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Matthew Shepard book creates uproar

Laramie sheriff calls writer’s claims about 1998 murder ‘conspiracy theory BS’

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Matthew Shepard, The Book of Matt, gay news, Washington Blade
Matthew Shepard, The Book of Matt, gay news, Washington Blade

A new book claims Matthew Shepard sold crystal meth and worked as an escort. His family said it won’t respond to ‘conspiracy theories.’

A newly published book that claims gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard had a sexual relationship with his killer and his 1998 murder wasn’t a hate crime has triggered expressions of outrage by LGBT activists and fueled efforts by anti-gay groups to downplay the need for hate crimes laws.

“The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard,” written by gay journalist Stephen Jimenez and officially released on Tuesday, comes on the eve of the 15th anniversary of Shepard’s murder in Laramie, Wyo.

It also comes at a time when the “Laramie Project,” the internationally acclaimed play about the Shepard murder and its portrayal of the slaying as a hate crime, is about to open at the Ford’s Theater in Washington with a newly produced epilogue.

In addition, a documentary film called “Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine,” directed by a filmmaker who was one of Shepard’s high school friends, is scheduled to premiere at the Washington National Cathedral on Oct. 4.

With the play and film exploring the Shepard murder as a hate crime that adversely impacted an entire community beyond the scope of an individual victim, the startling assertions made in Jimenez’s book have prompted at least one prominent gay commentator to reassess longstanding assumptions about the Shepard case.

“Events are more complicated than most politicians and activists want them to be,” said gay conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan. “No one should be afraid of the truth.”

Among the book’s claims is that Shepard, 21, knew and socialized with Aaron McKinney, also 21, one of two men convicted of his murder, at least a year before the crime. According to Jimenez’s stated findings in the book, Shepard and McKinney each used and sold crystal meth, both had been involved with an escort service in Denver and Laramie that arranged for them to have sex for money with men, they were seen at the same parties in Laramie, and the two occasionally had sex with each other.

Jimenez told the Blade he devoted more than 13 years of research and investigative reporting in preparation for his book, interviewing more than 100 people on the record, including a dozen people he identifies as friends of Shepard and more than a dozen friends of McKinney.

But some of the national LGBT advocacy groups have joined the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which was created by Shepard’s parents to combat anti-LGBT violence, in challenging the accuracy of the book and the credibility of its sources.

“Attempts now to rewrite the story of this hate crime appear to be based on untrustworthy sources, factual errors, rumors and innuendo rather than the actual evidence gathered by law enforcement and presented in a court of law,” a statement released by the Shepard Foundation says.

“We do not respond to innuendo, rumor or conspiracy theories,” the statement says. “Instead we remain committed to honoring Matthew’s memory, and refuse to be intimidated by those who seek to tarnish it.”

Albany County, Wyo., Sheriff David O’Malley, who served as Laramie police commander at the time of the murder, told the Blade on Tuesday that he believes the book “is full of lies” and described it as “conspiracy theory BS.”

Jimenez said he and others working with him have thoroughly and meticulously scrutinized and vetted the findings of his investigation, which he says included a careful reading of virtually all of the police and court records related to the case that initially had been sealed by a judge.

Laramie officials have said the records became available to the public in late 1999 shortly after the conclusion of the trial of McKinney, who was convicted of bludgeoning Shepard to death by repeatedly striking him in the head with the barrel of a .357 Magnum pistol while Shepard was tied to a fence at an isolated prairie just outside of town.

Co-defendant Russell Henderson confessed to having tied Shepard to the fence while accompanying McKinney on what he said began as a plan by McKinney to lure Shepard from a Laramie bar to rob him. Unlike McKinney, Henderson pleaded guilty to a murder charge rather than face a trial. Both men were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“I think the discovery of who Matthew Shepard was as a person and the complexity of who he was as a human being is really important,” Jimenez told the Blade.

“And so my reason for writing the book is to really say let’s understand what was really going on here,” he said. “If we’re serious about dealing with hate and violence in the culture, let’s understand what really happened here. What are the forces that came into play that created this grotesquely violent murder?”

Added Jimenez: “And certainly as I know now, the official story that these were two strangers that walked into a bar and targeted Matthew because he looked well-dressed and looked like he had money and appeared to be gay or that Matthew came on to them in the bar or that they lured him out of the bar because he was gay – those are simply not true.”

