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.''
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.
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.
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.
''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.''
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
• Winter Party Festival schedule, www.winterparty.com