Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was on The View two weeks ago discussing the progress that has been made in the United States — moving from the days of segregation, to the election of Barack Obama as President. When asked why he does not support equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, Huckabee said this, “when we’re talking about a redefinition of an institution, that’s different than individual civil rights … here is the difference, Bull Connor was hosing people down in the streets of Alabama. John Lewis got his skull cracked on the Selma Bridge, that’s wrong.” Governor Huckabee’s comments are both troubling and misleading. To begin with, any civil rights movement must necessarily seek to redefine oppressive social institutions. The African American civil rights movement redefined institutionalized segregation in American society including voting rights, education, as well as public accommodations and facilities. The women’s rights movement redefined women’s roles in the family and the workplace. Likewise, the movement for LGBT rights seeks to redefine family and social institutions.
More troubling however, is Governor Huckabee’s comment insinuating that LGBT Americans have not suffered through enough violence. His comments are disturbing, but not surprising. The strategy of those opposed to LGBT rights and protections is to argue that we are asking for “special” rights that we do not need, or are not entitled too. But, the idea that we have not suffered enough is unsettling given the history of abuse the LGBT population has endured and continues to endure. So, my question to Governor Huckabee and others is this: How much suffering is necessary? How much blood is enough? How much blood must be shed before we can have the same rights as all Americans?
In 1969, the “Stone Wall” protests in New York City launched the contemporary gay rights movement. The anti-gay reaction that followed brought with it a wave of violence against LGBT people and the levels of violence have increased steadily through the years. The anti-gay crusade went national in 1977, courtesy of Anita Bryant. Bryant, a runner-up in the 1959 Miss America pageant and spokesperson for Coca-Cola and Florida orange juice, said she knew next to nothing about gay people before she attended a 1977 church revival in Miami. There she learned about a new Dade County, Florida ordinance that protected gay people from discrimination. Speaking against the ordinance, a preacher at the revival said he’d “burn down his church before he would let homosexuals teach in its school.”
Bryant took up the cause and worked to overturn the anti-discrimination ordinance, eventually winning with almost 70% of the vote. Bryant believed that women were generally more supportive of gay rights then men. Therefore, she and her cohorts came up with the idea to focus their rhetoric on portraying gays as dangerous to children (a tactic still used today). She founded a national group called “Save Our Children” and took her anti-gay message on the road, helping fundamentalists organize anti-gay ballot campaigns in the few American cities that had passed gay rights laws. Save Our Children’s primary tactic was fear mongering. “Homosexuals cannot reproduce,” Bryant often said, “so they must recruit. And to freshen their ranks they must recruit the youth of America.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Save Our Children also distributed a press kit with a paper titled, “Why Certain Sexual Deviations Are Punishable By Death.” Homosexuality was among those deviations. So was “racial mixing of human seed.”
Anita Bryant put the issue of gay rights on the front pages of newspaper and magazines all over the country. And, like the recent passage of Proposition 8 in California, her success provided renewed inspiration for the gay rights movement. In San Francisco, Harvey Milk and others lead a march protesting the repeal of the Dade County ordinance. The night of the Florida vote, Milk led marchers on a peaceful, five-mile protest march through the city. He declared, “This is the power of the gay community. Anita’s going to create a national gay force.” Nevertheless, throughout 1977 and into 1978, civil rights ordinances were overturned by voters in Minneapolis – Saint Paul, Wichita, Kansas and Eugene, Oregon. But, Milk was correct; the movement had found its voice. There were protests, pickets, petitions, and a boycott of Florida orange juice, which led the Citrus Commission to discontinue Bryant’s endorsement contract. Bryant’s record and book sales declined. Her marriage ended in divorce — which left Bryant ostracized by many of the evangelical Christians who had joined her campaign against equal rights for gay Americans.
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, to the dismay of the anti-gay crusaders, polls showed rising public support for gay rights. But being out and proud came at a price. No longer invisible, gays and lesbians became the targets for hatred and violence, fueled by a strategy of demonization by the anti-gay movement. In the 1980’s the National Gay Task Force began surveying gay people regarding violence in their lives. The first survey results, published in 1984 revealed that 94% of respondents had been the victim of some form of anti-gay violence ranging from verbal abuse to assault by fists or weapons. Twenty percent reported being victimized by police officers.
