“Hate crime murder is a human horror perpetrated against some members of a group to terrorize the whole group. We must find our anger about this, so that we will act to stop these senseless crimes.”
Out Impact recently had the opportunity to speak with Steve Sprinkle, Director of Field Education and Supervised Ministry, Associate Professor of Practical Theology, founder of UnfinishedLivesBlog.com (Facebook), Ordained Minister and author, about an age old epidemic that is taking a fatal toll on the LGBTQ community.
OI: For those unaware of your work with Unfinished Lives, what are some of the main objectives and/or goals of the website?
Sprinkle: The mission of Unfinished Lives is to reveal the reality of unseen violence perpetrated against people whose only “offense” is their sexual orientation; to make anti-LGBT hate crime statistics available to our communities; to educate about the nature of hate crimes and how it affects LGBT and other communities; and to eliminate hate crime through social justice and awareness activities.
OI: In your opinion, what do you think is the biggest misconception of hate crimes?
Sprinkle: Let me share two with you. The first is that LGBTQ hate crimes victims where engaging in “risky” behaviors that contributed to their deaths. This is nothing but an internalized version of the old “gay panic defense,” that says we are somehow responsible for the victimization we suffer. I never met a gay hate crimes survivor who had a death wish. These women and men were simply trying to live what is normal for them. They were looking for love, seeking companionship, or whatever. Straight people do the same sorts of things all the time. We, however, live in a culture that makes our lives vulnerable—all of our lives, for every one of us. That is the message most of us never seem to get. As long as the majority culture permits some of us to be killed and maimed, every one of us is at risk.
Second, the murders of LGBTQ people are not “tragedies.” There is nothing tragic about murder. It is an outrage, a capital crime, an attack on the whole human race and the persons of the victims who are targeted, but not a “tragedy.” People don’t get worked up over tragedies. They experience a catharsis from a tragedy, and then move on. Hate crime murder is a human horror perpetrated against some members of a group to terrorize the whole group. We must find our anger about this, so that we will act to stop these senseless crimes.
OI: So true. What would you say has been the most life changing experience for you growing up and/or during your career thus far?
Sprinkle: While I can’t put my finger on a moment or on a discrete experience apart from others, the process of reconciling my sexuality with my religious convictions has been the most powerful set of experiences I have had to date.
OI: You have authored two books and are currently working on a third. Who or what would you say is the motivation and/or inspiration behind your latest book, Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBT Hate Crimes Victims?
Sprinkle: In 2000 I was nearly the victim of a violent hate crime aimed at me because I am a gay man who lives openly on a university campus. The person threatening my life was a student whom I had never met. After dealing with the emotional trauma of the event, I began to wonder how many anti-LGBTQ hate crimes there were in the U.S. I knew about Matthew Shepard, and had been moved by his story. But what about the rest? So, I looked for books containing the stories of women and men who were attacked because of their sexual orientations, and, aside from a couple of books about Matthew Shepard, there were none. That is when I got involved in this project. It has been life-transforming for me.
OI: As a woman who identifies as bi-sexual and having grown up in the state of Michigan, I found it very alarming that the percentage of hate crimes committed against those in the LGBTQ community has risen to 207%. With that said what do you do think is the underlying, driving motivation behind these crimes (i.e. hate, fear, anger)?
Sprinkle: Ignorance and fear lie at the heart of most of these horrible crimes. LGBTQ people have been demonized by the “normal” culture, reduced to something faintly sub-human. To some extent, we have aided and abetted our adversaries by succumbing to self-loathing, and withdrawing into a bubble of denial. The most effective thing we can do as LGBTQ people is come out and live openly. Harvey Milk, one of our early martyrs, said that we must never seek to fit in, or to pass. If we are ever going to break the cycle of violence, we must refuse to be victims, live openly, and demand the full equality we deserve. Otherwise, our sisters and brothers have died in vain, and I, for one, am not content to let that happen.
Sprinkle and Friend Remember Micheal Shepard
OI: Do you feel that apathy is a problem in the gay community?
