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Victim of anti-gay crime talks about going from ‘hate to hope’

Matthew Boger meets his skinhead attacker; the two men become friends
By: Sena Christian Gold Country News Service
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It began as a normal meeting over coffee. The two men, colleagues at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, discussed the upcoming visit of a group of high school students who teachers said were intent on starting a white supremacist campaign on campus. Matthew Boger and Tim Zaal brainstormed how to approach their presentation to the students. Then, the conversation turned to their pasts. As a teenager, Boger lived on the streets of West Hollywood for four years after being kicked out of his house for being gay. One night, he was beaten to a pulp. During Boger’s homelessness, he often hung out at a hamburger stand in a park. Zaal hung out there, too. Zaal described an incident one night in 1981 when he, then a neo-Nazi skinhead, believed he had left a kid dead in the alley. “The only people that knew what happened in the alley were the 14 skinheads there and me,” Boger said. At that moment, he realized he was staring at the face of his attacker. “I was in shock,” he said. “I couldn’t believe I was sitting across from this person. I left him sitting there.” El Dorado County resident Boger, 43, will discuss this experience during his "From Hate to Hope" presentation Thursday at Sierra College. It’s not just the hate crime he will describe but the surprising friendship with Zaal that followed. Their story inspired the novel “Freaks and Revelations” by Davida Wills Hurwin. Boger’s presentation tells a story of forgiveness and redemption designed to educate students and adults about the tragic consequences of bullying and hatred. The event is co-sponsored by Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) of Greater Placer County. “One of our big concerns has to do with hate crimes that target LGBT people and their families,” said local PFLAG President Richard Ernst. “We have a specific concern for young people in school who are LGBT or perceived to be. We hope for this presentation to be educational for people to hear this story of someone who has been through these experiences and come through them.” During the event, Boger will briefly talk about the consequences of bullying before opening up to questions and answers. “The questions tend to go to how was I able to forgive Tim after such a horrendous act of violence and hate,” Boger said. Hayley Hanley, 17, Placer High School senior and president and co-founder of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance club, said she thinks Boger’s presentation will be an inspiration to those who hear it. “I think this will be a mind opener for many people, and (they will) realize that things happen in the past, people do change,” Hanley said. “And (I think it will help listeners) consider what they are doing now and see if (their actions) have any sort of discrimination, and to consider in the future things can definitely change.” Placer High junior Nicole Brisson, 16, also a member of the Gay Straight Alliance, said she was amazed when she heard about Zaal’s change of heart. “That is the biggest change,” Brisson said. “Oh, wow. That’s crazy.” Brisson said she wished she knew what changed Zaal’s outlook. “If he changed through information or presentations given, that definitely sends a really hopeful message to everyone out there who is trying to make that change in people,” she said. Placer High senior Connor Soejoto, 18, co-founder of the Gay Straight Alliance Club, said he thinks Boger and Zaal’s story and the message that surrounds it is “phenomenal.” “They both can grow as people from the entire event,” Soejoto said. “Acceptance and tolerance change every day, and I think it’s important to realize we as a society need to start stepping in the right direction of equality, acceptance and tolerance.” For his part, Boger wants to broaden the conversation to include hate crimes committed against all people belonging to a targeted group. Reaching out to young people may be the perfect place to start, he said. “They’re more ‘whatever is whatever, it doesn’t bother me,’” Boger said about teens’ attitudes toward gays. “They’re more aware.’” Ernst, 73, agrees that as each youth generation moves forward, more progress occurs. “There’s a great deal more public acceptance and welcoming of people who have a different-than-majority sexual orientation,” said Ernst, a former United Methodist pastor who is not gay. Ultimately, the goal isn’t simply tolerance. “I don’t want to be tolerated,” Boger said. “Respect and acceptance are way more important than tolerance.” Bridget Jones contributed to this report. Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. ------------------------------------------------------- Matthew Boger presents “From Hate to Hope” When: 7 p.m. Thursday, April 7 Where: Dietrich Theatre, Sierra College, 5000 Rocklin Road in Rocklin Cost: Free admission, parking $2 Info: A special presentation sponsored by Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of Greater Placer County, and Sierra College Rainbow Alliance. Book signing to follow event. For more information, call (530) 274-5359 or visit sierracollege.edu. ------------------------------------------------------- Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) of Greater Placer County’s next meeting When: 7-9 p.m. Monday, May 9 Where: Conference room A, Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, 11815 Education St. in Auburn. Info: Open to the public. Visit pflagplacercounty.org.