South Carolina Equality Stands Against Anti-LGBT Violence and Counters Rhetoric that Encourages People to “Act Straight”

April 19, 2011

Columbia, SC   April 20, 2011- South Carolina Equality, the state's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) education and political advocacy organization, stands against the recent attack on Joshua Esskew, the 19-year-old student brutally beaten at a Rock Hill convenient store and is in direct communication with Bill Nettles, the U.S. Attorney for South Carolina and the York County Police department.

"Under no circumstance will violence against South Carolina's LGBT community be tolerated or ignored," said South Carolina Equality Executive Director Christine Johnson. "We are in communication with local law enforcement and the Department of Justice to ensure that this case receives a proper and thorough investigation and to ensure the LGBT community is well-informed." she continued.

South Carolina Equality is currently advocating for a state level hate crimes bill that will be introduced in late April.  Presently, the Federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act is the only hate crime protection and is limited to felony crimes.

South Carolina Equality also stands with the LGBT community to counter the message that gay and transgender individuals should "act straight" in order to feel safe as recently suggested by Winthrop University Professor Kelly James. "Every South Carolinian should feel safe to walk the streets without being attacked for who they are and whom they love," said Johnson. "South Carolina is a place that welcomes diversity and is accepting of all individuals."
South Carolina Equality has been in touch the President's office at Winthrop University to inform them that these types of messages are hurtful and counterproductive. South Carolina Equality is also calling on the University to ensure that all its students feel safe on campus regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  This request was well-received by Winthrop University Assistant to the President for Public Affairs, Rebecca Masters who replied with the following statement:
"Dr. James' words were characterized inaccurately in an edited-for-TV  interview, and were taken out of a much broader context of her work with and support for gay students. Winthrop University provides a safe and supportive environment for all its students, and encourages them to live authentically and respect others who do so as well.
Winthrop is a campus that values diversity.  We want and encourage everyone to feel accepted and safe. What we tell all our students is that wherever they go, anywhere in the world, they should be aware of their surroundings and take appropriate precautions to protect themselves. That's simply guidance for life and for the world we live in.
One of the many aspects of Rock Hill that Winthrop appreciates is the long-term consistent work that is done here to be sure Rock Hill is an inclusive community.  That is evident in the business community, the arts community and the civic life of Rock Hill.  But no part of the world is immune from violence, and the recent deplorable attack on Mr. Esskew demonstrates that society has much more work to do on that front – not just in Rock Hill, but anywhere such an event occurs.  Winthrop University looks forward to being a part of that work."

About South Carolina Equality: South Carolina Equality Coalition, a 501(s)3 and a 501(c)4, was established in 2002 as a statewide non-partisan coalition of local and state social, religious and political GLBT organizations and allies with a mission to secure civil and human rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender South Carolinians.