Monday, 24 October 2011

Rest in Peace, Stuart Walker

The police aren't ready to declare 28-year-old Stuart Walker's death a hate crime, but the brutality of the murder has too much in common with Matthew Shepard's death in 1998 to convince me otherwise.

Shepard, an openly gay student at the University of Wyoming, was tortured, pistol-whipped, tied to a fence, and left to die.  His murder was the reason that American anti-hate crime legislation was eventually extended to cover homosexuals.

Walker lived in Cumnock, Scotland.  His body was found on early Saturday morning, Scotland time. His injuries suggest that he was a was tied to a lamppost, beaten, and burned.

Stuart Walker's Death and Unpleasant Memories

I remember when where I was when I heard about Matthew Shepard. I was in university, in my room, listening to the radio. When the news came on, and I heard what had happened, I felt like throwing up.  I had friends who were gay. I was scared for them. I didn't like that things like this happened in my world.

I felt the same way yesterday when I heard about Stuart Walker's death on Twitter. I have friends who are gay. I know that there are teens and children in my community who are struggling with their sexuality - not by name, but I know they're there...heck, I hung out with some kids that were struggling when *I* was in school, and I don't imagine that the issues associated with being gay, lesbian or bisexual in a small town have gotten any less difficult to deal with since I graduated.

And while I've never supported any individuals with intellectual disabilities who have indicated that they were gay, lesbian or bisexual, but I've had delightful conversations with a few that are. The idea of  people who are already at risk in so many ways, having to live with the potential for even more stigma and violence just to be who they's frightening.

And it's sickening. For anyone to have to hide who they are out of fear is downright sickening.

For anyone, whatever their sexual orientation, to have to die the way Stuart Walker did, is just...beyond-words-wrong.

I wish I knew what the answer to all this was.

Scotland, know that there are Canadians mourning with you.

Rest in peace, Stuart Walker.


  1. Thank you for writing this, for caring, and for thinking discrimination and violence are WRONG! What a terrible thing this is.

  2. I remember Shepherd's murder as well, but was in high school and was horrified, but I'm not sure my young brain had the capacity to understand the weight of the situation. I again revisited his murder years later in university and was disgusted.
    I am now living in Scotland and had no idea this happened until you posted about it. Thank you for sharing. This is truly horrible.

  3. Jess, from what I'm seeing on Twitter, Walker's death isn't really getting a lot of media coverage in the UK...and I didn't see any coverage in the major Canadian or US papers when I checked this morning. Possibly because of the police reluctance to label it a hate crime at this point?

    It seems to me that such a violent murder, regardless of the killer's motivations, should be making the papers...

    The public perception is that he was murdered because of his sexual orientation. If you're on Twitter, check out the #RIPStuartWalker tag.

  4. When I was in Cardiff, setting gays on fire was quite common, it happened to a friend of mine. Setting lesbian or gay couples' flats on fire by pushing burning material at 11:30 when the pubs close through the mail slot was quite common. Both happened to people we interacted with daily, as well as to us. A friend was beaten up, then later set on fire by the age of 17. We went to the gay pub, and the police would form a line, with the 'lads' riding bikes or banging bats or sticks with nails on metal taunting us to just try and come home. Fatalities were common, and not reported. Even where to vacation is a serious consideration - as several countries, capitals are known for having high gay murder counts. I found the hidden hate crimes of Canada (Nanimo is quite infamous for the level of institutionalized hate crime: police refusing to come to calls, the hospital refusing to treat), not as openly dangerious, but in some ways worse, as you knew 40% of the population was against you, you just didn't know who they were or what they would do. At least in the UK, the police come...well, sometimes, not when we were assaulted, but then that is why we tend to go out in groups, prepared for attacks.

    I hope Stuart Walker death changes thing, and that teens realize that for most around the world, it is life and death - seriously, take a look at some of the UK suicide rememberance boards. The UK at least has a national day against bullying, with the Prime Minister wearing the badge and giving a speech. Here we tell ourselves how advanced we are.

  5. Elizabeth, thank you for talking about what you've lived with. As always, you jolt me out of my "It's not so bad here in Canada" bubble, when clearly I only see one side of things.

    I'm not shocked to hear what you said about Nanaimo - I've seen people struggle in small town Ontario long enough to know that homophobia affects the way people are treated in fundamentally unfair ways - but to hear that being set on fire in the UK is common and goes unreported just makes my skin crawl.

    I wish I had the answers.