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Memorial to honor gay victims of hate

Heroes

CARL JUSTE/MIAMI HERALD STAFF
TRAVELING MEMORIAL: Gay American Heroes Foundation organizer Scott Hall poses with a model of the proposed monument.

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Scott Hall didn't think much about gay rights, even after a stranger cracked him across the head with a baseball bat 25 years ago outside a gay bar in Melbourne.

''When I was attacked, I felt there was nothing I could do about it,'' said Hall, now 43. ``The concept of people thinking that I was gay was more frightening than me having my head smashed in.''

A year ago, Hall had an awakening. ''I was home watching TV one night and saw this little blip on the TV about a young man being brutally murdered in Polk County,'' he said. ``It caught me off guard. I sat there and thought about it.''

Heroes2 The March 2007 death of 25-year-old Ryan Keith Skipper (pictured) -- stabbed 20 times and dumped on a roadside in Winter Haven -- spurred Hall to action. The Cocoa Beach auctioneer began the Gay American Heroes Foundation, which honors gay hate-crime victims with a traveling memorial. It will be previewed during this week's Winter Party Festival in South Beach.

''Scott's memorial speaks to our society as a whole,'' said Skipper's stepfather, Lynn Mulder, 49, of Auburndale. ``It will help awareness all across the nation. . . . Ever since Ryan's murder, I've been acutely aware of all the horrible things happening across the nation.''

Hall says he already has the names of nearly 600 gay hate-crime victims for the monument. The latest addition: Lawrence King, a gay 15-year-old shot to death two weeks ago at a school in Oxnard, Calif., about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Lawrence was targeted by a younger boy because he came to school dressed in girl's clothing, authorities said. Prosecutors have charged 14-year-old Brandon David McInerney with premeditated murder, say he committed a hate crime and want him tried as an adult.

MAKING EXCUSES

Hall believes the speed with which McInerney was charged is unusual. Typically, police believe gay hate-crime victims ''got what they deserved,'' he said.

' `He hit on me' is the defense they use a lot of times,'' Hall said, recalling the 1995 murder of Scott Amedure hours after he revealed on The Jenny Jones Show his secret crush on another man.

Hall envisions a monument composed of 10-foot-wide, 7-foot-high vinyl-and-aluminum panels emblazoned with the names and pictures of gay hate-crime victims.

The monument would travel from city to city and be displayed outdoors.

''If we go into a civic center, we'll have to encourage people to come in,'' he said. ``And we'll be preaching to a choir.''

The project isn't cheap. Each panel would cost about $5,000. So far, Gay American Heroes Foundation has raised $25,000 and has been offered a $100,000 matching grant by Palm Beach philanthropist Bruce Presley.

JOINING FORCES

Many Florida gay activists have signed on to the project, including Chip Arndt, a one-time Amazing Race champ; Carole Benowitz, a founder of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG); Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida; and Waymon Hudson, a founder of Broward's Fight OUT Loud. National honorary board members include U.S. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts; singer Cyndi Lauper; actress Jill Clayburgh; Matt Foreman, executive director the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; and Broadway star Alan Cumming.

Heroes1 A lesser-known woman supporting the memorial is Elke Kennedy, whose son Sean, 20, (pictured) in May 2007 took a fatal punch to the face in Greenville, S.C.

''I get up each day knowing that this is what I need to do for the rest of my life,'' said Kennedy, 46, of South Carolina, now an activist lobbying for a national hate-crimes law.

''I did not want any mother to have to go through this again,'' she said.

Ryan Skipper's family will be in South Florida for a Heroes reception Friday night at Miami Beach Botanical Gardens, where the model will be displayed later this week.

''Scott Hall and the people working with Gay American Heroes have done a phenomenal job,'' Kennedy said. ``I hope we can see this memorial in every town and every city in the United States.''

Heroes3

LATEST VICTIM: Lawrence King, 13 in this photo, was 15 when he was shot to death two weeks ago. (AP File)

IF YOU GO

Reception for Gay American Heroes Foundation, 7:30 to 10 p.m. Friday, (program starts at 8:45 p.m.), Miami Beach Botanical Gardens, 2000 Convention Center Dr., Miami Beach. Suggested donation at door: $25.

More resources online

Gay American Heroes Foundation, www.gayamericanheroes.net

Sean Kennedy website, www.seanslastwish.com

Lawrence King websites, www.rememberlarry.com and www.rememberinglawrence.org

Winter Party Festival schedule, www.winterparty.com

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What do they expect, more of their vile "loving?"

''When I was attacked, I felt there was nothing I could do about it,'' said Hall, now 43.

Fight back comes to mind..but you would probably break a nail....

``The concept of people thinking that I was gay was more frightening than me having my head smashed in.''

Oh I don't know, I think having my skull bashed in would be a bit more frightening than what people are thinking. The wuss is strong with this one.

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It's so awful... Reading these horrible stories of hate and pointless violence has really made an impact on me. Although i am not homosexual--i feel offended by the attitude of some people-- not only toward the sick f*cks that actually commit these crimes, but the people that have the nerve to dissect every angle and somehow pinpoint the victim as a culprit--like they asked for it. Being gay isn't a label, it isn't disgusting or a choice... it's life. everyone has the RIGHT to live the way they want...and in reguards to jeff and gary's little comments-- oooh-if i could stand in front of you and say what i really want--but really??? WHY go on a MEMORIAL to honor gay victims of hate crimes--and spit what they THINK??? As far as i'm concerned--it's a tragedy--and awful truth that has to be faced. These are PEOPLE. HUMAN BEINGS--being murdered for what? For nothing. Senseless acts with sometimes little repercussions. I feel for the men and women who have lost their lives because someone DIDNT LIKE THEM... I feel sorry for sean's mother--who will never see her son again--because some kid wanted to be funny. My heart breaks for the victims and all their friends and family... I can't imagine the pain that comes after a person they love is ripped from their lives for ANY reason. But there is such a thing as a hate crime...if people would just LIVE and LET LIVE...

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