Exclusive: National Memorial for LGBT Hate Crime Victims Launches


Scott Hall, longtime activist Frank Kameny, US. Representative Barney Frank and Amazing Race winner and activist Chip Arndt are spearheading the launch of Gay American Heroes, a national memorial to honor LGBT people murdered because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Supporting them are a large number of gay and straight public figures who have lent their names to the project.

The memorial’s goal is to honor and remember LGBT people who have been murdered in anti-gay hate crimes, engage and inform the public about LGBT hate crimes, and “inspire compassion and greater appreciation for, and acceptance of, diversity,” according to Arndt.

Hatecrimevictims_3The memorial and exhibition, consisting of a 100-ft. long display made up of eight-ft. tall rainbow-colored multi-dimensional panels which bear the photographs, names, ages, and occupations of LGBT hate crime victims, will travel throughout the country to college campuses, LGBT events, and communities where anti-gay hate crimes have occurred. According to the organizers, an informational welcome tent will host guest speakers and distribute educational materials. Local community leaders will be encouraged to host informative programs in conjunction with the exhibit.

The expected completion date of the Gay American Heroes exhibit is December 2007. The foundation’s ultimate goal is to establish a permanent memorial to hate crime victims in Washington, D.C.

The organizers say they chose the name “Gay American Heroes” for the exhibition because the majority of the heterosexual community at large, whom the foundation seeks to educate, often does not distinguish between lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, but places all in a single category — gay. The foundation also notes that it is focusing first on Americans and those who choose to take the “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” of others into their own hands. As for the “heroes” moniker, the organizers say: “All people who live honestly about their sexual orientation are heroic, as it takes great strength and courage to face the daily struggles for personal freedom in the face of enormous opposition; to ultimately give their life for said freedom makes them heroes.”

Founder and president Scott Hall, a hate crime victim himself, came up with the idea after hearing about the brutal homophobic killing of Ryan Keith Skipper, a 25-year-old from Polk County, Florida.

Hall contacted pioneering gay activist Frank Kameny, whose extensive collection of gay rights papers and memorabilia was recently donated to the Library of Congress, and noted writer and historian James T. Sears. Several others, including Arndt, and Fort Lauderdale’s Stonewall Library and Archives executive director Jack Rutland came on board and the project gained steam.

Said Hall: “We want to reach out to communities as soon as possible following a deadly anti-gay hate crime. We want to support the family and friends of the victim, as well as to work with local officials, law enforcement and service organizations to provide counseling and outreach.”

Several high-profile figures have thrown their support behind the project as an “Honorary Board of Directors” including U.S. Representative Barney Frank, Matt Foreman of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, U.S. Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva, the first American wounded in the war in Iraq, actors Alan Cumming, Chad Allen and Bobby Gant, former professional baseball player Billy Bean, political strategist David Mixner, and novelist Christopher Rice. I have also agreed to serve on the Honorary Board.

Cyndi Lauper and T.R. Knight have also expressed a desire to help in whatever way they can.

Elke Kennedy, whose son Sean William Kennedy was killed in a homophobic attack in May in South Carolina, has joined the group’s Board of Advisors.

Several local and national organizations have declared their support for the non-profit Foundation. They include Equality Florida, Freedom Democrats of Miami-Dade, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Pridelines Youth Services, Safe Schools South Florida, Stonewall Library & Archives, The Trevor Project and Unity Coalition of Miami-Dade.

Gay American Heroes Foundation will be funded through private and grant donations, offline and online fundraisers and partnership donations. The Dade Community Foundation is currently managing the Foundation’s contributions and is fiscally sponsoring Gay American Heroes.

The foundation’s online address is GayAmericanHeroes.com.


  1. RDM says

    You know, I like the idea of memorializing victims of homophobia.

    But a victim isn’t the same thing as a hero.

    It’s a soundbite used by the mainstream media, and it’s really lazy.

    I’m all for memorializing victims of anti-gay brutality, and recognizing true acts of heroism. But I’m against conflating the two.

  2. RDM says

    To give my last post some context, I consider Matthew Shepard a victim of homophobia, but Judy Shepard is my hero for taking up the fight on behalf of her son.

  3. JLS says

    Sure I’ll get crucified for this, but “Heroes” really isn’t the appropriate term here.