Jimenez was referring to the findings in the official police report that was based in part on a confession by McKinney to police at the time of his arrest three days after the murder. In his confession, McKinney said he and Henderson planned to rob Shepard, not to kill him. He said he lost control of his emotions and actions after Shepard allegedly groped him in the pickup truck that Henderson was driving after Shepard accepted McKinney’s invitation to drive him home from the Fireside bar on the night of Oct. 6, 1998.

McKinney’s lawyers, who attempted to invoke the so-called “gay panic” defense at McKinney’s trial, told the jury in his November 1999 closing argument that McKinney’s judgment was clouded that night by his consumption of alcohol and his use of and addiction to crystal meth amphetamine.

“Aaron McKinney is not a cold-blooded killer,” defense attorney Dion Custis said. “What happened is he hit him too many times” after the crystal meth consumption and Shepard’s alleged groping caused him to fly into an “uncontrollable rage.”

LGBT advocacy groups, noting that perpetrators of anti-gay hate crimes often use the gay panic defense as an alibi, said at the time that McKinney’s use of the gay panic defense confirmed their belief that McKinney’s motive was anti-gay hatred.

O’Malley said the police investigation found that McKinney had not been using crystal meth for several days and that investigators concluded that the murder “had nothing to do with drugs.” He said that the incident started as a robbery but investigators believe the brutality of the beating, in which McKinney crushed Shepard’s skull, involved a form of “overkill” that indicated the true motive was anti-gay animus.

Jimenez argues in his book that McKinney was suffering from the effects of his crystal meth use at the time of the attack but that some of his animus toward Shepard was based on alleged conflicts over a drug deal at a time when the two were working for rival drug suppliers. He bases this theory on information from both named and anonymous sources.

“It boggles the mind that this book flies in the face of all of the evidence related to the drug use,” said Cathy Renna, a former official with Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), who attended the McKinney trial.

“Aaron McKinney has changed his story so many times it’s not even worth trying to keep count,” said Renna in referring to subsequent statements that McKinney has made to reporters in interviews from jail.

“But the one thing that Aaron McKinney has been clear about and has remained consistent to is that he didn’t know Matt beforehand.”

Renna and others questioning the reliability of Jimenez’s sources have cited a memo that ABC News correspondent Elizabeth Vargas mistakenly left at O’Malley’s residence in 2004, when she interviewed O’Malley, as confirmation that Jimenez reached his conclusions about the Shepard case before he began research for a controversial report on the ABC program 20/20. The memo, according to critics who have seen it, outlined the view the Shepard murder was not a hate crime along with some of the other revelations recounted in the Jimenez book.

Jimenez, however, told the Blade that the criticism is unfounded because his memo was based on more than two years of research that he already had conducted on the case long before he became involved in the 20/20 project.

He also disputes claims by critics that the 20/20 broadcast on the Shepard case in 2004 was based on unreliable sources.

“When I did the ABC News story every single note, every single interview transcript, everything we did was vetted by the top vice presidents and lawyers at ABC,” Jimenez said.

Concerning his book, Jimenez notes that the lead prosecutor in the Shepard murder case, Cal Rerucha, has stated on the record in his book that he agrees that the preponderance of evidence shows that drugs rather than anti-gay hate was the motive behind the murder of Matthew Shepard.

Regardless of whether the claims in Jimenez’s book are correct or not, some LGBT activists question the purpose of such a book, which they note has already been cited by right-wing anti-gay organizations to question the validity of hate crime legislation.

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13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Bruce Majors

    September 26, 2013 at 7:08 am

    So the gay political class promulgated a lie, again, because they thought it would have a good result. Like pretending Obama or Hillary ever campaigned on a gay issue when it mattered, when they never have, totally absent from North Carolina as it outlawed gay marriage.

    You should stop giving any money or listening to any establishment gay groups. Like other establishment politicians, they only lie. And then they make the gay community look like liars.

  2. peter rosenstein

    September 26, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Fifteen years later nothing will change the fact that Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and left to die-murdered. No purpose will be served to debate whether the killer was on meth or whether Matt had sex with him. Hate crimes can even occur when two people have had sex and one is so freaked out by what he did that he gets violent. Jimenez wrote a salacious book for no apparent reason other than to make money. I haven’t read it and won’t. We need to thank Matthew’s parents who dedicated years to making the lives of GLBT people safer. Matthew is no longer here so everything in this book will never be proven anyway. Some things don’t need to be written and this book is clearly one of them.

