Murders Have Texas Gay Community on Edge
ODESSA, Texas (AP) _ Paul Quintanilla’s hands were bound behind his back when he was stabbed more than a dozen times, his throat and genitals cut.
Michael J. Burzinski was beaten and shot to death execution-style after being abducted by a group of teen-agers looking for gays they considered easy marks.
Tommy Musick was shot four times in the back of the head by a man who claimed he had panicked after Musick made a homosexual advance. Another man was left for dead after being impaled with a tree branch outside a gay bar.
The string of grisly gay murders has the Texas gay community on edge. Some say the state’s macho mentality and a burgeoning religious right movement fosters hostility toward homosexuals.
″There’s a steady drumbeat out there that it’s all right to hate, that it’s socially acceptable to hate gays and lesbians,″ said state Rep. Glen Maxey, who is gay.
″You do that long enough,″ he said, ″and you give permission for somebody to beat somebody up or give somebody permission to kill.″
Dick Weinhold, chairman of the Texas Christian Coalition, says his group considers homosexuality immoral and has fought legislation that specifically benefits or protects the gay community.
However, Weinhold said, ″I just reject flat out any kind of notion that holding a position opposing special rights for homosexuals would somehow suggest that people can become vigilantes and have a lynching. That’s ridiculous.″
Paul Tracy, a criminologist at the University of Texas at Dallas, says neither the religious right nor the Texas image is to blame.
″People all along have been committing crimes against women and gays because they believe they are especially vulnerable to crime,″ he said.
″I don’t believe it’s particular to Texas, the South or the Southwest. We have frustrated, alienated segments of our population that are striking out against particularly vulnerable segments of our society.″
Gay and lesbian activists say a Dallas judge’s comment in 1988 reinforced hostility and encouraged lenient treatment to those who victimize homosexuals.
Instead of life in prison, Judge Jack Hampton gave a 30-year sentence to an 18-year-old who had gone to a gay neighborhood with his buddies to ″pester homosexuals.″ He ended up shooting to death two gay men when they refused to take off their clothes.
″I put prostitutes and gays at about the same level,″ Hampton said. ″If these boys had picked up two prostitutes and taken them to the woods and killed them, I’d consider that a similar case. And I’d be hard put to give somebody life for killing a prostitute.″
In 1993, the teen-ager who killed Musick, a hairdresser, was sentenced by a jury to 12 years in jail. The assailant who speared the Midland man with a stick received probation.
In August, a high school student and four former football teammates were charged with murder in Burzinski’s death.
In addition to Quintanilla, two other gay men have been found dead with multiple stab wounds in the Dallas suburb of Irving. Police have arrested a suspect in one killing, but say leads have been exhausted in the other two.
Texas leads the nation in executions, but only one hate crime against a homosexual there has resulted in a death sentence.
The Rev. Billy Charles Cawley, a gay man who ministers to the homosexual population in Odessa, says intolerance is rampant in the west Texas town of Midland, where Musick was killed. Cawley says he has been the target of death threats and was asked by police to wear a bulletproof vest at a gay rally.
″I call it ‘Bubba Joe land.’ It’s a combination of the Texas macho thing and the fundamentalist Christian movement here,″ Cawley said. ″For people who claim to follow Christ’s teachings ... I’ve never seen so much judgment in my life.″
The Texas chapter of the Christian Coalition has grown to 60,000 members with 135 chapters around the state since it was founded here in 1991.
Weinhold says the strength of the movement is a testament to Texans’ desire for stronger family values, not hatred or violence toward gays.
″I think the church has for years taught that adultery is wrong and I’m not hearing anyone suggest that crimes of passion are caused by the church,″ Weinhold said.
Accurate statistics don’t exist to compare gay bashing crimes state-by- state because of various hate crime reporting criteria, according to Marla Schlaffer, information specialist at the National Criminal Justice Reference Center, which keeps statistics for the Department of Justice.
In 1993, gays and lesbians were a distant second to victims of racial hatred in Texas. Whereas 69.1 percent of hate crimes were considered racially motived, 11.5 percent were related to sexual orientation, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Some 11.3 percent stemmed from ethnic bias and 8.1 percent from religious bias.