The gay-bashing increased in the 1990s. Gary Bauer took the lead, filling his fundraising appeals with references to gay people as “perverts” and “weirdness on parade.” On “The 700 Club,” Pat Robertson said President Clinton’s proposal to permit gays in the military would give “preferred status to evil.” “What’s at stake here,” said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins “is the very foundation of our society, not only of America, but all Western civilization.” “I’ve never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry,” said the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart. “And I’m gonna be blunt and plain: if one ever looks at me like that, I’m gonna kill him and tell God he died.” The hatred spewed by anti-gay activists, posing as Christians, has left a trail of blood leading up to today. The following stories are only a small sampling of the bloodshed endured by the LGBT community over the past thirty years:
Harvey Milk’s swearing-in made national headlines, as he became the first openly candidate in the United States to win an election for major public office. Milk began his tenure by sponsoring a civil rights bill that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation. Attendance at Gay Pride marches during the summer of 1978 in Los Angeles and San Francisco swelled. An estimated 250,000 to 375,000 attended San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade. Milk gave one of his most famous speeches, the “Hope Speech”, that The San Francisco Examiner said “ignited the crowd”:
On this anniversary of Stonewall, I ask my gay sisters and brothers to make the commitment to fight. For themselves, for their freedom, for their country … We will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets … We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out. Come out to your parents, your relatives.
Later that year, on November 27, 1978, Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor, George Moscone were shot and killed by former city supervisor Dan White, who was angered by the growing political strength of the gay community. Randy Shilts, author of the book “The Mayor of Castro Street”, quotes White as having told a gay newspaper man a few days earlier; “I’ve got a real surprise for the gay community – a real surprise.” After executing Milk and Moscone with gunshots to the head, White, a former police officer, turned himself in and confessed. In the days after the murder it’s reported that Police officers, no fans of Moscone and Milk, openly wore “Free Dan White” t-shirts. An undersheriff for San Francisco later stated, “The more I observed what went on at the jail, the more I began to stop seeing what Dan White did as the act of an individual and began to see it as a political act in a political movement.”
White’s defense was based on diminished capacity. The defense team argued that White’s self-imposed isolation, depression, and a diet of too much junk food drove him to kill Moscone and Milk. It came to be known as “The Twinkie Defense”. The prosecution offered no objections and it was widely believed that the case against White was not forcefully prosecuted. Politics and homophobia were never introduced as possible motives. White was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. The sentence was 7 years. White served the minimum sentence of five years and committed suicide on October 21, 1985, shortly after his release. TIME Magazine selected Harvey Milk as one of the 100 most influential politicians of the 20th century.
The night of Saturday July 7, 1984, after a church group pot luck supper, 23-year-old Charlie Howard was walking with a friend across a bridge spanning the Kenduskeag Stream in the heart of Bangor, Maine. A car slowed behind them and stopped. Three young men coming from a party got out of the car, two young women remained inside. “Hey fag,” one of the young men yelled. As the three ran toward them, Charlie and his friend tried to escape, but Charlie tripped on the curb and fell to the pavement. The boys grabbed him and began to punch and kick him. Then one of the boys yelled “over the bridge!” They lifted Charlie by the arms and legs and threw him over the rail. Charlie managed to grab hold of the guardrail, but they pried his fingers loose. Charlie fell into the water 20 feet below. The boys, laughing, got back into the car and returned to the party to brag about what they had done. Charlie’s friend had pulled a nearby fire alarm, but by the time help arrived Charlie was nowhere to be found. Hours later, Charlie’s lifeless body was dragged from the water. That Monday, more than 200 people attended a memorial service at the church. Afterward, they walked in a slow candlelight procession over the bridge, stopping with Charlie’s mother to drop roses into the water below. They walked on to the police station where they stood in silence while hecklers shouted obscenities at them. Later that week, on that same bridge over the Kenduskeag Stream, someone spray painted the words “faggots jump here,” at the spot where Charlie Howard was murdered.