    I feel the same way about applying the term to people who died in 9/11 (I’m a new yorker, btw). It was a horrible tragedy, but I’m not sure how that makes them a “hero” of any kind.

    We just arbitrarily apply the term to be respectful or in reverence, but it still makes no sense.

  4. peterparker says

    I completely agree that there is something odd about calling someone a hero simply because they were a GLBT person murdered because of his/her sexual orientation. It reminds me of the horrible ‘joke’ that I’ve heard racists in the South make upon seeing a funeral procession for a black person…the bigots would say “Now there goes a good Nigger.” Horrible right? Well, calling a murdered GLBT person a ‘hero’ comes inadvertently close in my opinion. And I agree with RDM that while Matthew Shepard was a murder victim his mother is a hero for her advocacy work.

  5. JerzeeMike says

    I love the whole concept of this memorial but I have to agree on the use of the term “Heroes.” I’m with RDM about the Judy Sheppard comment, she is a hero for everything she has done since Matthews death.

  6. Timmy says

    I sort of feel the same way. However, if someone lives their life as an openly gay person in an area where they know it may not be safe, is that not heroic? Still, this seems to be bestowing the “hero” title exclusively on murdered victims.

  7. Leland says

    As anal retentive as I am about exactness in words, I was troubled about the choice of “heroes” at first, too. I agree that calling victims of 9/11 heroes is inappropriate, except for those who tried to overpower the hijackers on Flight 93, and firefighters, police, medics, and average citizens who risked their lives helping others that day.

    But rereading the introduction, I now totally agree: “All people who live honestly about their sexual orientation are heroic, as it takes great strength and courage to face the daily struggles for personal freedom in the face of enormous opposition; to ultimately give their life for said freedom makes them heroes.”

    The apparent individuals covered in this exhibit weren’t simply sitting in a building one day that was blown up not for who they were but for the significance of the building itself. The subjects of this exhibit, however, were conciously targeted, either with predatory premeditation such as Michael Sandy, or spontaneous crimes of opportunity built around homohatred such as Matthew Shepard, or eruptions of homohating rage such as Gwen Araujo. Each was just going about being themselves, into a world still filled with antigay animals, whether they roam the streets of one of the largest, most sophisticated cities in the world such as New York City where Denny was stalked, or the modern West of Wyoming where Shepard was beaten to death, or within miles of the gay ground zero of San Francisco whose TV stations first reported the brutal group execution of Gwen Araujo. Each of them went out alone the night they died, simply, fully being themselves, not in “safe” gay places, and they never made it home. THAT is the lesson this exhibit needs most to teach nongay America; that in 2007 you can still be killed for just being yourself; and by their ignorance of that, by their refusing to denounce those who demonize gays whether it be the President of the United States or a pulpit pimping cretin in a clerical collar or a psychopath and his inbred clan waving signs and shouting “Fags Die God Laughs” or rappers or Beenie men——THEY, the silent ones, the apathetic ones, are simply unindicted coconspirators.

    By getting not us but that general public to ask, “Why ‘heroes’?” and giving them such answers, more will learn who otherwise never would that the logical conclusion of dehumanizing people is death. And that we are not the “Other,” just the occasional victims they hear about, tsk tsk, or kneeslapping minstrel show stars like Carson and Ross the Intern, or fodder for jokes in Adam Sandler movies, or celebrities with uncontrollable impulses busted in public restrooms like George Michael. We are the faceless ones until a surviving relative gives our picture to the newspaper. We are young. we are middle-aged, we are old; we are white and Black and Brown and
    Asian; we are poor, we are middle class, we are rich; we pass for straight or couldn’t pass in a fog; we die in fem drag and college student drag, in clothes we bought at Wal*Mart sales or along Rodeo Drive; we are someone’s sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers and friends and neighbors, and the risks we take just being fully human makes us, yes, a kind of hero.

  8. Nikk says

    wow, i am actually surprised at some of the rational comments this time around. I guess i should give it some time. But still, i totally agree that there is a difference between a ‘hero’ and a ‘victim’ of a tragic killing. We really cheapen it for the folks who do heroic things…like saving someone from becoming a victim. Leave it to politicians to pick up on buzz words and run with it rather than think things through. its a worthy memorial…just could use a little better thought.

