May 16 was an especially dark night for the LGBT community of the Carolinas and particularly for Greenville, S.C. On that evening, openly gay Sean Kennedy, 20, was killed by a senseless hate crime. His death at the hands of a homophobic teenager underscored the stark reality that South Carolina has no hate crime laws, and the anti-gay climate in the state is toxic for LGBT people.
Elke Kennedy transformed herself from a grieving mother to an outspoken, respected leader for the causes of equality and justice.
Sean’s mother, Elke Kennedy, instantly rose to address these issues and began campaigning around the state. Demonstrating the depth of her courage and conviction, she transformed herself from a grieving mother to an outspoken, respected leader for the causes of equality and justice in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and beyond.
Through her advocacy, Elke has worked with governments at all levels and created allies with elected and appointed officials across the South. The district attorney prosecuting her son’s killer has joined her call for changes to South Carolina’s handling of murder and manslaughter cases.
With the help of her family, friends and volunteers, Elke has established Sean’s Last Wish, a foundation to push for hate crime legislation and to raise awareness of the need for organ donation. (Sean was an organ donor and his death allowed others to receive critical medical treatments.) Because of her activism, hate crime protections for LGBT South Carolinians was discussed in nearly every major city in the state this year.
Recently, Elke was recognized as Best of the Beat 2007 Local Hero by the Upstate Beat newspaper.
Q-Notes is proud to add to her accolades as we name Elke Kennedy our 2007 Person of the Year.
info: R.C. Wilson contributed to this report.