By all accounts, 44-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran James Zappalorti was a kind, quiet man. Zappalorti had enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1962 and was discharged due to a disability in 1965. He loved living in his small house by the beach in Staten Island, New York and he never missed Sunday mass at the local church, where the Reverend Maurice Burke said, “Jimmy was a friend.” In January 1990, after leaving a local deli, Zappalorti was followed to his house by two men who taunted him, calling him “queer” and “faggot.” When they reached his house they slashed Jimmy Zappalorti’s throat and stabbed him repeatedly in the chest, killing him. The two men that killed him had been arrested and convicted in 1986 for kidnapping a gay man from a parking lot, locking him in the trunk of his car and threatening to blow it up. Both had served short time in prison for the prior offense.
Michelle Abdill and Roxanne Ellis thought they could make a good life for themselves in Medford, Oregon. They belonged to a local church, where they had been elected to the board; they ran a successful property management business and were active in the community. In their spare time they worked on restoring their house and visiting with Roxanne’s 3-year-old granddaughter. They had been together for twelve years. On December 4, 1995, Roxanne went to meet 27-year-old Robert Acremant, purportedly to show him an apartment. At about 5:00 p.m. Roxanne called Michelle and said that her car would not start. Michelle left the office to go pick her up. Neither Roxanne nor Michelle was seen again, until their bodies were discovered four days later. They had been bound and gagged and executed with gunshots to the head. Upon his arrest, Acremant admitted killing the two women. Initially he claimed his motive was robbery, but the victims’ purses, wallets, money, jewelry and cell phones were all found at the scene. Acremant later stated that he had made up the robbery motive. He said that he had asked Roxanne Ellis if the women were lesbians and that she had said they were. He said it made him sick to think of her as someone’s grandmother. He didn’t like lesbians, so it was easy to kill them.
Shortly after midnight on October 7, 1998, two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, lead 21-year-old Matthew Shepard to a remote area on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. They tied Matthew to a split-rail fence, robbed him, tortured him and beat him with the butt of a pistol, while he begged for his life. He was left there to die in the cold night. Matthew was discovered, almost 18 hours later, by a cyclist who initially mistook him for a scarecrow. He was still alive, but in a coma. He had a fractured skull, severe brain stem damage and about a dozen lacerations around his head, face and neck. His injuries were so severe that doctors could not operate. He never regained consciousness. Matthew Shepard died on October 12 at a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, surrounded by his family. Fred Phelps, leader of the Kansas Westboro Baptist Church, and author of the Internet site GodHatesFags.com, announced that he intended to picket Matthew’s funeral. Phelps had made a name for himself in the 1990s protesting at the funerals of AIDS victims. Phelps faxed reporters images of the signs he and his followers intended to carry at Matthew’s funeral: “Fag Matt in Hell,” “God Hates Fags,” “No Tears for Queers.” On the day of the funeral Phelps’ picketers were blocked from direct contact with the mourners. The crowd turned their backs to them, their umbrellas, pulled out for the falling snow, acted as a shield for the Shepard family. The assembled crowd sang “Amazing Grace” to drown out the Phelps group. The Matthew Shepard tragedy became a symbol of the violence endured by the LGBT community. Ten years later, the memory of Matthew Shepard and the heroic work of his family to combat hate, remains an enduring symbol.
Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder had been together for 14 years. They made their home in Happy Valley, California. Together they had founded a garden center and Plantstogo.com, an online nursery. Matson had a master’s degree in environmental horticulture and had helped to start a community garden to help feed the hungry, a children’s natural science museum and a local arboretum. Mowder, an anthropologist, spoke at local high schools and was a source of support and information for gay and straight teens. On the morning of July 1, 1999, Oscar Matson called his son Gary and heard a confusing message on the answering machine and strange voices in the background. Worried, he went to the couple’s home. He found them executed, face down in their bed. Matson had been shot five times in the head, once in the back. Mowder had been shot seven times in the head and once in the neck. Shell casing littered the floor. The walls and ceiling were spattered with blood. The Williams brothers, Matthew and Tyler were local landscapers who operated a lawn service business out of their parents’ home. After the Williams brothers were found using Matson’s credit card, searches of their homes uncovered white supremacist literature including information from the “World Church of the Creator” a known hate group. Investigators also found a “hit list,” which included the names of prominent Jewish leaders in the Sacramento area. After their arrest, the brothers admitted that they killed Matson and Mowder because they were gay. They did not consider the killings murder, but a “judgment,” because homosexuality is a sin punishable by death. After leaving the site of the gruesome murders, Matthew Williams drove off in Matson’s Toyota. Benjamin Matthews went home to his parents’ house and went to sleep.