  9. nic says

    i, too, agree with the comments above. people, i think americans in particular, have a propensity for hyperbole. it is not only lazy, but it tends to rob certain words of their strength. if the victims of heinous crimes are heroes, then what are the people who endeavor to redress the wrongs and seek justice? superheroes? and if every soldier who fights in iraq, for example, is a de facto hero, then what are the ones who commit atrocoties against civilians while there? heroes — but not so much?

    on at least a couple of the “to catch a predator” episodes on nbc, soldiers and/or ex-soldiers have been caught with their pants down, so to speak. what are they? part-time heroes/part-time pedophiles?

    superstar is another term that has lost its credibilty. is victoria beckham really an international superstar? there are many other examples.

  10. 24play says

    The correct word to describe someone killed because of who s/he is or what s/he believes would obviously be “martyr.” More than just a victim but not necessarily a hero.

    Unfortunately, if you want to reach people outside the group attacked, “martyr” doesn’t resonate as strongly as “hero.” Also, “martyr” sounds drama-queeny.

  11. Loonesta says

    The use of the word “hero” has been wrung dry. Since ‘9-11′ , the innovatively Republican equation that ‘corpse = hero’ has been applied to nearly every single death, other than from natural causes, broadcast or commented upon on television and in digital or analog print. The word has lost its original meaning: in Greek mythology a hero is the child of a mortal and a god, i.e. a demigod. Anyone out there think that Pat Tillman was a demigod? See Fellini’s “Satyricon” for a good look at one…

  12. Will says

    Technology has certainly accelerated the age-old problem of word inflation. Other examples are “genius” and “superstar” and even “star” alone. One of my personal pet peeves is “friends” due most egregiously to friendster and now myspace and similar viral (as in disease) sites. Except for those pages built around causes they should be called dumbster. Even “love” is no longer saved for the most special people in our lives. But are we to abandon those words because of that. Are we to surrender to the superficial and stupid?

    Rather than “lazy” these people clearly put a great deal of thought into their word choice and as Leland reiterated gave a reasonable even strategic explanation for it. And until one of you comes up with a better one both for the title and the project’s goals there are several words that apply to you and none of them are heroic.

  13. Bill Perdue says

    I feel very uncomfortabe saying this, but Leland is right on this question.

    A hero is a person who lives their life knowing it will get them harassed, and could get them beaten or killed. It’s a decision millions of us make everyday when we kiss, hold hands, walk into a bar, or do any of the things that expose us to christian bigots and thugs. And that, if you remember, starts in grade school.

    Unlike the ‘heroes’ of Bush’s piratical oil war in Iraq, we don’t have to kill civilians or Iraqi resistance fighters to be thought of as heroes. We’re the real thing, and so are our dead.

  14. nic says

    please! not one person on this thread has questioned the validity of the memorial. to the contrary, everyone has been supportive. the discussion is one of semantics.

    if everyone who has been beaten or killed because he or she openly practiced a particular religion; wore a certain type of clothing; had a particular skin color; behaved a certain way; and on and on, is considered a hero, then the world is replete with heroes, and has a paucity of victims. this is absurd.

    while language evolves, i do not think it should be constantly in flux. how else do we prevent abominations like confusing “enormity” (an important and singularly useful word that excellently describes genocide and hate-crimes) with “enormousness”? people no longer have “problems,” they have “issues.” when was the last time anyone was asked to solve a math issue? things no longer simply happen, they “transpire.” when something is “decimated,” it no longer is destroyed by 1/10 or by a significant amount, it is completely destroyed. most people do not know when to use “i” rather than “me,” so they resort to the lazy, yes lazy, default word “myself.” apparently the words “lend” and “lent” — when they pertain to borrowing something other than money — have disappeared from the face of the earth and replaced by “loan” and “loaned.” i could go on and on.

    Will, there is no reason to pick a fight; don’t get your manties in a knot. no one is calling the organizers of this project lazy, at least i’m not. i’m talking about the epidemic carelessness and indolance of people in the general population.

    moreover, if Leland is, indeed, anal retentive about word usage, he will reconsider his position. if not, there is no reason to get nasty about it.

  15. anon (gmail.com) says

    I tend to stick with the idea that a hero knowingly and selflessly risks life or treasure for the salvation or betterment of others, most likely in a moment of crisis but not necessarily so.

    Thus, we might include Father Michael of 9-11 fame as a hero, along with Sgt. Alva, USMC and possibly TR Knight (risking his career), and not just the victims of hate crimes. I’m sure there are many others. It would also help if the heroism was not necessarily gay related. For example, a decorated gay police officer who saved kids from a burning building or something. This is a “Hero who happens to be gay” POV.

