Denton case illustrates need for federal Matthew Shepard Act

Posted on 31 May 2007 at 8:31pm
By Ben Briscoe Staff Writer

Lauper’s True Colors Tour to raise money, awareness about issue in Dallas on June 23



Chris McKee

On the night of Dec. 3, 2005, Chris McKee left his favorite Denton bar on Fry Street, like he had done so many times before. But this night was different.

It all started as McKee was saying goodbye to a friend that he calls “the biggest queen in Denton.”

“We don’t do the handshake thing; when we say hello or goodbye we kiss each other,” McKee said. “Apparently that offended a group of people on the street, and two men followed me to my car as I was getting ready to leave. They kept saying “‘faggot this’ and “‘queer that.’”

McKee says he kept his back turned to the men and tried to ignore them at first, but then they walked up and elbowed him in his sides. McKee asked them what their problem was and the men immediately replied, “Let’s kick this faggot’s ass.”

By the end of that night, McKee had been repeatedly kicked in his side and had his hand slammed in a car door.

According to the FBI, McKee is not alone in suffering a crime motivated by hate. About every six hours someone in the U.S. is victimized because of his or her sexual orientation. Despite this statistic, the current federal hate crime law has no protection for sexual orientation like it does for race, color, national origin and religion.

That’s something the Matthew Shepard Act hopes to fix. Named after the gay University of Wyoming student who was beaten and left, tied to a fence, to die in 1998, the bill would add sexual orientation, gender identity and disablement as categories under the current federal hate crimes law.

The Matthew Shepard Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives recently, but it’s having some trouble getting off the ground in the Senate, partly because of fear it could limit religious speech.

Leaders of the Baptist church in particular have lobbied against it, wearing T-shirts with a picture of Jesus that read, “This man could never hate anyone.” They say that under the legislation, some biblical verses would be considered hate speech, and therefore, prosecutable if read aloud in church.


Cyndi Lauper

When Grammy award winner Cyndi Lauper heard about this struggle in the Senate from Sheppard’s mother, Judy, she decided to do something about it.

“I am friends and family of the gay community,” Lauper said. “And when your friends and family are treated like that, you need to stand up and say something.”

Lauper has chosen an unusual method for making that stand.

“I’m not a politician, and I can’t speak very well,” she said. “But I can sing really well, so I thought I would go out and do that.”

Lauper approached the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that supports the Sheppard act by lobbying Congress. Together, they decided to create the True Colors Tour. The tour will feature Lauper, Erasure, Debbie Harry, The Dresden Dolls and emcee Margaret Cho.

The tour stops in 16 cities this summer, including Dallas on June 23 at the Smirnoff Music Centre. Special guest Rosie O’Donnell will also be at the Dallas performance.

One dollar from every ticket purchase will go toward HRC’s efforts in getting the act passed. But the political activism doesn’t stop there.

“While we are singing loud and dancing together, we will be doing something good,” Lauper said. “This is a very proud, strong community and we all need to stand together. That was we can make a difference and get this act passed. If we fragment, we can’t win.”

To make that unified stand, Lauper will be asking everyone in attendance to write their senators, via the HRC website, and tell them that the act should be passed.

According HRC President Joe Solmonese, the organization couldn’t be happier with the tour.

“There is no better way to increase the fight than to bring Cyndi in,” he said. “Along with her, you get tens of thousands of fans, and if there is one thing we know, it’s that the number and volume of calls, notes and letters really matters. The higher it is, the more chance of making a difference your cause has.”

McKee is also very excited about the tour.

“One of my friends just bought me tickets,” he said. “When I go, it’s going to be more than a little emotional. I’m very glad this is happening, and I think we need to have a lot more of these community-unifying events if we ever want our voice to be strong enough to be heard.”

E-mail Briscoe@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 1, 2007.

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