North American Man/Boy Love Association

Oppose the Death Penalty!

After calls for justice by gay groups across the country, a Wyoming prosecutor announced that he would seek the death penalty for the accused killers of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was murdered in a vicious and widely publicized incident of gay bashing. Queer Watch noted that calls the execution of Shepard's killers would be done in our name unless we, as a community, took a clear stand against the death penalty.

NAMBLA issued a statement against capital punishment in January (see the full text of the statement, below). Following our statement, eleven large organizations, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Lambda Legal Defense and New York City's Anti-Violence Project issued a joint statement against capital punishment.  Nevertheless, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest advocacy organization for gays and lesbians, refused to join in that statement.

As a Wyoming prosecutor seeks to execute two men accused of killing a gay college student, the case of an openly gay man on death row in Texas demonstrates that opposition by boy-lovers to capital punishment is more than a principled stance -- it's also an example of enlightened self-interest.

Calvin Burdine was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death by a Houston jury in 1984. An amicus brief in support of his federal court petition for habeas corpus filed by the Gay and Lesbian Project of the American Civil Liberties Union argue that Burdine's constitutional rights were violated by the extreme homophobia that permeated his trial. Among the more egregious examples was the prosecutor's argument to the jury that putting a gay man in prison is not punishment but is, instead, akin to putting a kid in a candy store.

The trial court also decided that the jury could use a 1970 consensual sodomy conviction as proof the Burdine would be a danger to the community in the future. Details of the 1970 conviction have disappeared from court records, but some believe that Burdine's conviction stemmed from a sexual relationship with a teen-age boy.

Burdine was represented during his trial by Joe Cannon, a public defender. Cannon failed to object to having jurors who openly admitted to anti-gay bias. Elsewhere he agreed with the prosecution argument that being sentenced "'to a penitentiary certainly isn't a very bad punishment for a homosexual."  It's said that the defense attorney slept through important parts of the trial. The jury foreman from Burdine's trial has submitted an affidavit in court asserting that Cannon used slurs such as "queer" and "fairy" in court papers to describe his own client.

Burdine's execution was stayed, and a hearing will be set on the merits of his habeas petition.


 
 

Statement in Opposition to the Death Penalty

In light of Wyoming prosecutor Cal Rerucha's decision to seek the execution of two men charged with the murder of Matthew Shepard, and in light of the pending execution of Calvin Burdine, a gay man in Texas, the North American Man-Boy Love Association announces its opposition to the death penalty. We call on all gay/lesbian/bi-sexual/transgender organizations to end their silence and publicly denounce capital punishment, the spearhead of the "criminal justice" system. It is the means by which the state impresses people with its cruelty; it victimizes the poor; and it obscures the state's inability to prevent murder and other serious crime. Executions are a simplistic solution intended to deflect action on core social problems.

Whether accomplished by electric chair or hanging, gas chamber or lethal injection, the death penalty in the United States comprises three distinct phases. Its victims are first marginalized, then demonized and finally executed. Candidates for the death penalty are drawn from those pushed to the margins of society by race, class or sexual orientation. Throughout trial and sentencing, they are portrayed as less than human, as monsters, as individuals outside the family of man. Only then are they offered up for slaughter. All members of the gay community, like people of color and the poor, can recognize that process of marginalization and demonization.

NAMBLA's humanitarian ideals and progressive goals are incompatible with the use of capital punishment under any circumstances. Barbarian punishments cannot be made palatable by any specific methods of implementation, nor by the severity of the crimes that trigger them. Such punishments are the hallmark of societies bereft of a genuine social conscience. We are especially offended at the current attempt to desensitize citizens to the contemplated execution of children in capital cases. All organizations who share our philosophy of love and liberation are of a single mind with NAMBLA in abhorrence of the death penalty.

At this moment -- when the state proposes to kill two men in the name of the gay community -- it's incumbent on all of us, and especially on the organizations that claim to represent us, to state our opposition loud and clear!

Copyright © NAMBLA, 2003. All rights reserved.