The Capital Club hosted a day-long event Oct. 30 to honor and support the family of Stephen Smith, the victim of an unsolved hit-and-run in Hampton County, South Carolina, in 2015. The event, #StandingForStephenSmith, was held to raise money for Stephen’s mother, Sandy Smith, and to raise awareness for anti-LGBTQIA+ violence.
Stephen's case was reopened in June 2021, six years after his death. The case was called for review when uncovered evidence was introduced from the murder investigations of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, wife and son of Alex Murdaugh, according to a statement by Tommy Crosby of SLED.
Stephen was openly gay, according to his mother.
“In my opinion, yes. I think that he was killed because he was gay,” Smith said.
Susanne Andrews, an organizer of the event, started a GoFundMe in September after seeing a Facebook post about Stephen’s gravesite lacking a headstone.
Andrews set up the fund to “raise money for Ms. Sandy’s legal expenses, a scholarship fund in Stephen’s name and anything else that we can do to help and give back to this mother, who has been waiting for more than six long years for answers to her son’s death,” according to the GoFundMe description.
According to the its website, the Capital Club is “the longest continuous operating gay bar in the Southeast and the oldest in Columbia.” Andrews said her father, the owner of the Capital Club, was the first person she called to try and host something at the club.
“This is gone from this little seed of an idea of hoping to raise $1,000 to help get Stephen a headstone to every national media station being here covering this. I call it an amazingly beautiful conundrum," Andrews said.
Over $13,000 has now been raised, and the day-long event featured guest speakers, drag and musical performances, food, a costume contest and a silent auction.
Elena DeVour, a performer at the event and show director at the Capital Club, was in charge of selecting the drag performers for the fundraiser.
“Every part of our community comes in one by one to make something big happen. The drag queens, our allies, gay men, lesbians — everyone has a little bit to offer, and it's turned into this great big thing today,” DeVour said.
Sandy Smith was the guest of honor at the event, which was attended by family and supporters of Stephen, and many local and national media outlets.
“Ms. Sandy has gone six years without answers about her child, and this is all about showing her love and support and giving to her what should have been given to her in the past six years that she hasn't received. Just support and love and lifting her up,” Andrews said.
In a subsequent interview with The Daily Gamecock, Smith said the renewed attention in her son’s case made her feel more supported in her fight for justice.
“It's wonderful that everybody's interested in keeping Stephen's story out there, and that's just greatly appreciated,” Smith said.
Smith said enough money was raised for Stephen’s headstone within just a few days of the GoFundMe being posted. There is also enough for Stephen’s father to also receive a headstone. His father died three months after Stephen and is buried beside him, according to Smith.
Smith said she has had members of the media in her yard “every day” since Stephen’s case began receiving more attention amidst the proceedings in the Murdaugh case.
“It's kind of like, confusing. That name was out there from the beginning, and it was just never really looked into until now with all the other stuff. But that name was in it from the beginning, but it just never went anywhere,” Smith said.
Paul Murdaugh attended USC before his death, according to reporting done by The State.
The #StandingForStephenSmith event advocated for ending hate crimes and victims of unsolved crimes cases, such as Stephen’s, on the basis of bigotry and discrimination.
"Love is love," Chuck Archie, a volunteer at the event, said. "Doesn't matter who a person loves, everybody should be accepting and approve, and whether you approve or not, at least somebody else's life doesn't affect you. There's a lot of hate sometimes in the world that because somebody is different from you, people look at you differently. But we're all different."
A prominent theme at the event was the issue of a lack of legislation intending to protect against hate crimes. South Carolina is one of two states in the country without any hate crime laws. Furthermore, multiple states don't have legislation that protects against sexual orientation-based hate crimes.
In order to get legal justice for victims of hate crimes, "we have to change hearts and minds through education and discipline," Elke Kennedy, a speaker at the event, said.
Kennedy spoke about her deeply personal connection with hate crimes against members of the LGBTQIA+ community. She started the education-based nonprofit Sean's Last Wish after her own son was killed in a hate-motivated attack.
"We were told, and hoped, that having hate crime laws was the answer for bias-motivated attacks that lead to beatings, suicides and murders to provide justice for these types of crimes," Kennedy said. "We cannot pass laws and change morality or change how we treat or respect each other."
Smith said she will continue to fight for her son.
“It's truly amazing. For six years, it was just me, and now it's like I have a bigger family now that's fighting with me,” Smith said.