Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sean's Last Wish

One of the great controversies in the TG community is our association with the gay community. Many fear such a connection will only reinforce the belief in the mainstream that all crossdressers and transgender people are really gay. There is also the disillusionment over the ENDA debacle. The reality even there is that it brought our two communities closer as we realized how much our struggles are similar. Only those at the top of the HRC leadership do not see that. However that is a story that has been debated and analyzed in much better ways by better writers. However the fight does still continue.

Then there are those stories where the labels can be thrown away. They are simply about the human condition. It is a truly tragic story. Out of the despair and grief of losing a son, hope and even triumph reigns. Such is the story of Sean Kennedy, a 20 year old man that was taken from us far too soon. Yes, he is gay. That’s only part of the story.

Sean Kennedy was murdered just over a year ago. The short story is that he was leaving a bar in Greenville, SC early the morning of May 16, 2007. A young man in a car asked if he could spare a cigarette. He obliged, and then another person got out of the car and felt like he had the right to throw his fist through Sean’s face breaking the bones. Either the hit or the resulting fall shattered a piece of Sean’s spinal cord and killed him.

The four young people sped away in their car not realizing that Sean was dead. The young man who delivered the fatal blow even left a cell phone message to one of Sean’s girlfriends saying that Sean owed him $500 for a broken hand. The message was callous and cruel as he literally laughed about what he had done. Fortunately he was caught the next day. Unfortunately the South Carolina court system was not setup to properly dispense justice. The best they could charge the killer with was involuntary manslaughter as it was determined the act was not premeditated. Ironically the phone message was the deciding evidence. The sentencing hearing is set for later this summer. Chances are he will get off on time served.

Elke Kennedy, Sean’s mother, has spoken out since her son’s death about the lack of appropriate laws for this situation. Any kind of federal hate crimes law would have brought on federal charges. The death of the Matthew Shepherd Act last year likely means Sean’s death will not be the last. Also in South Carolina, there is not voluntary manslaughter or second degree murder. The prosecutors were very limited in how they could charge Sean’s killer.

Elke has crusaded tirelessly across the county speaking to many groups. The CGA was graced with her presence at the May meeting. An amazing thing happened as we shared our experiences. We realized we are not alone in our struggles. Elke admitted to us a lack of knowledge about the TG community. She now knows we support her in her fight. Once you get past the labels, our experiences are so similar.

One part of the discussion that I will share concerns churches and religious groups. As I noted in a recent post, it is difficult for a self professed TG Christian to find their place in either world. In Elke’s case, her church family abandoned her shortly after Sean’s death. They could not find anything in their belief system that would allow them to support Elke. In their view, homosexuality is an abomination. They will not come out and say it, but they probably believe Sean deserved to die.

So I asked Elke why does the church (particularly in more conservative regions) focus so much on this one supposed sin? One of my biggest pet peeves is that this world has far bigger problems such as corruption, greed, and lack of love. Why do we rail so much against this one “sin?” My belief is that addressing the above problems would force us to look in the mirror. At least with homosexuality, we can throw stones and be self righteous. Elke also correctly noted that so much of the belief system is taught from a young age. Many don’t associate with the gay or TG community. It becomes much easier to speak against and eventually hate a group of people you don’t know. It is my firm belief that hate caused Sean’s death.

Please note that the above is not a blanket indictment of all Christians. Pam and I have had the wonderful opportunity to talk with Christians who while they disagree with our lifestyle clearly do not hate us. Some have even taken the opportunity to know us and realize we’re not such bad people (and vice versa). We’re even somewhat normal sometimes! It is my prayer and hope that these conversations are the beginning to a greater understanding for all parties.

I will finish by saying that if you have the opportunity to hear Elke Kennedy speak, please do so. She is scheduled for the Salisbury PFLAG meeting at 10am, Saturday, June 14th. Go to their website, Sean’s Last Wish, for other appearance dates. She even apologized to the group at CGA for coming on a bit strong. I told her there was no need to apologize. She is a wonderful and impassioned speaker and an outstanding listener. I was honored she could attend CGA. You will be lifted by her story and undying spirit. We need more Elke Kennedy’s in this world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was a sad thing to have happen.Although the person(s) involved may get off with little or no punishment ,they will have to live with what they did for the rest of thier lives .It doesnt matter what they do to ease the guilt it will always be there , they have to live with it. In chrisianity homosexuality is a sin but murder is a sin as well .If you hate someone in your heart then you have already committed murder.A reason that "christians " tend to get upset with homosexuality as compared to greed and lust is it is easier to point a finger at an outside group than to take a look at themselves . It is written take the plank out of your own eye before you take the splinter from mine ( or vice versa).