Sunday, April 15, 2007

Vigil For Murdered Gay Fla. Man Calls For Passage Of Federal Hate Crime Bill

by Newscenter Staff

Miami, Florida) More than 1,000 people across Florida attended vigils on the weekend for Ryan Skipper, a gay man who was stabbed more than 20 times and whose body was dumped in a ditch.

Two men are facing the death penalty if convicted for the slaying the 25-year old Bartow man.

Vigils were held Saturday in 14 cities across Florida and organizers used it to call on federal lawmakers to pass the Matthew Shepard Act.

The bill, named for the gay college student who was killed in a homophobic attack in Wyoming in 1998, was introduced in the Senate last week. (story) A similar bill was reintroduced in the House last month. (story)

The bill would allow the Department of Justice to assist local authorities in investigating and prosecuting cases in which violence occurs and add gays and lesbians to the categories protected under the legislation.

How Skipper met his killers is unclear. Police have said they hooked up when Skipper went out in his car cruising for sex. Friends and relatives of the dead man say he never engaged in street cruising and was careful of who he took home.

What is not disputed is that somewhere Skipper met Joseph Eli Bearden, 21 and the two went to Skipper's home, smoked marijuana and used Skipper's lap top computer.

Later they left the house and met up with William David Brown Jr., 20.

Skipper was attacked in his own car. After dumping the body Brown and Bearden allegedly drove to another home where they attempted to clean the car.

When the vehicle was found by police there still was a considerable amount of blood in it. Police say they accused had driven the car around to the homes of several friends showing off the bloody interior.

Bearden and Brown are charged first-degree murder and robbery with a deadly weapon.

"Ryan's murder was not an isolated incident, but rather the latest in an epidemic of hate violence targeted at gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Florida and across the nation," said Brian Winfield, communications director for Equality Florida, which organized the vigils.

"Hate crimes have as their target more than just the victim. They are intended to send a message to an entire community of people and to strike fear into that community. That is why the silence of our state leaders must be challenged."

Winfield said that even though Florida includes sexuality in its hate crime law neither the governor nor the attorney general has commented on the Skipper murder.

In 2003, Gov. Crist, who at the time was Attorney General, described anti-gay hate crimes as increasing "relentlessly over the past 5 years." The following year saw an additional 21% increase in the number of physical attacks against LGBT people.

During 2005, the most recently reported year, 62% of hate crimes against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people were in the most violent categories. No other group came close.

"Two days ago, that Federal Hate Crimes Bill was renamed the Matthew Shepard Act and was introduced in the Senate." said Winfield.

"I encourage you to contact your Congressman and Senators and demand that they support the bill. If they ask why, tell them, ‘we have our own Matthew Shepard here in Florida, his name was Ryan." Winfield people at one of the rallies.

© 2007

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