Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The 90s: Hate Crimes

Hate Crimes
Unfortunately the 90s ended with a collection of hate crimes that would shake the LGBTQ community. On October 7th, 1998 a twenty-one year old gay student Matthew Shepard (pictured below) met two guys at a gay lounge and asked them for a ride back to campus. The two men drove Shepard out to a field, robbed him, severely beat him, tied him to a fence with his own shoelaces, and left him to die. Shepard was discovered eighteen hours later by a bicyclist and was pronounced dead on October 12th. During the trial the defendants claimed that they had temporarily gone insane because Shepard had made sexual advances on them. Both men received life sentences.

At Matthew Phelps funeral anti-gay protestor Rev. Fred Phelps and his family (all members of the Westboro Baptist Church in  Topeka, Kansas) raised signs that stated "Matthew Shepard Rots in Hell" and "God Hates Fags." In reaction President Clinton attempted to add sexual orientation as a protected characteristic to federal hate crime legislation as well as a similar move in the Wyoming state legislature. Both of his attempts failed. 

On July 5, 1999 Barry Winchell was beaten to death with a baseball bat. Winchell had been attacked by a fellow Army Airbone Division soldier at Fort Campbell, Kentucky because he was suspected of being gay. Winchell's death brought much publicity and criticism of th e"Don't Ask, Don' Tell" policy. On New Year's Eve, 1993 transgender youth Brandon Teena was raped and then murdered. While these events are horrifying moments in LGBTQ history, they did spark a number of films, plays, books, songs, and discussion on homophobia and equality that would raise awareness. LGBTQ individuals and allies would use these moments to make the message clear: they would not stand for homophobia.

Additional/Relevant Reading:
Gay America: Struggle for Equality -- Linas Alsenas, pg. 138-140

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