  3. Melissa Thompson

    September 26, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    This is just so upsetting to me. Matthew Shepard was a human being, not a headline. And sadly he is dead, he's not able to defend himself against this crap and the idea that this man can disparage him and should profit off his death is disgusting. I truly believe this was a hate crime, but even if it wasn't, it doesn't change the fact that Matthew is dead and died at the hands of these monsters. What right does this man have to attempt to profit personally while trying to give justification to an unjustified act of horrific violence. Makes me sick.

    • Roy

      September 30, 2013 at 1:29 am

      Madam, do you mind if others hear an alternative possibility? Or do we have to swallow the secular sainthood of Matthew unquestioned?

  4. David

    September 28, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    I am disappointed in the Blade. You report that the book has caused an uproar, but you fail to delve into the underlying claims to help your readers determine if they are valid. As a newspaper, it is your responsibility to report as to whether the Jimenez book is backed up by evidence. That is really the key issue. Not whether the book has caused an “uproar” but rather what specific documents, records, physical evidence and testimony is Jimenez relying upon to reach his conclusions in his book?

    One claim in the book is that Shepard and McKinney had a relationship prior to the night of the murder. Were they seen together in restaurants or in bars or in other public places, and if so, by whom and when? Are there telephone or email records showing that they spoke on the phone? Did the police and the prosecutors reach the conclusion that there was a pre-existing relationship? Are there unbiased witnesses to specific meetings between the two? If the Blade won’t ask these questions and extract this information from Jimenez, there is no way to assess the book.

    If the claims in the book are true, then it is good that it was published. We should never alter facts and history to suit our ideological preferences. If the claims are false, then Jimenez has done an odious thing, and should be ashamed. The only way to determine whether the claims are true or not is to consider the specific evidence he cites, and the Blade has failed to focus its attention on that central issue.

  5. Joe Spennato

    September 30, 2013 at 9:02 am

    Try not being emotional and understanding that Jimenez is making the important observation that the mainstream media is a bunch of rotten stinking liars, and you have been duped by them.

  6. JC

    September 30, 2013 at 9:00 am

    So, the liberal (Jewish) media laid an enormous guilt trip on straight White males because one bugger boy murdered another.

    Then again, the Jewish media is still pushing the Holocaust and they’re trying to make us feel guilty for so-called “White privilege” even though White people have been second in line for jobs due to racial quotas for over 40 years.

    Maybe the real problem isn’t with White people; it’s with prolific Jewish liars.

  7. Michael Holtz

    September 30, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    Joe Spennato Correction – Jimenez is claiming that he is making important observations. According to the article, his sourcing is extremely questionable, and if he cannot explain how some of his observations are in contrast to findings of multiple investigations (i.e. that McKinney was under the influence of meth, despite the fact that drug tests indicate otherwise), then it may be he who is trying to dupe us, rather than the "mainstream media," courts, and law enforcement.

  8. Nathan

    October 2, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    The Matthew Shepard murder is a good example of how media can be manipulated and the public can believe certain untruths (such as him being tied up like Christ on a fence.) It was well known Matt was a troubled young man but was made over into a saint and untouchable by some elements of the gay community so desperate for a new posterboy.

    • Bruce Majors

      October 5, 2013 at 7:52 am

      The constant lies and calls for government intervention from the gay political class has been such a PR disaster it has slowed down the progress on gay rights by turning off voters.

  9. Bruce Majors

    October 5, 2013 at 11:50 am

    It is sad when people use a person and tell lies just to make political points, and then it backfires of them. The gay political class does this often. And in doing so they lost a teachable moment about the evil of the drug war, which causes crime that affects many urban gay neighborhoods.

  10. Jeff Hanna

    October 12, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    Melissa: Look at it this way, if you were to write a book or article about, say, your experience with abuse or betrayal at the hands of someone now dead or in prison, there would assuredly be people who would say, "This disgusting woman (you) is slandering someone who can't defend themselves and only wrote this book to exploit others and make money. Makes me sick." You're doing the same thing to Jiminez.
    He is certainly not saying that Matthew Shepard was not a worthwhile human being or that he deserved to be murdered…just that the truth can be very different from the commonly accepted storyline. People don't like their comfortable assumptions challenged.