Private First Class Barry Winchell enlisted in the army in 1997. Within a few months he joined Delta Company, 502nd Infantry Regiment 101st Airborne. He was by all accounts a good soldier. He was a hard worker and became the best marksman in his company. He had recently been nominated for Delta Company’s soldier of the month award. Then, on July 5, 1999, while he slept, Pvt. Winchell was beaten to death with a baseball bat by a fellow soldier. All of the blows were aimed at his head. His face was pummeled beyond recognition. During the months before his death Winchell had been the target of harassment by other soldiers and taunted by his superiors, because he was believed to be gay. “Pretty much everyone called him derogatory names,” said a platoon Sergeant. “They called him faggot, I would say, on a daily basis.” Winchell never complained to his superiors, but the platoon Sergeant did. “It was basically blown off,” he said. “I filed a formal complaint. Nothing was ever done about it.”
In March 2001, a dismembered body was found in a park in Queens, New York. A social security number was found written on the skull, along with racial and anti-gay epithets. The police identified the body as the remains of 19-year-old Steen Fenrich. The police later reported that Steen had been murdered by his stepfather John Fenrich because he disapproved of the young man’s homosexuality and was angered by his request to return home. John Fenrich committed suicide before he could be arrested.
A Florida man was convicted of second-degree murder for the 2005 killing of his 3-year-old son, Ronnie Antonio Paris. The child’s mother, Nysherra Paris, testified that her husband was trying to “toughen up” the boy because he was worried that Ronnie might be gay. According to The Tampa Tribune, the boy was beaten so badly that he became lethargic, stopped eating, and began wetting himself. Ms. Paris told police that on January 21st she saw her husband “pick up the victim and slam the back of his head against the wall.” On January 22 the 3-year-old went into a coma. Ronnie died six days later. Experts testified that his death was caused by blunt force trauma to the head.
In May 2007 in Greenville County, South Carolina, 20 year old Sean William Kennedy was walking to his car when he was approached by Stephen Moller. Moller made a comment about Kennedy’s sexual orientation, and then punched Kennedy, with a force so hard that it broke every bone in his face. Kennedy fell to the pavement. The impact caused his brain to separate from his brain stem, killing him. Shortly after driving away, Moller left a message on the cell phone of one of Sean’s friends: “Tell your faggot friend that when he wakes up he owes me $500 for my broken hand.”
Lawrence King, 15, had said publicly that he was gay and had started wearing makeup and jewelry to school, prompting a group of male students to bully him. “They teased him because he was different,” said Marissa Moreno, 13, also in the eighth grade. “But he wasn’t afraid to show himself.” In gym class, the boys would shove him around in the locker room. Larry reportedly made no secret of the fact that he liked Brandon McInerney. But when Larry asked Brandon to be his Valentine, Brandon’s friends started taunting Brandon and joking that he and Larry were going to make “gay babies” together. The next day, February 12, 2008, in computer lab, Brandon quietly stood up. He removed a handgun from his backpack, aimed it at Larry’s head, and fired. Brandon fired at Larry a second time, dropped the gun on the ground and calmly walked through the classroom door. Police arrested him within seven minutes, a few blocks from school. Larry was rushed to the hospital, where he died two days later of brain injuries.
In July of this year, in a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee, an out of work truck driver opened fire with a shotgun during a children’s performance of the musical Annie. Two people were killed, six others were wounded. In a letter found in the gunman’s truck, he stated that he was upset with liberals and gays. Unitarian Universalist churches are supportive of gay rights and welcoming to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. One of the congregants killed was 60-year-old Greg Mckendry who was killed while he shielded others from the gunfire. The gunman was subdued by the people in the church until police arrived.
One month ago, on October 26th, 2008, Milton Lindgren, 70, and Eric Hendricks, 73, were found dead in their Indianapolis area home. Friends of the couple believe that the slayings were hate crimes. Indianapolis police describe the killings as extremely violent. It appears the two men died in separate rooms of blunt force trauma. The large amount of blood found in both locations is indicative of the extreme violence of the attacks. Such evidence of overkill is a common hallmark of anti-gay hate crimes. According to neighbors, Milton and Eric had recently suffered anti-gay harassment. Police reports show that the men had their phone and cable lines cut twice in the past few months, and anti-gay statements had been posted on their front door.
