We Are Trayvon Martin: LGBTQ and African Americans United by Murder

byrd shepard

President Barack Obama is joined by the relatives of victims of hate crimes during a reception commemorating the enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

What does Trayvon Martin’s murder have to do with gay civil rights protection?

The quick answer: the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (mostly known by Matthew Shepard’s name). This might be the only option the Florida Justice Department has in moving forward to arrest George Zimmerman and charge him with murder.

The nation is outraged that in 2012 an unarmed, African-American, 17-year-old high school student can be shot dead by a neighborhood watch captain because his egregious offense was “walking while black” in a gated community.

By now you are familiar with the story—on February 26, Trayvon Martin left a 7-Eleven convenience store to head back home to his father’s fiancée’s gated community in the Retreat At Twin Lakes in Sanford, Florida. George Zimmerman, 28, of mixed ethnic descent (mother Peruvian, and father Jewish—he identifies as Hispanic) began following Trayvon and called the Sanford Police Department. Although Zimmerman was advised by his superior not to pursue Trayvon, he shot Trayvon in self- defense after a physical altercation initiated supposedly by Trayvon.

Was Zimmerman motivated by racism; therefore, racially profiling Trayvon?

And was Zimmerman’s act also a hate crime?

Many politicians are throwing around the h-word concerning Trayvon’s murder. Now many African-Americans are, too.

Renowned African American filmmaker Tyler Perry told CNN.com that “Racial profiling should be a hate crime investigated by the FBI. That way local government can’t make the decision on whether or not these people get punished.”

Perry recalled his frightening experience when he was pulled over by the Los Angeles Police Department for making an illegal turn and having tinted windows. Once a black officer pulled up at the scene, recognizing Perry. The arresting officers apologized and let him go. Perry stated that the incident, however, has stayed with him, opening his eyes to what type of treatment he might have endured if it wasn’t for his celebrity status.

more from irene monroeIn 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act in law. Many African-Americans were irate that their protection under the law—which they argue they have fought for since being shipped to America in 1619—had to be associated with a white gay male who was killed in 1998.

Some African Americans, and, of course, heterosexual homophobes, wanted to know why couldn’t they have the James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act act solely to protect them. Many further argued that the law would serve to solely protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and queer Americans and would do precious little to protect them, particularly since the bill is commonly referred to as the Matthew Shepard Act.

trayvon martin

Trayvon Martin

“The more time I spend in the LGBT community’s civil rights movement, the more I’m struck by the need for all the various human communities to support one another…Trayvon’s death is as personal to me as any white lesbian’s death. Trayvon is my brother, and whether one is black, white, gay or straight, we are all human beings together in this struggle for human dignity. It’s as simple as that,” Carol Fischer, wrote me in an email. Fischer is a white lesbian and producer of bloomingOUT, a weekly queer radio show on WFHB Radio Station in Bloomington, Indiana.

In 1998, both James Byrd Jr., and Matthew Shepard were victims of bias-motivated crimes.

Rev. Irene Monroe

Byrd, an African American, was murdered by three white supremacists who chained him to the back of their pick-up truck at his ankles and dragged along a three-mile asphalt road until he was dismembered. Shepard was tortured, tethered to a fence and left to die because he was gay.

With Florida’s Stand Your Ground permitting Zimmerman to walk without charges, the Shepard-Byrd statute not only reminds us of how bias-motivated crimes links gays and blacks together but that it’s also the best hope for Trayvon Martin and his family seeking justice.

Rev. Irene Monroe


  1. Deedra Brown says

    Thank you so much for noting the parallels between racism and homophobia. Many blacks say the LGBT community is trying to piggyback on their movement, but in reality, the fight for African-American civil rights and LGBT civil rights are both part of the same civil rights movement. They are two fronts in the same battle. Both involve a minority group singled out by the majority for discrimination and persecution on the basis of innate intrinsic characteristics. And in both movements are incomplete. The work of achieving legal and cultural equality is ongoing for both groups, and allowing anti-gay organizations to “divide and conquer” by pushing homophobia in black churches and communities is ironic and cruel.
    African-Americans’ ancestors were brought to America against their will, enslaved, whipped, raped, subjected to separate but not-equal Jim Crow laws and lynched. Gays and lesbians were persecuted by religions and governments for centuries, imprisoned, castrated, lobotomized, interred in concentration camps, stoned, and hanged. Blacks are still discriminated against, in spite of our civil rights laws. Lesbians and gay men are still persecuted by religions and governments, queer-bashed, “correctively” raped and subjected to other separate but not-equal laws. But we don’t have to compare oppression, we just have to recognize it and stop it.
    Regardless of how one feels about homosexuality, the tenets of freedom and equality are part of all of our cultural heritage. Slavery was ended because of enormous efforts on the part of white abolitionists. The NAACP was started with money from Jews. Non-black freedom riders and civil rights activists were murdered in MS fighting for civil rights for blacks. Even the bible quotes about slavery were first written about Jews who were slaves! Gays are a small minority, but exist in every race and culture. They are simply a natural part of humanity. They’re not going away, and will never stop fighting for their civil rights. LGBT equality will finally be achieved in this country when enough heterosexuals care enough to stand up for equal rights, just as whites made a stand against slavery and for black civil rights.  
    “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Martin Luther King Jr.

  2. says

    “Gay, bisesexual, transgender and queer” ……

    and how about anyone else with a chartreuse mole on their right pinky?  Yessir, give us an etiology dissecting gay vs. queer.  We do need that, now, at this time in the life of this nation!

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