  11. abner

    May 25, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    If the legal system had punished Harvey B. Milk for committing homosexual abuse on a 16 year old boy in 1964 (which he was not prosecuted for) & if the Wyoming legal system had given Methew Wayne Shepard years in prison rather than counseling by Natrona County Juvenile Court for molesting 8 year old boys when he was 15 years old, then Harvey B. Milk & Methew Wayne Shepard both would have avoided being murdered in 1978 & 1998. It’d been better if this had happened-Harvey B. Milk convicted of homosexual statutory rape in 1960s, does prison time & then spends rest of his days in a homeless shelter or his family taking care of him after he’s released from prison. Harvey Bernard Milk was a despicable homosexual coward who in 1964 committed statutory rape on a teenage boy (the boy committed suicide in 1980) but H.B. Milk was never prosecuted for it. Harvey Bernard Milk should’ve been convicted & jailed for felony statutory rape in 1964 & lost his right to vote. Harvey B. Milk being dead since 11/27/1978 won’t be able to homosexually statutorily rape any more teen boys. Getting murdered in 1978 & 1998 does not change the truth that both Harvey B. Milk & Methew Wayne Shepard were gay pedophiles.

    Alyssa B. Rosenberg was offended by the fact Stephen Jimenez incidentally mentioned near end of book that Methew W. Shepard was arrested when he was 15 for molesting 8 year old boys. The 2 boys who Methew W. Shepard molested is verified by Natrona County Juvenile Court records, the Cody Woming bartender who was victimized by Methew W. Shepard in August 1998 and which is backed by Cody Wyoming police reports and this happened before the October 1998 murder. Judy L. Shepard sees nothing wrong with her son molesting 8 year old boys. Alyssa B. Rosenberg sees nothing wrong with Methew W. Shepard selling drugs and molesting children. Yes, I think Methew W. Shepard molesting 8 year old boys is a more serious crime than most murders and debate whether getting beaten to death as he did is more or less serious than his crimes of child molestation. Methew W. Shepard being a child molester is proven. That he molested 8 year old boys in his neighborhood and we don’t know the damage that it did to them. Incidentally, it’s possible that Methew W. Shepard had molested more boys other than the 2 reported to cops.Since Methew W. Shepard was killed, no matter why he was murdered, he won’t be able to molest anymore children.

    No, I don’t think Methew W. Shepard should have been killed but Methew W. Shepard molested 8 year old boys and got counseling for this when he was 15 years old-that is verified information and Stephen Jimenez incidentally mentioned this near end of book-he interviewed a Casper Wyoming cop and a relative of 1 of victims. The 2 boys who Methew W. Shepard molested is verified by Natrona County Juvenile Court records, the Cody Woming bartender who was victimized by Methew W. Shepard in August 1998 and which is backed by Cody Wyoming police reports. Judy L. Shepard and the Shepard Foundation omits this ugly truth of Methew W. Shepard being a child molester and it would not surprise me if ex Casper Star Tribune journalists Tiffany C. Hunt, Kerry A. Drake and JC Marsden know this but left this out in that I find it hard to believe these 3 Casper Wyoming journalists did not know about Methew W. Shepard molesting 8 year old boys when he was 15 years old because Stephen Jimenez found this in court records and again, Stephen Jimenez incidentally mentioned this near end of book as most of the book was about the 3 people, A.J. McKinney’s problems, Methew W. Shepard’s life and problems and of course the drug problems. Incidentally, it’s possible that Methew W. Shepard had molested more boys other than the 2 case reported to cops. Both JC Marsden & Big Island Chronicle Tiffany Camille Hunt sees nothing wrong with Methew W. Shepard selling drugs and molesting children so their view is rubbish.

    Let’s look @ what we do know about Methew W. Shepard. No matter why the murder happened, the idea that A.J. McKinney and Methew W. Shepard were strangers who did not know eachother until that day is rubbish. There are many witnesses-Doc O’ Connor’s ex girlfriend, Elaine Baker (bartender), M.K. Rohrbacher (drug dealer), Tristan (Ted) Henson (Methew W. Shepard’s former lover) & others who saw them together.

