Tag Archives: Hate Crime

Did he see the stars over Laramie?

7 Oct

Every year, I re-post the same story about Matthew Shepard. It’s a brief reminder so that the people I know and love don’t forget who he is and the incredible moves forward we’ve made in memory of him.

Tonight, I ran across someone who re-blogged the story and they attached a video from YouTube. It’s a brief interview with Matthew which I’ve never seen. Actually, despite having worked with Matthew’s mom, Judy on several events I produced for their foundation, I’ve actually never seen video footage of Matt.

As brief as the footage is, it hit me hard. I’ve never seen Matt speaking, never heard his voice.

When the tragedy happened, I was starting my sophomore year in college. I wasn’t out to anyone. I remember watching the stories on a TV in my college campus center and so desperately wanting to tell someone how upset, how scared I was.

Let’s be honest, I was doing musicals and I’d never really dated any girls, so it was no surprise when I finally did come out but for me, I was still terrified someone might find out – especially after what happened to Matt. I know I wasn’t alone in that and that this is the reason for the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. When something like this happens, it terrorizes more than just the victim of the crime.

Tonight, 14 years ago, Matt was laying in a field, tied to a fence, beaten and bloodied, staring at the stars over the Wyoming sky as he lost consciousness. I like to think that there was a moment before he closed his eyes, that the pain went away and he was able see the stars and know he was loved.

PHOTOS: DC Vigil for Teen Lesbians Shot in Texas

29 Jun

Kristene Chapa and Mollie Olgin

Last Friday night as many Americans prepared for a weekend of Pride celebrations, 19 year old Mollie Olgin was taking her girlfriend of 5 months, 18 year old Krissy Chapa to a movie. They had some extra time on their hands, so they stopped by a local park.

What happened between then and roughly 9am on Saturday is still being pieced together by Police.

Authorities were called to the scene after a couple came upon them in the morning. Mollie had died due to a gunshot wound to her neck and Kristene remains in intensive care with a gunshot wound to her head.

The investigation continues and as of 7pm last night, no motives or suspects have been discovered. A witness has come forward and described the shooter as a white male in his 20s, 5 foot 8 inches tall, 140 pounds with dark hair. As of this time, it is unknown whether the girls’ relationship was a motive for the crime. The police also indicated that the women did not know their assailant.

As of right now, there are more than 25 vigils planned across the country for the girls.

We hear from Kristene’s brother that she’s making progress and can now move the right side of her body. In trying to get her to communicate, she’s only been able to write – most of what she’s writing is Mollie’s name. Her family has refrained from telling her Mollie is gone for fear it will impact her recovery. Friends and family had been very supportive of their relationship.

Tonight, we were proud to help organize a twilight vigil in Mollie and Kristene’s honor in Washington D.C.. More than 100 people braved the 104 degree weather and contributed over $300 to help with Kristene’s medical care (as she is uninsured).

Speakers included Maya Rupert , Federal Policy Director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights will be Chad Griffin, new Executive Director for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Executive Director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), Andrew Barnett and Chair of Gays & Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), A.J. Singletary.

Thank you to those who joined us. Please feel free to make a contribution here to help out Kristene’s family.

If a bullet should enter my brain…

27 Nov

By now, most of us have seen the Academy Award-wining film, Milk. While Milk presented a much-untold history, the true impact of this film is now being measured by the vast numbers of young people who found the courage to come out after seeing it, and in conversations about historic LGBT contributions around the globe.

It was on this day, 33 years ago, former Republican San Francisco City Supervisor Dan White took a gun to City Hall. He climbed through a lower-level window to avoid metal detectors and proceeded to Mayor George Moscone’s office. White had resigned his office and went into Moscone’s office hoping to be re-appointed to the seat he’d resigned from. When Moscone refused, White shot and killed him. With extra ammunition, he proceeded to the office of Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay man to be elected to a major city office. White proceeded to shoot Milk 5 times – the final two shots had White pressing his gun directly at Milk’s skull according to the medical examiner.

Harvey Milk had pre-recorded a message after receiving several anti-gay death threats during his political career. The message said “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet shatter every closet door.” Dan White went on to be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter rather than first-degree murder. Despite White’s later statements that he was “on a mission” and  “wanted to kill four of them,” he was not found guilty of pre-meditating anything due to his poor diet.

White’s lawyers claimed that while usually a healthy man, White had been consuming many sugary foods, which led to his mental state. This became known as the “Twinkie Defense.” White went on to serve just 5 years of the very lenient 7 year sentence. 2 years later, White committed suicide by running a garden hose from the exhaust pipe to inside his car.

Following the guilty verdict, men and women rioted outside San Francisco City Hall. Hours after the riots had ended, Police made a retaliatory raid on the streets of the Castro District and the Elephant Walk Bar (now renamed ‘Harvey’s”). Two dozen arrests were made during that raid and the riots, and in the following weeks, after being called upon to apologize, gay leaders refused. The political leverage gained from these events led to the election of Mayor Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein then appointed a pro-gay chief of police who actively recruited gays into the city’s police force.

Dianne Feinstein, who is now a U.S. Senator, is leading the way for LGBT equality by sponsoring the “Respect for Marriage Act,” which would repeal the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

TN Pastor Who Ordered Assault on Gay Son, Now Facing Theft Charges

7 Oct

Remember that Tennessee pastor we told you about earlier this week? The one who ordered his deacons to assault his own gay son when he and his partner tried to come to church?

Seems like he’s in the news again. According to local ABC affiliate, WBBJ:

According to Trenton police, they recently arrested Pastor Jerry Pittman, of Fruitland’s Grace Fellowship Church, on charges of stealing from a local business.

“It’s hard enough nowadays to trust people and I just can’t believe that a pastor would even steal anything,” said Trenton resident Hayley Gordon.

Police arrested the 52-year-old on September 21, after his estranged wife told them she had heard from co-workers that he had been stealing from her business.

“Our investigation into the incident that was reported showed that he and another gentleman did scrap copper at a scrap yard here in Trenton,” Lt. James Wilson said.

Investigators said he scrapped the copper at least three different times since August. It was hundreds of pounds, and worth more than $1,000.

“It was quite a bit that they scrapped,” Wilson said.

And, shockingly enough, this “Christian” man has been in trouble with the law before:

This actually is not the first time Pittman has been arrested. Police said he was arrested back in 2006 for a simple assault charge.

“It was over an incident where the daughter and the boyfriend had a joint child,” Wilson said. “There were some accusations involving the father of the child, which was the boyfriend, and he confronted the father of his grandchild at a local grocery store.”

One would think that parishioners would prefer a non-criminal to be leading their church.

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.

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.