Murder In A Small
Hate Crimes & Homophobia
By: Ann C.
Shortly after midnight on Oct 7th 1998, 21 year old Mathew Shepard was pistol whipped, tortured, and tied to a fence near the sleepy town of Laramie, Wyoming. He died four days later on October 12 from severe head wounds. His attackers were Russell Arthur Henderson, and Aaron James McKinney, who lured Shepard into their truck by posing as two gay men. Brandon Teena, a woman living as a transgender male was raped then consequently murdered by John Lotter and Marvin Nissen on New Year’s Eve 1993 when they discovered he was anatomically female. In 2005 110 men were arrested for attending a supposed gay wedding in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Four of these men, including one Jordanian man were sentenced to 2,000 lashes and two years in jail (Retherford 2007). Homosexuality in the KSA is punishable by flogging, or death, usually by beheading (Retherford 2007). Hate crimes are cause for outrage, and action. People around the world are stepping up to fight hate crimes, and to end homophobia.
The Stonewall Riots, which started on June 28, 1969 in New York City, are seen as the catalyst for the movement for gay rights. The Stonewall Riots were a string of violent attacks between the LGBT community and the New York Police. After raiding the Stonewall Inn for the supposed illegal distribution of alcohol, police officers lined up the patrons of the Stonewall Inn, demanding to see identification (Wright 1999). Most were released but the staff, and a few transsexuals were thrown into the back of police cars. At this point the streets erupted into violence. The police began beating the patrons with billy clubs and the most feminine of the men were hand selected for extra brutality (Wright 1999). The police officers were nearly burned alive when an unidentified person attempted to throw cover them in kerosene (Wright 1999). The riots lasted for days, and drew crowds of members of the LGBT community and supporters. The Stonewall Riots are commonly credited with the beginning of Gay Pride Parades and Dyke Marches that take place world wide, generally in June to commemorate the historic events that took place in the Greenwich Village neighborhood.
While homosexuality has gained considerable worldwide acceptance since the Stonewall Riots in 1969, hate crimes against Gays and Lesbians are not obsolete. The brutal murder of Mathew Shepard, and the rape and murder of Teena Brandon are some of the most well known and atrocious hate crimes. After the death of her son in 1998, Judy Shepard founded The Matthew Shepard Foundation and has dedicated her life to creating a safe and accepting world for gays and lesbians, with a focus on establishing a safe place for LGBT youth (Shepard 2006). She travels around the world speaking at Universities and other events spreading her message of understanding, compassion, and acceptance. This past year she spoke at the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico (Shepard 2006). ‘The Laramie Project’, a play by Moises Kaufman, was first performed at The Ricketson Theatre by the Denver Center Theatre Company in Denver, Colorado. It has since been performed in colleges and universities across America, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand (2002). The brutal and untimely death of Matthew Shepard is an example of how lack of understanding can lead to violence. The mission of Judy Shepard, who was awarded an honorary doctorate degree in humanities (The Matthew Shepard Foundation), has turned her son and his untimely death into a legacy of hope and love.
The rape and murder of Brandon Teena has also become a widely recognized hate crime. The story became notorious in 1999 when ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, starring Hilary Swank, who was awarded the 1999 Academy Awarded for Best Actress for her role as Teena Brandon, was released into theaters (1999). The documentary ‘The Brandon Teena Story’ directed by Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir, also tells the story of Brandon Teena through interviews with people who knew Brandon, including former girlfriends, recorded interrogation and trial transcripts (1998). The films have brought awareness to the devastation caused by hate crimes and have highlighted the need to end homophobia.
Legislation against hate crimes now exist in many parts of North America, Euopre and Eurasia (Wikipedia 2008). Particulars of the laws vary from country to country, and many do not specifically include crimes against gays and lesbians. Countries that specifically mention ‘sexual preference’ or sexual orientation’ in the legislation include; Belgium, Canada, France, Iceland, the United Kingdom, and the United States (Wikipedia 2008). Supporters of hate crime legislation argue that crimes committed because of prejudice are of greater harm to society then crimes that are not motivated by hate. Those who do not support hate crime legislation assert that it is unethical to give a harsher punishment for a crime motivated by hate because it takes away from the severity of a crime committed for other reasons (Scott 2007).
A hate crime is defined as “a crime, usually violent, motivated by prejudice or intolerance toward a member of a gender, racial, religious, or social group” (Random House Unabridged Dictionary Def 1). Hate crimes including the violent murder of Matthew Shepard, and the rape and murder of Brandon Teen highlight the need to teach understanding and acceptance, and to promote a society that is free of homophobia.