    Of course the witnesses can only say they saw them together and can not know it all. It’s not believed Methew W. Shepard knew the 2nd man (R.A. Henderson) and I agree with Stephen Jimenez that Russell A. Henderson should have been convicted of a lesser crime such as Manslaughter and that he should have gotten a jury trial but got bad representation by his lawyers who urged him to take a plea when he wanted a jury trial. Book of Matt by Stephen Jimenez Stephen Jimenez’s evidence are 1st party witnesses he interviewed-over 100 of them over 13 years.

    Methew W. Shepard associating with drug dealers in both Wyoming and Colorado is not disputable. Methew W. Shepard went into bars where drugs were sold and he did associate with drug dealers-he went to bars named Tornado, Ranger, Library & other bars in Wyoming and Colorado where drugs were sold. Methew W. Shepard’s friend Tina LaBrie expressing concerns about Methew W. Shepard’s drug and $ problems. We know that Methew W. Shepard was having $ problems (spending so much on limosuine rides in Doc O’ Connor’s limousine).

    Methew W. Shepard’s a junky (proven fact), drunkard and had money problems. Sheriff O’Malley has said that if Methew W. Shepard sold drugs, the cops would have known which is dishonest-Sheriff David S. O’Malley and Sgt. R.J. DeBree know cops don’t always catch all the criminals and that many drug dealers escape detection. Sheriff David S. O’Malley and Sgt. Robert J. DeBree have arrested drug dealers and they know how it’s the family and friends who get surprised after they learn some1 they know is a drug dealer.

    Sheriff David S. O’Malley and Sgt. Robert J. DeBree know that it’s unlikely MW. Shepard told his friends and family that he was a drug dealer, and even if Methew W. Shepard did tell his friends and family that he sold drugs, don’t think his family will admit this ugly as they had tried to hide the fact that Methew Wayne Shepard molested 8 year old boys and got counseling.

    Now was Methew W. Shepard’s assocation with drug dealers and going into bars where drugs were sold more than buying drugs ? Was Methew W. Shepard a drug dealer or a drug courier? Stephen Jimenez thinks so and he believes it was the Denver circle. No, Stephen Jimenez does not know it all but his conclusions are sincere and honest. While homosexual groups complain about Stephen Jimenez saying the murder case is complicated and possibly not a hate crime, that is incidental-main reason homosexual groups are offended by Stephen Jimenez’s book is because he talked about the ugly truths about who M.W. Shepard was. You don’t always know the secrets friends and family have. If a person is a drug dealer, then they are usually not going to tell their friends and family that they do this.

    Even if Metthew W. Shepard did tell his friends and family that he sold drugs, don’t think his family will admit this ugly truth about him, as they hide the fact that Methew Wayne Shepard molested 8 year old boys and got counseling for it. Laramie Project, Shepard Foundation & Big Island Chronicle Tiffany Camille Hunt sees nothing wrong with Methew W. Shepard selling drugs and molesting children so their view is rubbish.

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In a historic first, Colorado now has a 1st gentleman as Gov. Polis marries

The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date

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Governor Jared Polis and 1st Gentleman Marlon Reis exchange vows (Screenshot via CBS News Denver)

DENVER – Colorado’s Democratic Governor Jared Polis married his longtime partner Marlon Reis in a ceremony that marked the first same-sex marriage of a sitting Out governor in the United States.

The couple was married Wednesday in a small traditional Jewish ceremony at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Reis had matriculated and graduated from. The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date.

“We met online and went out on a date and we went to the Boulder bookstore and then went to dinner,” Polis told KCFR-FM, Colorado Public Radio (CPR).

In addition to family and close friends in attendance, the couple’s two children participated with their 7-year-old daughter serving as the flower girl and their 9-year-old son as the ring bearer.

The governor joked that their daughter was probably more thrilled than anyone about the wedding. “She was all in on being a flower girl. She’s been prancing around. She got a great dress. She’s terrific,” he said CPR reported.

Their son was also happy, but more ambivalent about it all according to Reis. “Kids are so modern that their responses to things are sometimes funny. Our son honestly asked us, ‘Why do people get married?”

Colorado’s chief executive, sworn in as the 43rd governor of Colorado in January 2019, over the course of nearly 20 years as a political activist and following in public service as an elected official has had several ‘firsts’ to his credit.

In 2008 Polis is one of the few people to be openly Out when first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as being the first gay parent to serve in the Congress. Then on November 6, 2018, he was the first openly gay governor elected in Colorado and in the United States.