  16. Sanchez is a ho says

    Hey Matt,
    How’s that ex-gay thing going for ya? {snicker} Do your fellow soldier know about the thousands of pics of you with your tongue up another man’s asshole? If not, they will soon
    And Matt, once you’re an ass-eating cock-sucking fag you’ll always be an ass-eating cock-sucking fag.
    You know you are.

  17. nic says

    matt sanchez, you old tijuana tramp, whuzzup? you’re no longer man-whoring i hear. well, in a sense you are, to the right-wing crazies. what are you going to do when they toss you aside like the used cum rag that you are. you are one pathetic piece of shit. why the hell are you polluting towleroad? go away now. go on….

  18. nic says

    hey guys,
    for those that don’t already know: the “matt sanchez” above who said, “Who cares if fags get bashed?” is the same matt sanchez/toy soldier/male whore/porn star/ex-gay/born-again christian/scam artist/liar/fraud/ hypocrite and all around great humanitarian who had become somewhat of a cause celebre for the likes of sean hannity, bill o’reilly, ann coulter, michelle malkin, and the rest of that wretched bunch. if you click on his name it will take you to his website: (http://mattsanchez.typepad.com/). there you can find his e-mail so that you can contact him personally.

  19. ShawnSF says

    Words matter. Hero is more than applicable to those who lived(and continue to live) their lives openly and honestly as GLBT folks in this homohating world. Harvey Milk was more of a HERO than any politician or human currently alive and just like other REAL heros like Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln he became a martyr in the process. One can only imagine what kind of a world we could be living in had these men and others like them(John Lennon,Bobby Kennedy,etc)contined to live full,dynamic lives with their leadership,courage and heroism. I’m inspired by what Leland wrote and applaud the efforts of those who continue to fight against violence,hatred and ugliness in the world in order to create a more peaceful,loving and hopeful world for all of us. I look forward to seeing the exhibit in San Francisco soon.

  20. Lea says

    I am a heterosexual female, and I am all for the term “Hero” being used in this context. Martyr implies dying for your cause. I think they were heroes for being their authentic selves in a world that in 2007 will cut you down for being supposedly different. It is horrifying. I can’t imagine how debilitating it would be not to be able to express myself due to my sexual orientation. To hide in fear of the reprecussions. These victims were also heroes, because they didn’t hide. The victims of 9-11 were ordinary people who simply went to work on the wrong day. Some of course were heroes, but most were victims. I hope one day all people will accept, not tolerate, each other and their sexual orientations. We all love, get hurt, have families and live our lives. We have much more in common than not. Kudos on this project. It is much needed.

  21. scoogeeandfattyler says

    I haven’t read all the comments (sorry), but I do want to respond to the person(s) who wrote that he had a problem with murdered queers being called heroes. (If someone has already stated what I am about to say, sorry, again.) This POV is really a micro view of the situation, and is indeed correct. But the larger picture dictates that this event/project needs to be marketed and after being marketed, sold. What does it need to be called so that TIME/CNN will cover it? How about “murdered fags and dykes?” Nope. Or maybe “gay martyrs?” Don’t think so. Well, let’s us “sex rage victims?” Won’t fly. The “heroes” moniker is something that makes people not want to change channels. They make actually watch the story. And, more importantly, they might actually go to the exhibition. This is tantamount to the same view that “all PWAs are heroes.” What bullshit! But that is the same tactic that was used to present persons who were killed by government neglect and social neglect to get people to care. In a perfect world, we can argue over semantics. But in this fucked-up culture, if making a murdered kid a hero is what it takes, then I say, so be it.

  22. Rev. T. Jones says

    What kind of crap is this? You’re visiting a memorial page dedicated to victims of hate crimes. And the best topic you can discuss is terminology? This is disgraceful. This site is a wonderful memorial to the victims, and who cares what terminology is used? Except for Matt. If you don’t care if fags get bashed, then what are you doing visiting this site? Get a life.
    To Lea: Thank you for your comments. The world needs more wonderful straight people like you. You are an example to all.
    Next Subject: How about instead of discussing the terminology, we discuss what needs to be done in order to keep this site from growing. (You know, to keep from having to add more victims to the list.) Wake up, people!

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