Profile: Cathy Renna
Cathy Renna was a participant or observer in the following events:
Conservative Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell, who speaks out against the anti-gay rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church. [Source: New York Times]People from the left and right of the social and political spectrum join in condemning the actions of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) during its protest at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was beaten to death a month earlier (see October 9, 1998 and After and October 14, 1998). The Reverend Jerry Falwell, a far-right Christian evangelist, says of the WBC’s protest, “I found it almost impossible to believe that human beings could be so brutal and vicious to a hurting family.” Of the WBC’s leader, Fred Phelps, he says, “He’s a first-class nut.” Phelps says he is proud to be labeled as such by Falwell because “[i]t means I’m preaching the truth.” Phelps then labels Falwell a “Judas” and says WBC members will picket Falwell’s church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Robert H. Knight of the conservative Family Research Council says he asked Phelps to call off the church’s protests against gays (see June 1991 and After) a year ago, and says he told Phelps that his actions “misconstrue… the message of Christ, which was one of love.” Arne Owens of the Christian Coalition says that anti-gay Christian organizations oppose the homosexual lifestyle while loving gays and lesbians: “You must be loving toward all human beings while recognizing the role of sin in the world.” But Cathy Renna of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) says that Phelps only expresses the hatred other anti-gay groups feel but do not so bluntly demonstrate. The Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative lobbying group, joins the Christian Coalition and other anti-gay organization in accusing GLAAD and other gay rights groups of capitalizing on Shepard’s murder for their own purposes, a charge Renna calls ludicrous. She says that Shepard’s friends “told me that Matthew would have wanted something good to come out of this. If [a murder] energizes and makes us fight to educate people about the kind of violence lesbians and gays face every day, that’s not using Matthew.” Instead, she says, groups like the Christian Coalition are using Phelps to promote their agenda: “They can point to him and say: ‘He’s a bad guy. We’re compassionate.’” For his part, Phelps says his organization brought “a little sanity” to Shepard’s funeral, and claims it was “the homosexuals” who “turned it into a Cecil B. DeMille propaganda mill.” [Associated Press, 11/24/1998]
Entity Tags: Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation, Cathy Renna, Arne Owens, Christian Coalition, Fred Waldron Phelps, Jerry Falwell, Matthew Shepard, Westboro Baptist Church, Robert H. Knight, Traditional Values Coalition, Family Research Council
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
ABC News reporter Bryan Robinson prints a retrospective of the impact the 1998 murder of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard (see October 9, 1998 and After) has had on some of those involved in its aftermath. The murder is generally perceived to have been a hate crime, perpetuated by two assailants who hated Shepard because he was openly gay. One of the people whose lives were profoundly changed is Police Chief Dave O’Malley of Laramie, Wyoming. O’Malley, who was deeply involved in the investigation of Shepard’s murder, says at the time he was intolerant of gays. “I was conservative. I bought into many of the stereotypes and I told many of the jokes associated with someone who is gay,” O’Malley says. “I was close-minded. It’s something I’m really ashamed of today.… I was raised in a conservative, Irish-Catholic family in Kansas. My father would joke around, saying: ‘There are no gays in Kansas. And if there are, they sure as hell ain’t Irish.‘… I lost my ignorance [after Shepard’s slaying].” O’Malley has become a gay rights activist, and in 2002 won the Equality Award from the Human Rights Campaign for his work on behalf of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered) citizens. Romaine Patterson, a friend of Shepard’s from college, says she had always been an outspoken gay activist, but after Shepard’s murder, she became much more active. She currently produces and co-hosts the Derek and Romaine Show on Sirius Radio. “I was no longer just a girl from Wyoming,” she recalls. “I did a lot of interviews [during media coverage of Shepard’s slaying] and worked for GLAAD [the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation]. One of the things I learned after doing interviews and working on the other side as part of the media is that you do have the power to reach people and influence public opinion.… I don’t think there’s been a day since where I don’t talk about Matthew. As far how his death affected me, I guess it really made me think about what kind of person I wanted to be, how I wanted to be the kind of person who makes the world a better place.” Robinson writes that, because of Shepard’s murder, many Americans have come to the same realization that O’Malley has reached: that gays and lesbians are targets for hate crimes. Cathy Renna of GLAAD says: “Matt’s murder made people realize that it was time to change laws, that attacks on gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders are happening, that this an issue. In a sense, it was a watershed moment. It took the topic of gay and lesbian people and turned it into dinner table conversation.” However, the number of reported hate crimes against LGBT citizens has increased since Shepard’s murder, according to the FBI. [ABC News, 10/10/2003]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.