Organizations Jointly Oppose Death Penalty

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Groups representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people speak out against capital punishment
February 12, 1999

(February 10, 1999) -- Today 11 major organizations representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities announced their joint opposition to the death penalty.

The issue came to the forefront in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities with the upcoming trial of those accused of beating Matthew Sheppard to death in Wyoming. The two men, Aaron James McKinney and Russell Arthur Henderson, both 21, were arrested and accused of his murder. On December 28, Prosecutor Cal Rerucha filed notices of intent to seek the death penalty against both men.

Katherine Acey, Executive Director of the Astraea National Lesbian Action Foundation said: "The death penalty has no place in a civil society. As a community we must take every opportunity to speak out against violence, including capital punishment."

Kevin McGruder, Executive Director of Gay Men of African Descent said: "The death penalty is applied in an inequitable way and when factors of race, sexual orientation and income are taken into account, there is even more inequity. Mistakes happen and innocent people are sentenced to death. In those circumstances where the sentence has been carried out, the mistake cannot be reversed."

Julie Dorf, Executive Director of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission said: "Human rights are not a euphemism for gay rights. We cannot pick and choose human rights," she added. "The death penalty is wrong in all cases."

Kevin M. Cathcart, Executive Director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said: "Lambda deals daily with the legal system's fallibility and the effects of bias on court decisions. With this experience, we oppose the death penalty as a harsh and irreversible use of government power."

Richard Burns, Executive Director of the Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center of New York said: "This is one of those moments when we, as a community, should lead. We consider this a teachable moment." Burns said the death penalty is no way to deal with anti-gay violence, "The answer to homophobic violence is not more violence, it is education," he said.

Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project said: "The American Civil Liberties Union opposes the death penalty for those who murdered Matthew Sheppard just as we oppose the death penalty for all people -- because our system of justice is incapable of imposing it equally, because our system makes mistakes and always will and because the ACLU believes that the state simply should not have the power to take away human life."

Martin Ornales-Quintero, Executive Director of LLEGO - National Latina/o LGBT Organization said: "Killing a homophobe will not kill homophobia."

Kate Kendall, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights said: "There are few facets of our criminal justice system more deeply flawed than the death penalty. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that rather than deterring violence or curbing crime, the death penalty instead stands as a most extreme example of the race and class bias which pervades much of our society."

Kerry Lobel, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said: "We join our colleagues today to oppose the death penalty with a unified voice. We participate in a social movement that places faith in the possibility of change. Capital punishment, a final and hopeless solution to the social problem of violence, not only subverts the possibility of individual change but it also fails to solve the problem of violence. Hate crimes laws, on the other hand, recognize that classes of people become terrorized by violent acts against individuals. Hate crime laws draw attention to that problem and offer at least one solution: criminal justice resources directed toward educating and deterring the domestic terrorism of bias crime."

Richard Haymes, Executive Director of the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project said: "AVP unconditionally opposes the death penalty. As a victim services agency dealing with the physical and psychological aftermath of hatred against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and HIV-positive community -- our community -- AVP understands full well the thirst for vengeance that heinous bias crimes often engender in the victim, his or her loved ones, and the community at-large. However, as a human rights organization, struggling for justice for our people, AVP also views capital punishment as an act of state-sanctioned violence -- an act that is no more or less violent than the barbaric acts of our attackers -- and we unequivocally oppose violence in every form, regardless of the perpetrator."

Read Lambda Legal's fact sheet, "Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Opposes the Death Penalty as an Irreversible and Harsh Misuse of Government Power."


For additional information, resolutions and/or position papers from each of the organizations regarding the death penalty, contact:
Astraea National Lesbian Action Foundation: Katherine Acey (212) 529-8021
Gay Men of African Descent: Kevin McGruder (212) 414-9344
International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission: Sydney Levy (415) 255-8680
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund: Peg Byron 212-809-8585
Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center of New York: Dan Willson (212) 620-7310
Lesbian & Gay Rights Project-ACLU: Matt Coles (212) 549-2627
LLEGO-National Latina/o LGBT Organization: M. Ornales-Quintero (202) 466-8240
National Center for Lesbian Rights: Kate Kendall (415) 392-6257
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: Tracey Conaty (202) 332-6483 x3303
New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project: Richard Haymes (212) 714-1184
OutFront Minnesota: Ann DeGroot (612) 822-0127 x107
For additional comment:
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum/Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (212) 929-9498


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