Sprinkle: Perhaps that is a part of the problem. But denial in our community is a larger problem. No one seems to think that hate crime can target them, but it can. There are millions of LGBTQ people living on the benefits of the hard work of a few who strive every day for justice and equality. Sounds trite, but I have found it to be true. We must stop believing that those who have died are “poor souls” who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. These are our dead sisters and brothers. Blacks don’t deny that lynchings all across the South were their people. Jews don’t deny that the Six Million immolated in the Nazi Holocaust were their people. First Nations People don’t deny that the thousands who died on the Trail of Tears were members of their tribes, too. But LGBTQ people have yet to admit fully that hate crimes against our people are brutally real, and that those who have died of hate crimes are our people.
OI: So true Mr. Sprinkle. With that said, how, would you say, hate crimes have personally touched your life?
Sprinkle: Because of my work and research, I have learned how much all of us need each other–especially all of us who are members of racial/ethnic, religious, differently-abled, female, and LGBT communities. I have learned how vital the work of advocacy is. I have learned how precious life itself is, and how fragile. For this project, I have interviewed relatives, bereaved lovers, co-workers, neighbors and friends, journalists, and law enforcement officers who had direct knowledge about the women and men who died so brutally because of ignorance, prejudice and fear. It has been the journey of a lifetime, and in a strange way, though I am a teacher, these deceased LGBT people have become my teachers.
OI: Here at OI we have begun a series entitled, “Who Pushes You to Be Better?” and so we wanted to know who it is that pushes you to be better professionally, personally or both?
Sprinkle: Two groups of people motivate me to be better. The first group is made up of my students. I teach theology at Brite Divinity School, and the wonderful interaction I have with students continually pushes me to be better. The second group of people is made up of the family, friends, and lovers of the LGBTQ hate crimes victims I have met around the nation. Mothers, sisters, dads, children, co-workers, neighbors, broken hearted lovers: many of them have become “accidental activists,” shoved by circumstance into the glaring light of public advocacy because of the unspeakable horror they endured when hate took away someone dear to them. These are great Americans, and the notion of their courage keeps me going.
OI: Great! What do you hope that members of the LGBTQ community, their allies and those in opposition will gain from you work with Unfinished Lives; your life’s work overall?
Sprinkle: LGBT people in the United States are suffering a slow-rolling holocaust of terror and murder all across the country. Every locale and demographic of society are affected: First Nations, Anglo, Black, Latino and Latina, South and Southeast Asian, Transgender, Bisexuals, Gay men, Lesbians, disabled, young, and mature. Homophobia has a long, crooked arm, and it is reaching out to snatch the life away from women and men whose tragic stories are under-reported to begin with, and whose memories are swiftly forgotten.
The horror of these killings transcends the shock and bereavement of loved ones and friends. These are not typical homicides; they are not killings for money or drugs, incidents of domestic strife, or crimes of passion. The vicious nature of hate crimes against LGBT persons is extremely brutal, violent, and hateful.
Each murder serves the LGBT population as a sobering warning about the actual level of danger in our communities. The message these killings send is that freedom and open life for LGBT people is a cruel dream. Every time we remember one of these victims, however, the intentions of their killers are frustrated. To remember these women and men is to begin the process of changing the culture that killed them.
Sprinkle at Rally for Love Protect and Vigil
OI: Well said; are there any non-profit organizations that you currently support?
OI: What has been the response from schools you have given your presentation to?
Sprinkle: I have given my presentation to schools, churches and civic groups around the nation, and the response has universally been supportive and positive. I correspond with people from California to Maine who have become aware of my work.
OI: In what ways can our readers support Unfinished Lives?
Sprinkle: Two things, please. First, support my web site, www.UnfinishedLivesBlog.com, and the work of other groups such as the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs who are working to change the conversation on hate crimes in this country. Second, please be on the lookout for my new book next year, Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memory of LGBT Hate Crimes Murder Victims, which is being published by Resource Publications. The manuscript is in copy edit as we speak.
OI: Thank you so much Mr. Sprinkle for taking the time to speak with us. Your cause is honorably selfless and has touched me beyond words. We wish you the best in all your future endeavors and are always here to support you in the fight against these horrific crimes being committed against those within our community.