Citizens Against Hate

…seeking a kinder and gentler world

MENDING FENCES – IT CAN HAPPEN

Posted by nicolen on May 8, 2008

http://www.theacorn.com/news/2008/0508/community/023.html

Intolerance is not the way, students taught
By Sophia Fischer sfischer@theacorn.com

JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers FOES, FRIENDS- Matthew Boger, left, a gay man, and Tim Zaal, a former white supremacist, have made their peace.

A former neo-Nazi skinhead leader and a gay man discussed their unlikely friendship during a student assembly at Oak Park High School last Wednesday. The men spoke about hate, healing, forgiveness and hope.

Tim Zaal, a former white supremacist from the San Gabriel Valley, served time in jail after assaulting an Iranian couple he thought were Jewish.

Matthew Boger, thrown out of his Bay area home by his mother at age 13 after announcing he was gay, spent years living on the street. The two men, now in their 40s, met in 1981 when Zaal nearly beat Boger to death in a dark Hollywood alley. They met again 26 years later through the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

Boger, the museum manager, and Zaal, a consultant for the museum, met for lunch in May 2005. While talking about their childhoods the men realized they had met before- in the alley where Zaal helped beat Boger up. The revelation made Boger so angry he left the restaurant.

“For two weeks I thought about what I was going to do to destroy Tim’s life,” Boger said at the assembly.

Zaal publicly apologized to Boger during a presentation for visiting students. It wasn’t easy for him, but Boger forgave Zaal.

“I did it so I could heal and move forward,” he said.

Zaal urged students not to make the same mistakes he made. He compared the predominantly white neighborhood he grew up in with Oak Park. Zaal was considerably younger than his siblings and considerably influenced by them. As the neighborhood diversified, Zaal became aware of his family’s racist attitude.

“My father never said Hispanic or black people were bad but that property values were depreciating and the neighborhood wasn’t what it used to be,” Zaal said. “It’s definitely not something we’re born with- it’s definitely something we’re taught- our upbringing, our neighborhood.”

The shooting of his troubled older brother by an AfricanAmerican deeply affected Zaal. After his siblings left home, Zaal’s mother returned to work, leaving the youth on his own after school.

He began drinking, grew a mohawk, and became involved in the hardcore Hollywood punk scene where violence was common. His group vandalized cars, stores and beat people. He married a woman in the white supremacist movement and had a son. He began to raise the boy as a racist.

“Having a child does strange things to a person. It makes you have to be responsible,” Zaal said.

A turning point came when Zaal was in a store with his then 2-year-old child. The boy loudly pointed out an African-American man, using the “n-word.” Other customers stepped in to berate Zaal for teaching such language and attitude to his youngster. “It was the first time I ever felt shame,” Zaal said.

It took years for Zaal to extricate himself from the supremacist movement. His first wife is in jail, and his son is struggling with the issues of his upbringing. Zaal is now married to a Jewish woman. Following the example set by a friend, a fellow former skinhead, Zaal began volunteering at the Museum of Tolerance.

Meanwhile, Boger was living on the streets in San Francisco after his eviction from home. Cold, tired and hungry, he called his mom to ask if he could return.

“My mother said I could come home only if I was done being gay,” Boger said. “That was the last time I heard her voice.”

He eventually moved to Los Angeles and lived for years on a piece of cardboard in a park, eating out of trash cans and being victimized.

Many homeless teens hung out at a nearby burger joint. One night a group of 14 teens assaulted Boger and his friends. He ran into an alley to try to escape, but was beaten by all the attackers.

“They were kicking me, cutting me open. The last thing I remember was a boot with a razor blade in it kicking me in the head. I still have the scar from that blade,” Boger said.

The boot belonged to Zaal. When Boger came to, he was alone in the alley, bloodied and weak. “It was the most lonely, horrible feeling I ever had,” he said.

Rather than go to the police or a hospital he stole bandages and continued living in the park and healing.

“The last thing I wanted to hear was my mom saying ‘I don’t want you,'” Boger said.

He eventually got off the streets, attended a trade school and became a hair colorist. Physically and emotionally scarred, he began volunteering at the Museum of Tolerance, an experience that helped him deal with his own prejudices against non-gay people. He is now the facility’s manager.

And Boger and Zaal are good friends. Boger refers to Zaal as sort of an older brother.

The men’s message is important for students to hear, said Oak Park school board member Marie Panec.

“Our students are good kids but they are naive about the world and what can happen,” Panec said. “By hearing stories like this they can be made aware that intolerance is there in the community and how easily you can get sucked into it.”

“It really showed me how people can change in life and how a sad situation can have an impact on the future and what you do,” said senior Carly Tysch, 17.

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4 Responses to “MENDING FENCES – IT CAN HAPPEN”

  1. Jason said

    Yawn. Again, you are screening out stories that match the worldview you are trying to push. This story is no big deal. Go to http://www.amren.com or http://www.cofcc.org to read about stories where white people are attacked and threatened by non-whites. Theses two website reflect the sociological frame I believe in.

  2. I know that the world isn’t fair and life is either.But I can relate to what you are saying.hate crimes come in all forms.God-bless

  3. V.E.G. said

    Jewish women married to a gentile men have been around for a long time! Dennis Wayne Blum and his half-brother hero James Frederick Fayard, III has a Jewish 8th Generation Great-grandmother married to a gentile man!

  4. Smg said

    It’s racist to say that property values go down when more and more blacks and Hispanics move in? Really? But it’s true, so how is that possible?

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