Friday, January 22, 2010

"I'm Going to Kill Myself A Gay Tonight"

Here's a new twist to the gay hate crime dialogue you've heard so much about lately: Glen H. Footman is perhaps the first hate crime victim to be screwed over by both the miscreant who shot him as he walked peacefully along a street with his longtime partner and then once more, after death, by his home state, Maryland.

What are you talking about? You might ask. How could the state be involved?

The answer is quite simple once you know the story. It boils down to a few hard facts. In September 2008, Foote and his partner of 13 years, Alex Chavarria, were minding their own business walking along a street in Mount Vernon, a Baltimore neighborhood just north of the downtown. Witnesses have said that the man who stopped Footman to ask him a question and went on to shoot him twice was earlier overheard saying, "I'm going to kill myself a gay tonight." As of this writing, Baltimore police have classified the murder as a possible hate crime but have not made any arrests. Footman spent months at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, then a rehabilitation center, then at home. He died November 9, almost a year after he was shot.

To compound the tragedy, Footman died too soon to get any of the state dollars available to victims from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. According to Peter Hermann, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, "A spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which oversees the panel, told me an investigator had put the application on the docket in early November, but the board wasn't due to vote until a week after Footman died. And because Footman, 52, had no spouse and no dependents, there is no one for the state to give the money to."

No one to give the money to? How about Alex Chavarria, Footman's partner of 13 years? Surely, he's grieving and could probably use some help with the cost of caring for and trying to save the man he loved over the course of nearly a year? Oh right, Maryland doesn't allow same-sex marriage. Ergo, Chavarria is not eligible for any compensation from the state board. If they were a straight couple, it would not be a problem. Here's a good example to give to your right-wing friends when they say they just can't approve of same sex marriage.

Chavarria is angry over this, but according to the Baltimore Sun's coverage, "he is angrier with what he calls bureaucratic fumbling by the board, which he says repeatedly delayed dealing with the case because of lost faxes, missed information and poor record-keeping. He said one clerk told him she had misplaced his file and that it had to be redone and resubmitted.

"'I am upset and disappointed that this program never helped us and is not organized to work, even for those who do it right from the start," Chavarria said in an e-mail. "Why does the board not recognize that the victims include the family and/or caregivers who are truly the ones supporting everything financially?'"

The compensation board, created in 1968 to help 'innocent victims of crime' has paid out more than $100 million to victims and their families. The money does not come from taxes, but from court costs and fees paid by offenders.

The board was set up to help victims like Footman.

According to the Sun, "The only help (the board) is now offering his friends and family is up to $5,000 in funeral costs. That money is not restricted to a spouse or dependent, but can go to the person responsible for the burial. It is money the state said Footman's partner has not applied for and it is money Chavarria said he doesn't need nor want.

"Chavarria said Footman first applied to the board for compensation on Feb. 7, 2009, (he sent me [Hermann] a copy of his original form dated 2/7/08, explaining that his partner got the year wrong but did send it in February of last year). It typically takes about 180 days to complete a review and vote on a claim, and based on that date, a decision should have been made before Footman died." Although Footman applied in plenty of time to receive compensation and officials even concede his case was "well-documented" time still ran out on his application for aid. Footman could have applied for up to $45,000, but was asking for only $12,000, his out-of-pocket expenses not covered by insurance. Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the state prison system that oversees the compensation board says it's possible Footman's file could have been "misplaced."

And I sit here, shaking my head in sadness and dismay, with a lump in my throat, over the death of a man who was shot to death in the street simply because he loved someone else's idea of the wrong person, a state who has a system to help victims of crime but who fumbled things on their end for so long they got out of providing that help, and for a damaged survivor of hate crime, having to go on...with the cold knowledge that if  he had been legally married to his life partner, this compensation would not even be an issue.

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