Synopsis: Over 13,000 Americans have been murdered in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries because of their sexual orientation and gender presentation. In Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memory of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims, Stephen Sprinkle puts a human face on the outrage and loss suffered when people die from anti-gay hatred. Beginning with new developments in the story of Matthew Shepard's murder in Laramie, Wyoming, Sprinkle tells the stories of fourteen representative LGBTQ victims whose lives were savagely cut short due to homophobia and transphobia. These are stories about people who could be your neighbor, classmate, co-worker, or friend - real, everyday people whose love was foreclosed, relationships brutally terminated, and future contributions stolen from us by outrageous, irrational hatred. Told lovingly yet unflinchingly, Unfinished Lives lifts the stories of these LGBTQ victims from undeserved obscurity, allowing their memory to live again. Relying on personal interviews and visits to the locations where these people lived, loved, and died, Sprinkle records the raw emotions, powerful movements for social change, and unexpectedly hopeful communities that arise from the ruins of those people whose only "offense" was to live as they were born to be. Part portraiture, part crime narrative, and part ethnography, Unfinished Lives is poised to change the conversation on hate crimes in the United States. Endorsements: "Unfinished Lives cries out to be read . . . It speaks to the systematic denigration of LGBTQ people in the United States . . . and it offers hope that the cycles of abuse and hatred and violence can be broken-one person, one family, one community at a time." -from the Foreword by Harry Knox Director of the Religion and Faith Program Human Rights Campaign, Washington, DC "In telling these 'stories that trouble the soul' about the hateful murders of fourteen LBGTQ people who were selected for execution simply because of their non-conforming sexual orientation and gender presentation, Stephen Sprinkle has courageously refused to bury the victims in silence or go along with the cultural amnesia that tries to suggest 'it was all a mistake' and 'they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.' No, anti-gay violence is an intentionally employed weapon of mass terror, and religion is often its accomplice. With a fierce determination to honor our dead by telling the truth out loud and proud, Sprinkle calls the community to take up the queer theological tasks of, yes, remembering and mourning, but also of community resistance and organizing to end the violence against us, against all peoples." -Marvin M. Ellison Bangor Theological Seminary editor of Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources for Theological Reflection "Stephen Sprinkle takes on one of the most profound questions of our time: When fear and hate and judgment result in violence and murder of non-gender conforming people, what is the right response of civil society? While we struggle to find the answer, he reminds us that the clock is ticking and lives are being lost. He honors the lives of those who have either been taken from us or grievously injured by our collective inaction. He labors at the leading edge of love, healing, and inclusion for all people, providing 'a walking systemtic intervention' where injustice resides." -Cindi Love Executive Director of Soulforce Member of the Religion and Faith Program Human Rights Campaign, Washington, DC Author Bio: Stephen V. Sprinkle is Associate Professor of Practical Theology, and Director of Field Education and Supervised Ministry at Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas. He is the first openly gay scholar to be tenured in the school's history.
Sprinkle says this book is a call to action, and especially a call for community unification, but I'm not sure this is exactly how he wants it to be done, nor does it necessarily address the same questions that a lot of queer community folks have been grappling with for a while now.
I want to say right here that this book is extremely graphic. There are descriptions of the hate crimes (all of which are murders, in this case; Sprinkle makes no claims as to why he chooses to focus on that, except probably because they have the most rhetorical power? which is a whole other thing,) and those descriptions can be incredibly, incredibly graphic; I was definitely triggered while reading the book more than once. Please, if you feel compelled to read this, take care of yourself while you do so.
There are also few questions about what it means to address these crimes in a larger sense. In the wake of Tyler Clementi's death, there was a lot of grappling with what it meant to think about imprisonment, framing certain actors in certain ways, and calls for death sentences. Sprinkle is not interested in those questions at all--perhaps this reflects the requests/wishes/desires of the surviving family members, who I will say he does due diligence by. He is careful and tender in his reporting of familial (biological or otherwise) relationships. But for a book making a political claim, and which is attentive to differences in race, gender, and class of victims, it is not attentive to larger questions about imprisonment. At times, it comes across as somewhat bloodthirsty, which is an odd take.
If I were to teach this (which I wouldn't,) I would pair it with Sarah Lamble's piece on Transgender Day of Remembrance. It does good journalistic work of structuring these people's lives, but there's very little heavy lifting and the parts where he justifies his reenactment of violence fall flat for me.
Steve Sprinkle's candid gift, "Unfinished Lives," should be required reading in every institution of higher learning in America, and perhaps every public high school to boot. Although I identify as an ally, well-aware of the sociopolitical climate and right wing theological narrative against LGBTQ people, "Unfinished Lives" convicted me yet again and in even more profound ways to be that much more of an advocate for not only LGBTQ equality, but for the purposeful inclusion and celebration of all differences; as Sprinkle writes, "The strange is something to understand and celebrate, rather than to loathe."
Every reader of this book, as well as its author, will acknowledge that this book and its stories of remembrance are, as Tobey Maguire narrates in the first scene of Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man," not for the faint of heart. But honest remembrance can never be slanted, spun, or sugarcoated. These are stories about beautiful human beings, unmistakable children of God, all of whom were murdered at the hands of heterosexist hatred, patriarchal violence, and dehumanizing indifference; and the robbery of each of their lives is an outrageous loss to the entire human family.
I'll wrap up this review with a telling quote from the book's introduction: "As long as so many LGBTQ people [and straight allies] remain content to abdicate their responsibility for the defense and development of their culture to a relative handful of activists, no matter how dedicated and talented these advocates are, queer life will continue to be a sideshow in the American panorama, and should be expected to be nothing more" (p. xxi). Read this book and pass it on.
A wrenching read about murder after murder after murder, some of them extraordinarily vicious. Aside from a single, really disturbing comment from an LGBT activist that one of the victims died "for nothing" because there wasn't a lot of news coverage, this book was well-thought-out and stuffed with references -- books, movies, websites, magazine articles -- for further education. Unfortunately, I could not find all of the films when I looked for them; my only other quibble with this book is the copyediting. There were very important words missing from some of the sentences and the punctuation was quite idiosyncratic. The stories in here are more important than any of that, of course. You should read this one.
This book of stories is a tough but a necessary read if only to begin to understand hate crimes in America. Told in graphic and horrifying detail, it is not for the faint hearted by any stretch. Emphasis must be given to the term "a necessary read." Why? In our desensitized culture, hate crimes, especially of our Nation's LGBTQ population are too often sanitized and dismissed. The lives of these innocent people of all ages and gender identification will break your heart. But these are the misunderstood children, brothers, sisters, cousins and spouses of ordinary folk. You will come away enhanced and educated beyond what you may expect.
This was difficult to get through, I cried several times. Each one more horrific than the next. Allen Schindler's story was by far the worst. I can't help but feel a deep sorrow for him, I wish I could hug him. I wish I could hug them all and tell them it's going to be okay.