Gay American Heroes Foundation – A National Memorial to Celebrate Their Lives – An interview with Scott Hall.
We have all heard the stories of a teenage boy tied to a tree and murdered, a girl stabbed multiple times and her throat slit, a woman beheaded, a man beaten to death and others. What these stories and thousands more have in common is that all these individuals were murdered solely because they were gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. With all the wonderful GLBTQ organizations out there, it is amazing that there was no organization protecting our basic human right to live.
We have all heard the stories of a teenage boy tied to a tree and murdered, a girl stabbed multiple times and her throat slit, a woman beheaded, a man beaten to death and others. What these stories and thousands more have in common is that all these individuals were murdered solely because they were gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. With all the wonderful GLBTQ organizations out there, it is amazing that there was no organization protecting our basic human right to live. That is until 2007, when Scott Hall began fighting hate on the frontlines in America by starting the Gay American Heroes Foundation (non-profit). According to Scott, “We fight hate together or we die alone at the hands of hate!” For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting Scott, he is a powerhouse who I am happy to say is out there every day protecting our rights and standing up to the people who teach hate. It was my pleasure to sit down with Scott for this exclusive one on one interview.
What made you start Gay American Heroes?
Gay American Heroes Foundation started because of the lack of media coverage on the gruesome murder in March 2007 of Ryan Skipper, a 25-year-old openly gay Winter Haven man whose body was dumped on the side of a road after being beaten, stabbed 20 times, and his throat slit. Ryan was the spark that lit a long overdue fire burning in my heart. It was my mom who taught me how to love, my brother who taught me how to fight, my best friend and mentor Jack Nichols, who gave me knowledge and Ryan Skipper who gave me the courage to speak out.
Where did the concept come from?
I needed a way to tell the stories of so many LGBTQ people that have been and are still being murdered for being themselves. The name had to embody, with precision, who these people were that we are honoring and I thought of “Gay American Heroes.” Second, it was important to design a memorial that really stood out and made a statement. It also had to be flexible yet durable with lots of color, and also water proof for outside events.
What is the ultimate goals for Gay American Heroes?
To honor all our friends and family who been stolen from us because of hate. To give hope to LGBTQ people who live in fear everyday for being themselves. It is important to let everyone know that there are people out there who love you for who you are and that we are standing up for you every day. It is nice to be able to show people, even in the smallest way, that brighter days are ahead and you are loved for who you are. We also want to shine a huge rainbow light on HATE and on those who teach it. So together we can help stop people from poisoning our schools, communities and nation with a narrative of intolerance, misinformation, and hate.
How long have you been touring with the memorial?
The full size Rainbow Memorial is not yet built. We have an 8 foot model that we have been showing across the country (to over 83 locations including colleges, pride events, the capital building in Tallahassee, etc.) since 2007 and are in the process of raising funds to build the larger memorial.
What has been the reaction to the memorial?
People have been so kind with their words and gifts of support. They are very moved to see the faces and hear the stories of each hero. Everyone who spends just a little bit of time interacting with the exhibit thanks us for educating them on LGBTQ hate crimes. So many people have given their unconditional love for the Rainbow Memorial, our heroes, and us; it is what keeps me going.
How did you raise money to get this organization off the ground?
I am really glad you asked that question because I couldn’t have done it without some local living heroes. Chuck Hunziker and Bob Collier held the first fundraiser at their home and raised over $10,000. In addition I couldn’t have done this without the support of Pubset Printing, Joe Palant Insurance, Jackson and Mark and Georgie from the Alibi and Bill’s Corporation who helped build the scale model, Ken, Lloyd and Bubba at Scandals Saloon. John, Cliff, Chris and Tyrone at Rosie’s, and grants from the John C. Graves Foundation and local Leaders Carol Moran from New Moon and Dean Trantalis law firm and many others who have helped us keep going. And I have to thank our board of Directors, David Cornell de Silvia, Dr. Roderick Hurt, Chip Arndt, Carol Benwoitz and Lanny Ballard who have believed in me since day one!