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Gov. Jared Polis And First Gentleman Marlon Reis Are Newlyweds

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U.S. Catholic theologians call for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections

Joint statement says church teachings support equality

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More than 750 of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians, church leaders, scholars, educators, and writers released a joint statement on Sept. 14 expressing strong support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

The six-page theological statement, “A Home for All: A Catholic Call for LGBTQ Non-Discrimination,” was scheduled to be published along with the names of its 759 signatories as a four-page advertisement on Sept. 17 in the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper widely read by Catholic clergy and laypeople.

The statement was initiated by New Ways Ministry, a Mount Rainier, Md., based Catholic group that advocates for equality for LGBTQ people within the church and society at large.

“As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we affirm that Catholic teaching presents a positive case for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people,” the statement says. “We affirm the Second Vatican Council’s demand that ‘any kind of social or cultural discrimination…must be curbed and eradicated,’” it says.

“We affirm that Catholic teaching should not be used to further oppress LGBTQ people by denying rights rooted in their inherent human dignity and in the church’s call for social equality,” the statement adds.

The statement notes that its signers recognize that a “great debate” is currently taking place within the Catholic Church about whether same-gender relationships and transgender identities should be condoned or supported.

“That is a vital discussion for the future of Catholicism, and one to which we are whole-heartedly committed,” the statement continues. “What we are saying in this statement, however, is relatively independent of that debate, and the endorsers of this statement may hold varied, and even opposing, opinions on sexual and gender matters,” it says.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries executive director, said his organization and the signers of the statement feel the issue of nondiscrimination for LGBTQ people can and should be supported by Catholic leaders and the church itself even if some are not yet ready to support same-sex marriage and sexual and gender identity matters.

“LGBTQ non-discrimination is being debated at all levels in our society, and the Catholic perspective on this is often misrepresented, even by some church leaders,” DeBernardo said. “Catholics who have studied and reflected deeply on this topic agree that non-discrimination is the most authentic Catholic position,” he said. 

DeBernardo said those who helped draft the statement decided it would be best to limit it to a theological appeal and argument for LGBTQ equality and non-discrimination and not to call for passage of specific legislation such as the Equality Act, the national LGBTQ civil rights bill pending in the U.S. Congress.

The Equality Act calls for amending existing federal civil rights laws to add nondiscrimination language protecting LGBTQ people in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations. The U.S. House approved the legislation, but the Senate has yet to act on it.

“We wanted this to be a theological statement, not a political statement,” DeBernardo said.

He said organizers of the project to prepare the statement plan to send it, among other places, to the Vatican in Rome and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has expressed opposition to the Equality Act.

Among the key signers of the statement were 242 administrators, faculty, and staff from Sacred Heart University, a Catholic college in Bridgeport, Conn. New Ways Ministries says the statement was circulated by the school’s administration and eight of its top leaders, including President John Petillo, are among the signers.

Some of the prominent writers who signed the statement include Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking;” Richard Rodriquez, author of “Hunger of Memory;” Gary Wills, author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg;” and Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked.”

The full text of the statement and its list of signatories can be accessed at the New Ways Ministry website.

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Activists reflect on Black Trans Lives Matter movement resurgence

Blade speaks with Alex Santiago, Jasmyne Cannick

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An I Am Human Foundation billboard along Atlanta's Downtown Connector expressway on Feb. 22, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The world came to a standstill last year as a video surfaced online that showed then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. The video went viral and sparked numerous protests against racism and police brutality in the U.S. and around the world as many people felt it a potent time to relay their frustrations with and to their governments.

For the LGBTQ community, these protests brought to light the need for human rights for transgender individuals as the murders of people like Tony McDade in Florida and Nina Pop in Missouri reawakened the flame within the Black Trans Lives Matter movement.

A tribute to Tony McDade in downtown Asheville, N.C., in June 2020. McDade was a Black transgender man who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Tallahassee, Fla., on May 27, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Washington Blade more than a year later spoke with Alex Santiago, executive director of the I Am Human Foundation in Atlanta, and Jasmyne Cannick, a Democratic political strategist and journalist in Los Angeles, to reflect on last year’s Black Trans Lives Matter movement, how far it has come, and what’s in store for the future. 

