Victim and aggressor reunite to support LGBTQ community

VERONICA VILLARREAL, Channels Contributor

The 24th annual Leonardo Dorantes Lecture will—for the first time—provide perspectives of a previously victimized member of the LGBTQ community, along with his former white supremacist perpetrator.

Matthew Boger and Timothy Zaal will speak together on Wednesday, Nov. 5, at the Garvin Theatre. They will describe their road to eventual reconciliation years after a brutal hate crime that left then 17-year old Nazi-punk Zaal thinking he had played a part in killing a gay, disowned and homeless 14-year-old Boger. The free event is scheduled for 12:45 p.m.

The Leonardo Dorantes Lecture Series was first established in 1991, following the tragic death of the second-year City College student and Mexican immigrant the event is named for. Dorantes was killed in a stabbing that would later be classified as a hate crime with racially charged tones. The series is meant to heighten the awareness of racial and ethnic distinctions as well as similarities within the Santa Barbara community.

Professor Tina Kistler, a member of the Leonardo Dorantes committee, who has also served as communication department chair for 15 years at City College, met Zaal during a biannual class field trip to the Museum of Tolerance. She returned to the museum earlier this year with another class and heard Boger and Zaal present their “From Hate to Hope” program about the power of forgiveness together.

Their talk is the first at City College to focus specifically on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Kistler said that having them impart their story to Santa Barbara students, educators and other community members would be an appropriate way to honor Dorantes. It also highlights two individuals who are working at the forefront of issues such as furthering tolerance and broadening social perceptions of diversity.

“Their story is so profound because it operates on the intersection and crossroads of perpetrator and perpetrated,” Kistler said. “It takes us through how to navigate these very difficult places.”

Boger was 13 when he disclosed his sexual identity to his devout Catholic mother, who in turn kicked him out of their home. Boger then purchased a bus ticket to West Hollywood, where he lived in a park near an alley that would soon be the site that he first encountered Timothy Zaal.

Zaal was a member of a teen-aged Nazi-punk group at the time, who one night decided to turn its violent pursuits on Boger relentlessly beating the unaccompanied gay youth to near-death then leaving the scene. It wasn’t until 26 years later during an informal conversation between two co-workers that a reformed Zaal would discover that his victim had indeed survived the incident.

Both men were employed by the Museum of Tolerance, coincidentally working together to combat prejudice involving racism, bullying, and homophobia. While reflecting on their individually difficult pasts that had led them to this point, the two realized who each other were in a shocking and defining moment.

“The juxtaposition of their story is truly amazing,” Kistler said. “It comes down to human will and choice. They both had a choice, either one could have turned their back but they chose to move forward in the relationship.”

Boger and Zaal enduring this unique process is the subject of a 2014 Oscar-nominated documentary “Facing Fear,” which will be screened at the City College event.

Despite the originality of the two speakers when taken in the context of the Leonardo Dorantes lectures, Kistler said she sees this year’s event not as diverging but instead returning to the over-arching theme of the series.

“It’s about appreciating each other and letting people be who they want to be,” Kistler said. “It helps us to examine how we interact with people who may not be like ourselves.”

The event is sponsored by the Foundation for Santa Barbara City College, the Bookstore, Extended Opportunities Programs and Services, and the Human Resources Department.