The family of Ryan Skipper, a 25-year-old gay man from Winter Haven, Florida who was killed last year in a brutal hate crime, is speaking out and fighting for change. Skipper was found stabbed to death on March 15, 2007. He had been stabbed twenty times and his body was dumped by the side of the road. His killers drove around in his blood-soaked car, bragging how they had killed a gay man. The murders- William David Brown Jr., 20, and Joseph Bearden, 21- were charged with first-degree murder and will be going on trial separately in October 2008 and Feb 2009. You can find out more about the horrific crime in the amazing documentary "ACCESSORY TO MURDER: Our Culture's Complicity in the Death of Ryan Skipper" (trailer after the jump).
The family of Ryan Skipper has become outspoken advocates for stronger federal hate crimes legislation, as well as traveling the country to speak on the need for acceptance of LGBT people. They have been active in lobbying for the Matthew Shepard Act, which seeks to add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing federal hate crime laws. The law currently includes only race, religion, ethnicity and nationality.
Their work for stronger hate crimes legislation has also brought them into the fight for the next President of the United States. They have become vocal supporters of Barack Obama, in large part because of his stated commitment to passing hate crimes laws.
Watch the video from Ryan's brother and much more after the jump...
I know most of you watching this can understand how difficult it is to lose a loved one. Now just take a moment to consider how difficult it would be to lose a loved one in the manner we lost Ryan. And then consider that Ryan was killed because of who he was. Ryan was killed because he was an openly gay man. That's sickening.
Damien goes on to say:
We as a society have an opportunity to make a change. We have the opportunity to provide equality for the LGBT community.
My family strongly supports Barack Obama in his campaign for the presidency due in large part to his support for the Matthew Shepard Act. Please join us.
Obama's strong support for hate crimes legislation is in sharp contrast to his Republican opponent, John McCain. According to Obama's website:
Barack Obama has made strengthening and expanding the federal hate crimes law a priority.
• As a United States Senator, he co-sponsored the bill that would expand hate crimes protections to include crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill also would provide local law enforcement agencies with federal aid in fighting and prosecuting hate crimes.
• Barack cast the critical 60th vote that prevented the bill from being defeated by a Republican-sponsored filibuster. [2007 Senate Vote #350]
• He has pledged to continue his support for enacting these protections into law if elected President, promising earlier this year to "place the full weight of my administration behind the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Act to outlaw hate crimes... on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity." [New York Blade, 6/10/08]
• Barack has pledged to reinvigorate enforcement of all hate crime laws at the Department of Justice's Criminal Section. [www.barackobama.com]
While Barack Obama has been fighting to expand hate crimes protections, John McCain has been standing in the way. He has consistently stood in the way of the bill becoming law.
• McCain voted against the hate crimes bill in 2000. [2000 Senate Vote #136]
• McCain voted against the hate crimes bill in 2002. [2002 Senate Vote #147]
• McCain voted against the hate crimes bill in 2004. [2004 Senate Vote #114]
• In 2007, McCain was the only member of the Senate to not cast a vote at all on the bill. [2007 Senate Vote #350]
I have had the honor of meeting Ryan's family at various events and memorials. They are passionate people who are working to make sure what happened to their family doesn't happen to others.
They continue to tell their painful story and work with various organizations- like the Gay American Heroes Foundation, Equality Florida, PFLAG of Polk County and the Lakeland Youth Alliance- to make real change for the LGBT community. They also joined with EQFL and the GAHF to travel to Tallahassee and lobby for passage of an anti-bully bill. I am so thankful for their strength and activism.