Monday, May 20, 2013

This Time's Different

This post rambles a bit, in part because I'm recovering.  A week ago I was recouperating from a weekend bender at Berghain in Berlin.  Today though, my recovery is emotional.  I spent my afternoon preparing for and being at the march and rally to end violence against the LGBTQ community in New York City.  This rally was magically organized by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the LGBT Center, and the NYC Anti-Violence Project, and was attended by nearly 2,000 people – all in 24 hours.  Social media is a blessing and a curse, that’s for sure. 

Early on Saturday, May 18, 2013, a gay man was brutally murdered in the West Village, a bastion of queer culture and bohemia since the founding of the modern gay rights movement in 1969 – and long before then, too.  With marriage equality on the books in 12 states and the District of Colombia, New York being the most populous of them all (sans CA because it’s on hold there right now pending the SCOTUS decision), and hate crime laws in what feels like almost everywhere now, it’s appalling to me that a man of 32 was gunned down for being gay.  In New York City.

This didn’t happen in Laramie or Baghdad or Kampala.  It happened in my backyard.  This man was murdered in a neighborhood in which I willingly and flauntingly cavort regularly, and in various mediums of clothing might I add. 

Marching down Greenwich Avenue, traversing east on Ninth Street, heading south on Fifth Avenue for a block, and making the turn to head back west on Eighth towards Avenue of the Americas where Marc Carson was shot in the face, I piped up to keep the chant of “Hey! Hey! Ho, Ho!  Homophobia’s got to go!” going.  Onlookers collected at every step; diners had stopped eating their meals and stood to watch, cheer, and take pictures; those with apartments took time to look down on to the sea of solidarity from their windows and balconies in the spirit of community. 

It was a solemn rally.   A girl and I joked that this was the quietest group of gays we’d ever encountered.  It was different, there’s no question about it.   But the chants filled in as we carried onward. 

I kept having flashbacks to the bibulous and errant times I’ve had on the blocks of the West Village.  I looked up, charmed by the architecture and tree lined streets.   The sun was setting gracefully; the humidity wasn’t so kind.   There was a cacophony of echoing chants and cheers.  The sound made its way up through verdant ginkgos and along red brick federal style facades to further thicken the air with a palpable, uneasy energy. 

The perp was caught a block from my favorite bar and a half block from where I probably would have been getting falafel at the time of the arrest on that Friday night.  To realize fully that this happened in a neighborhood where people of all stripes feel unabashedly comfortable is scary. 

Which is to say that processing this heinous act of violence isn’t easy.  People die every day in all different ways.  I was recently in Istanbul, where bombings have marred and slaughtered recently, and in eastern Turkey, people die daily in their fight for the claim of freedom.  And in Harlem, my neighborhood and home, people are often victims of gun violence.  Last summer, a 4 and a 9 year old were struck by bullets in the crossfire of a gunfight in Harlem (other such gunfights happened in other boroughs, too).  But that didn’t bother me: I still walked by the places where these shootings happened (a mere couple of blocks from my apartment) without hesitation or a shred less confidence. 

This time though, it’s different.  There was a target to this shooting.  Not one steeped in gang violence or drug money, lust or even the random act of shooting into a crowd (which happened in New Orleans recently).  That sordid, ignorant bullet could have been aimed at any one of my fabulous friends or me.  Just because we might be holding hands with a person of the same sex, or have really tight jeans on, or even some makeup (or none of those things at all – I’m stereotyping).  That’s why this is different.

And to think that just a week ago, I still had the eye makeup and nail polish on I’d donned to the club in Berlin because we were told to dress alternatively to get in the door at Berghain (and it worked). 

None of what I’ve said should lessen the deaths of any number of the millions who’ve died from bullets.  All those people are worth a whole lot, but, I’m not going to get into the gun debate here.  This is about stigma, it’s about targeting, and it’s about the need to bring down barriers.

A friend and colleague from another political office carried a sign with a jarring quote by the late Harvey Milk: “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country.”  Later, Milk met his fate by bullet in his office at the City Hall of San Francisco in 1978.   At the time, sure, Milk threw doors open for lots of folks.  But today, marriage equality and gender equity are leveling the playing field for LGBT Americans.  Granted, we’re behind a great number of countries in terms of equality across the board, but we’re getting there. 

Moments like this create a rallying cry for recognition, and for better or for worse, can galvanize a movement.   The fact is we’re all just human beings.  And whether you’re a Taiwanese lesbian or an Iranian homo (cause even though Ahmadinejad says there aren’t gay Iranians, there are – I’ve met some), you bleed like every other person on this earth, straight, transgender, bisexual, or otherwise. 

A lot of what I do in my day-to-day work is help people.  I have the pleasure of doing so on behalf of one of the most progressive members of the NY State Assembly, Dick Gottfried.  He represents Chelsea, Hells Kitchen, Midtown and part of the Upper West Side – all famously friendly neighborhoods for LGBT folks.  I like to joke that he has the gayest district in the world (and I get to work there!), which is unfounded, but debatable.  Had Dick not been in Albany for the legislative session, he surely would have been at the rally today.   The recent hate crimes in Manhattan happened in some of the gayest neighborhoods in America – including ones my boss represents.  How can that be? 

I don’t know, really.  I do know that we still have a major political party that puts me in the second class of society.  I do know that in schools across certain parts of this country, children and young adults are scolded for their thoughts or their love for a person of the same gender.  I do know that same-sex couples are not entitled to the same benefits of heterosexual couples by the federal government and that people are forced to die alone in hospitals even though they’ve had a partner for 30, 40, or 50-plus years.  This is disgusting and egregiously un-American. 

I marched today for myself and for millions of other LGBT persons here in New York City, in America, and around the world. 

This past weekend in Tbilisi, Georgia, a group of Orthodox priests lead a massive violent protest against a paltry number of gay-rights activists.   Nothing has happened to the hate-mongers so far, who used rocks, bats, garbage cans, and fists against the peaceful demonstrators.  This all sounds heinous and so third world, but isn’t a murder-by-bullet for being gay just as revolting?