When I was asked to write this newsletter, I pictured searching the web for stories of hate crimes, and I did do that. What I didn't imagine was that two of the stories in particular would touch me in what feels like an exceptionally personal way, though I didn't personally know any of the people involved.
The first was the murder of a young transgendered girl in the town where I work. Angie Zapata, born Justin Zapata, was just 18 years old (some newspaper accounts say 20 or 21) when she was beaten to death in her apartment on July 15. Her killer, Allen Ray Andrade, was found two weeks later when he was stopped on a noise complaint and found to be driving her car. He told police he thought he had 'killed it'. He had beaten her to death with a fire extinguisher after a sexual encounter. Her sister said 'All she ever wanted to be was beautiful.' She was radiantly beautiful.
News stories about Angie’s murder can be found at the following online news outlets:
•Denver Gay Examiner
- “Murder in Greeley: Zapata family applauds hate-crime charges”
- “Man living as a woman murdered in Greeley; Family says killing is a hate crime”
•Rocky Mountain News
- “Transgender teenager mourned as police investigate her death”
- “Date arrested in Greeley transgender murder”
- “Arrest made in Colo transgender slaying”
The second was the shooting in the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. It was far away from where I live, but very close to my heart. I have been a Unitarian Universalist for decades. The police said that the shooter, Jim David Adkisson, was motivated by his hatred of liberals and gays.
A news article about the Knoxville Police Department statements can be read on the Southern Voice
(SoVo) web site, in an article titled “Tenn. church shooter angry at ‘liberals and gays’: Two killed in rampage at Unitarian Universalist Church”.
The Unitarian Universalist denomination has actively supported gay rights since 1969. The Tennessee Valley church has a 'Spectrum Cafe' for GLBT youth. One of the victims, Greg McKendry, had recently taken in a trangendered foster child. McKendry heroically gave his life to save the children of the church when he stepped in front of the shooter and took a blast directly in the chest. The children were performing 'Annie' as part of the Sunday morning service.
This story resonated with Unitarian Universalists all over America and the world. Hundreds of churches, including my own, held vigils this week.
News articles about the vigils on the Unitarian Universalist Association web site:
•Unitarian Universalists Respond to Tragedy in Knoxville
•Unitarian Universalists Schedule Vigils, Services of Remembrance to Honor Knoxville Shooting Victims
The definition of a hate crime is that it's meant to send a message to a larger community than just the victim. This is what terrorism is. This happened among UUs this week. All of us are feeling that we could be targeted because of our support for GLBT people. And this has strengthened our resolve to continue that support. On the night our vigil was scheduled, I had already planned to march with PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in the local county fair parade. I was torn; I really wanted to go to the vigil. But I decided to march, because that seemed a fitting way to honor the memory of those who had died. I was nervous about it, since my town is pretty conservative. As it turned out, the people watching were mostly interested in the candy we tossed (a parade tradition). So we marched with our signs saying 'All our kids are great, gay and straight', wearing rainbow colors, amid the 4H kids, marching bands, rodeo queens, local politicians, veterans, and other traditional parade participants. And the timing worked out that I was able to attend the vigil as well. We sang 'Dona Nobis Pacem' among other songs; I remember singing that outside Poudre Valley Hospital when Matthew Shepard was dying. Give us peace.
Here are a few links I collected as the story unfolded. A google search on 'Knoxville Unitarian shooting' will turn up many more:
Shooting in Knoxville UU church July 27 'You don't need to believe in dogma to be a hero. You don't need to believe in dogma to be a hero.' 'Jim Adkisson of Powell, Tennessee was the man with his finger on the trigger. He had mental health problems, and a hard and bitter life. He apparently left a letter explaining that he hated the church for its liberal beliefs and opinions. And the church had a sign outside indicating it welcomed gays and lesbians. '
- Monster: Who Really Killed the Knoxville Unitarians?
•'Whole lotta ugly' Washington Post
column on Knoxville shootings
UU communities around the world respond. 'Unitarian Universalists were the first mainline denomination to ordain gay and lesbian clergy, Sinkford said, and welcome members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, which some have speculated was a factor in Sunday's attacks.Unitarian Universalists were the first mainline denomination to ordain gay and lesbian clergy, Sinkford said, and welcome members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, which some have speculated was a factor in Sunday's attacks.'
- Faith communities respond, near and far
Christian Science Monitor
'The Scapegoat Mentality' : 'Police say Mr. Adkisson, an unemployed mechanical engineer, left a note listing his own inability to find a job as one reasons for his attack. He also railed against the Unitarian Universalist denomination as being 'liberal,' including the church's advocacy for gay rights. The FBI is investigating the shooting as a hate crime. '
Louiseville KY NBC
station: 'The Unitarian Churches are accepting of everyone, includes gays and transgender folks. That liberal view turned a hate-monger into a murderer. One reverend's message Monday night was for church members not to be afraid to be who they are.'
Shooting leaves trans teen fatherless:
- Tennessee UU Church Gunman Motivated by Hate; Shooting Leaves Trans Teen Fatherless
report You Tube video - Teen calls foster father ‘hero’
Finally, here are a few of the other stories I ran across when I was first compiling this letter:
- Proposed Michigan hate-crimes law would include GLBT and disabled people
- Jimmy Lee Dean badly beaten in Dallas, July 17
•Christian News Wire
- Pennsylvania gay hate crimes law ruled unconstitutional