You have some high-profile supporters; discuss them.
Cyndi Lauper was one of the first to offer help. She immediately got what we were doing and started to cry when I told her the Ryan Skipper story and asked, “How can I help?” Alan Cumming is quite a gentleman and went on stage and spoke up for us so beautifully and then invited us to dinner. Christine O’Leary is genuine and concerned and has been so nice to us in spreading the word to support helping build the travelling Rainbow Memorial. Congressman Barney Frank is so easy to talk to and very precise and brilliant. He has been helpful in giving me advice when speaking to people. Daniela Sea is the little sister I never had and she just jumps right in and is always willing to help. They are all amazing people who have lent their name, talents and support. I often smile thinking that Ryan is the one who brought them all together for the Rainbow Memorial. I look forward to having each of them attend the unveiling of the Rainbow Memorial in Washington DC later this year.
What are your goals for the memorial?
That’s easy, my short term goals are to have the first two sections of the memorial completely built in May (we are 70% of the way there) and to find private and corporate funding to finish building the rest of the memorial, which will take about $38,000. Then we would love to unveil the National Traveling Rainbow Memorial in Washington DC this summer so the president can experience it himself. I look forward to witnessing the POWER of the Rainbow Memorial as it shines a light on hate and those who teach it, while inspiring love and acceptance of everyone. You have to deal with the problem when you see a memorial that is 120 feet long; it’s impossible to ignore.
How many, beside yourself, work with/for the GAH?
I am the only full time employee, but I have a generous board of directors and advisory board and lots of amazing volunteers from across the nation who help and inspire me every day to build and travel the National Rainbow Memorial and speak out for those who have been stolen from us because of hate.
Please explain how big an issue hate crimes are for the people who are unaware?
One LGBTQ hate crime related murder happens every nine days in the USA. One LGBTQ bashing incident happens every six hours, and this statistic is probably low because law enforcement officials often report these crimes as just another robbery or random act of violence and not a hate crime. We have cases here in Broward County, Florida that is clearly a LGBTQ related hate crime that are being over looked. And for three years in a row, Broward Country has the highest number of hate crimes in Florida. I have hope that our local elected LGBTQ officials will be more vocal and get more involved in shinning a light on LGBTQ murders in their community as well as the nation. Simmie Williams (17 years old), Craig Cohen (47 years old), and Larry Ellison (68 years old) were all taken from us in a violent hate crime murder, yet none of these murders were defined as hate crimes; this is a BIG PROBLEM and GAHF is out there raising awareness and trying to hold people accountable!
What response have you gotten from relatives of the slain?
The ones we have reached out to are very supportive and often join our advisory board and help where they can, like Damien Skipper, Elke Kennedy, and Denise King, who all lost their brother or child in a LGBT hate crime related murder.
Why have it travel?
I believe the Rainbow Memorial will build relationships and break down barriers of misunderstanding about LGBTQs. LGBTQs are real and loving people just like everybody else and are an important and vital part of the fabric of America who should be embraced and cultivated, not feared and hated. We must confront hate where and when it happens – in whatever form be it obvious or showed in convoluted language. Those who kill/murder thrive on sending a message of fear and terror and it is our responsibility as a community to counteract that message and stand up to hate on the frontlines. If we sit back and do not challenge those who hate and spread their hurtful message, then it is the same as condoning their behavior. And that’s not going to happen on my watch.
What is hate to you?
Hate is poison and those who teach it are poisonous and need to be held accountable for their teachings and insidious actions. The hate that led to the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the same type of hate that led to the murder of Mathew Sheppard – and so many others. And, for me, it is the same type of hate that led to the murder of our fellow Americans on 9/11. Hate is un-American an unacceptable!
Gay American Heroes is a national gay organization based out of Fort Lauderdale. To donate to this worthy cause and to be instrumental in fighting hate and honoring our friends and family who have been stolen from us because of hate then go to GayAmericanHeroes.com and help build the National Rainbow Memorial.