOUT.org)

Today’s murder also highlights an important case regarding Ugandan Brenda Namigadde living in the UK and facing deportation back to Uganda after failed please for asylum. All Out has launched a campaign to keep Brenda in the UK, which may quite literally save her life. “Kill the Gays Bill” Author Bahati said of Brenda:

“Brenda is welcome in Uganda if she will abandon or repent her behaviour. Here in Uganda, homosexuality is not a human right. It is behaviour that is learned and it can be unlearned. We wouldn’t want Brenda to be painting a wrong picture of Uganda, that we are harassing homosexuals.”

It would seem Bahati may be correct, Uganda is doing far worse than harassing homosexuals.