Uplifting voices often silenced

Participating in the Black Lives Matter protests was an easy decision for Santiago. He is a member of the Legendary House of Garcon, a ballroom house headquartered in D.C. 

Although the house is composed mostly of LGBTQ members, Santiago still felt the need to center trans voices and experiences by visually representing them during Black Lives Matter marches. 

“[I decided that] when I go I’m going to have signs that say ‘Black Trans Lives Matter.’ After talking to a couple of the people in the house, they said it was a great idea. So, they got these t-shirts made that incorporated the trans colors [baby blue, baby pink and white],” says Santiago.

Out of the 250 people in the Legendary House of Garcon, 175 showed up to D.C. from other states to march in solidarity with Black trans people. Santiago says that from what he was told, his was the largest group of activists representing Black trans lives at protests. 

“At first I thought people were going to look at us crazy, like, ‘Why are you separating yourselves or being exclusive?’. But, we got a great response from the general population that was there that day. It was a good day,” says Santiago.

Cannick, who was in Los Angeles during the protests, lent her efforts to platforming pertinent issues. She identifies herself as an ally and a “friend” to the LGBTQ community. 

“I’m active in the LA community and everybody knows me. So, whenever something happens, someone is hurt, someone is killed or someone needs to get the word out about something that’s going on particularly as it relates to the trans community, I’m always asked to get involved, and I do,” says Cannick. 

Over the past year, she reported on multiple LGBTQ issues including the trial of Ed Buck, a Democratic political fundraiser who was convicted in the deaths of two gay Black men who he injected with methamphetamine in exchange for sex.

What happened to the BTLM movement and what needs to change?

The nature of many social movements is that as the intense emotion surrounding them fades, people’s fervor for change wanes as well. This is especially true with allies who are not directly linked to the cause.

“Fatigue and frustration at the relatively slow pace of change to a growing backlash on the right against efforts to call out systemic racism and white privilege — has led to a decline in white support for the Black Lives Matter movement since last spring, when white support for social justice was at its peak,” US News reports about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Cannick believes this is the same for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. She says Americans allow the media to dictate how it behaves and responds to issues. Thus, when stories “fall out of our media cycles … they fall out of our memories.”

“I think that’s not going to change, and that’s a psychological thing, until we learn how to not let the media necessarily dictate our issues,” says Cannick. 

She suggests that individuals remain plugged into their communities by “doing anything to make sure they keep up with an issue” including following the “right people” on social media and setting up Google alerts for any breaking news. 

Jasmyne Cannick (Photo courtesy of Jasmyne Cannick)

Santiago also echoes Cannick’s sentiments. 

“We wait until something happens before we do something. And, I don’t want to be retroactive; I want to be proactive. I want people to see me when things are going well [and when they’re not going well],” says Santiago. 

Upon returning to his home in Atlanta after the D.C. protests, Santiago contacted a billboard installation company and paid for a billboard labelled, “Black Trans Lives Matter” to be displayed on University Avenue near downtown Atlanta. He says that the billboards got attention and helped to spread much-needed awareness. Following this success, he is now in the process of installing a new billboard labelled, “Black, Trans and Visible. My life Matters.”

“Unless you’re in people’s faces or something drastic happens, people forget. Unless you’re living it, people forget,” says Santiago.

As time progresses, both Santiago and Cannick nest hope for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. However, this hope can only persist when crucial steps are taken to ensure Black trans individuals around the country are protected, most importantly through legislation.

The New York Times reports there are close to 1,000 elected LGBTQ officials in the U.S., with at least one in each state except Mississippi. 

“We need to have more legislation. We need more voices in power like the council Biden has right now,” says Santiago. 

“You know that [Biden] has a lot of trans people and Black trans people [involved], and a part of that’s a positive step in the right direction, but we need that times 10,” says Santiago.

He believes that political representation should extend to local governance where ordinary Black trans individuals can be trained to assume leadership roles. 

Cannick’s focus is on the Black community. 

“[Trans women] are usually murdered by Black men. If we ever expect that to change, we need to start talking about that,” says Cannick.

She’s open to having conversations that put people, including her as a cis-identifying woman, in uncomfortable and awkward spaces. 

She hosts a podcast titled “Str8 No Chaser” and recently aired an episode, “Why Are Black Men Killing Trans Women,” where she discussed with three Black trans women about the gender and sexuality dynamics within the Black community and their perils. 

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