Today is International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (known as #IDAHO or #IADHOBIT).
It’s a tragic coincidence that this week marks another painful anniversary for one woman from South Carolina.
Yesterday (16 May) was the tenth anniversary of the violent death of 20-year-old gay man Sean Kennedy.
His mom, Elke, has spoken out on the anniversary of her son’s death. The crime is a reminder of the violence that LGBTI people in many parts of the world.
‘Called him a faggot’
‘On May 16, 2007 my son Sean was leaving a straight nightclub where he had been with his friends. As he was leaving, he saw a car parked outside the club with three young men,’ she said in a statement.
‘One of them called Sean over and asked him for a cigarette. Sean gave him a cigarette.
‘As he was walking away from the car, the guy in the back seat got out of the car, followed Sean, called him a faggot and punched him in the face so hard that it broke all of his facial bones and separated his brain from his brain stem.
‘He fell to the ground and his head hit the ground, causing his brain to ricochet in his head.
‘The guy got back into the car and left my son there dying. About 15 minutes later, Sean’s killer left a voicemail on the cellphone of a mutual female friend.’
A transcript of that message was later presented during the subsequent trial.
‘Hey, I was just wondering how your boyfriend’s feeling right about now [laughter]. The fucking faggot … Yeah boy, your boy is knocked out, man. The motherfucker. Tell him he owes me $500 for breaking my goddamn hand on his teeth, that fucking bitch.’
Sean Kennedy was punched by the teenager in the car park of a bar called Brews in Greenville. He was pronounced brain dead 17 hours after the attack, leaving his friends and family devastated.
‘No mother should ever have to bury her child’
Following her son’s death, Elke launched the non-profit Sean’s Last Wish, to educate people and communities about how hate, violence, bullying and religious bigotry destroy lives.
Due to her own health issues, she closed the organization in February 2016. However, she has been honored by GLAAD for her advocacy work, and has been praised for helping to advocate for the Federal Hate Crimes Bill signed by President Obama in 2009.
Despite this, she says much work remains.
‘No mother should ever have to bury her child. No mother should ever have to lose her child to hate and violence. No mother should have to fight for justice for her child.
‘This has been my mantra from the moment I lost my precious Sean.
‘In the last ten years I have seen many positive changes, like the passage of a Federal Hate Crimes Bill. I have also been proud to stand with thousands of families who have experienced similar tragedies and work in solidarity towards solutions.
‘But for all the progress we’ve made, we still see devastating setbacks like the Pulse Nightclub tragedy.
‘Our nation will soon mark the one-year anniversary of that horrific event, and I cry with all of the families and friends of those lost on June 12. Through our grief may we all find the strength and resilience to share our stories and build a world that celebrates diversity and embraces LGBTQ lives.’
LGBTI people report one-in-five hate crimes in US
According to the latest statistics from the FBI, in 2015, of almost 7,000 reported hate crimes, 17.7% were associated with sexual orientation bias. A further 1.7% were due to gender identity bias.
The teenager who punched Sean Kennedy was Stephen Andrew Moller of Taylors, Greenville. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to five years, suspended to three years.
With time served, he was released on 1 July 2009 – after spending 359 days in prison.
Sean was an organ donor. His heart, lungs, both kidneys and liver saved the lives of five people.
‘There was no justice for my son Sean,’ says mom Elke.
‘But his death was not in vain. I will continue to honor his memory and speak out on behalf of all those impacted by bullying, hatred and violence. Sean brought so much love to all he knew and I intend to carry that love forward for the rest of my life.’