Two weeks ago, on November 14, 2008, according to the police in Syracuse, New York, Dwight R. DeLee shot and killed Moses “Teish” Cannon, with a .22-caliber rifle, because of Cannon’s sexual orientation. Cannon, 22, and brother, Mark, 18, had been invited to a party. As they sat in a car parked in front of the house party, guests started “making profane and vulgar comments in regards to the sexual preference of our two victims,” police Chief Gary Miguel said. DeLee went into the house and got a .22-caliber rifle. He then put the rifle into the driver’s side window and fired. The bullet passed through Mark’s arm and struck Cannon in the chest. “There was no previous argument between these individuals, there was no previous fight, there was no bad blood,” Chief Miguel said. “Our suspect took a rifle and shot and killed this person, also wounding his brother, for the sole reason he didn’t care for the sexual preference of our victim. Isn’t that sad? Isn’t that a sad situation that that’s the sole reason why?” Indeed.
Several days ago, Vermont Senate Majority Leader John Campbell (D-Windsor) announced that when the state legislature convenes in January 2009, he plans to introduce a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. That prompted a woman to call the state house and threaten to blow up Sen. Campbell’s home. Officer Dale Manning, who took the call, says that police do not take threats like this lightly and are investigating. The caller did not identify herself. Sen. Campbell characterized the call as disturbing, saying, “this wasn’t directed just at me, but at my family, which is quite unfortunate.” On July 1, 2000, Vermont became the first state in the union to legalize civil unions.
LGBT people are disproportionately affected by hate crime violence. According to some reports, more than 35,000 anti-LGBT crimes have been documented over the past twenty years. Year after year the annual figures have increased. The FBI reported that 14% of hate crimes reported to police in the U.S. in 2005 were based on perceived sexual orientation. For 2006, LGBT hate crimes increased to 16% of total documented hate crimes across the U.S. The 2006 annual report stated that hate crimes based on sexual orientation are the third most common type, behind race and religion. According to the FBI, in 2006, there were 770 attacks across the U.S. against Hispanics/Latino-Americans; 1,027 incidents against Jewish Americans; and there were 1,485 attacks based on the victim’s sexual orientation. However, unlike Hispanic/Latino or Jewish victims, in many states and under federal law, gays and lesbians have absolutely no protection whatsoever when it comes to hate crimes. Transgender victims have even fewer protections. From 2006 to 2007 the total number of victims reporting anti-LGBT violence increased 24% with 16.6 percent of all hate crimes reported by the FBI in 2007 “resulted from sexual-orientation bias.” A 2007 study by the University of California, Davis, found that “[n]early four in 10 gay men and about one in eight lesbians and bisexuals in the United States have been the target of violence or a property crime because of their sexual orientation.” The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs recently stated that the number of violent crimes against LGBT people is up significantly in 2008.
Meanwhile, the “ Matthew Shepard” hate crime bill languishes in congress. The bill would provide federal resources to investigate and prosecute hate crimes, and would include sexual orientation and gender identity in the list of hate crimes. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been updated a few times since its passing, and has since added age and disability to its protections but not sexual orientation. As of right now, there is zero federal protection for LGBT victims of hate crimes.
To suggest that a civil rights movement must meet some sort of violence threshold is an incredibly dangerous argument — and blind to the serious violence LGBT people have already suffered. As a society we must recognize that words and actions have consequences. The dehumanizing rhetoric used to propound marriage ban amendments and anti-adoption laws encourages destruction, not only of “lifestyles,” relationships and families, but of the human beings within them. You cannot argue and advertise that we are dangerous to children and to the very social order, and then attempt to separate your words and actions from the backlash of brutality that ultimately results in someone’s death. The blood is on your hands. So I ask you Governor Huckabee – how much blood is enough?
One of the speakers at the funeral of Harvey Milk was Anne Kronenberg, an aide to Milk and a lesbian activist. She read a prophetic poem, written by Milk, that she had found in his desk:
I can be killed with ease.
I can be cut right down.
But I cannot fall back into my closet.
I have grown.
I am not myself.
I am too many.
I am all of us.