To Die For: The Rise In Antigay Violence

 

A 32-YEAR-OLD man was shot and killed in New York last Friday night a few blocks from my Greenwich Village home. He was not killed for money, his watch, or even vengeance. His life was taken from him simply for being who he was: a gay human being.

On the night it happened, my partner of sixteen years, Tony, and I were up the street having dinner with a friend. After dinner, we wandered over to a neighborhood gay bar for a quick drink. We then left our friend and walked arm-in-arm, arriving back home around midnight. The same time that Mark Carson was being assaulted and fatally shot just a few yards away.

He had been followed for several blocks by a man taunting him, yelling out “faggot” and “What are you, a gay wrestler?” When they reached the corner of Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street, his attacker spat out his final threat, “Do you want to die here?” before shooting Mark in the face with a .38 caliber gun. Mark Carson’s body lay dead just a couple blocks from the Stonewall Bar, the birthplace of the gay rights movement.

In the past few weeks, there have been five attacks directed at gay men, two of them in broad daylight in front of Madison Square Garden. On May 10, two men were hospitalized after being brutalized by a gang of five men. This was following another attack at Madison Square Garden just five days earlier when a gay couple were walking arm-in-arm following a New York Knicks game. They were called “faggots,” then knocked to the ground while a group of men repeatedly kicked and punched them. One of the victims later said that he no longer feels safe as a gay man in New York.

I’ve never been physically attacked for being gay, though I have been chased, and been on the receiving end of the usual antigay slurs. Just two weeks ago, while walking our dog, a guy in a passing car yelled out, “Two fags and a dog.”

During dinner with our friend last Friday night—just a few hours before Mark Carson was killed—he asked what I thought to be a very odd question.

“Do you guys feel comfortable showing affection with each other in public?”

“Of course,” I said without even having to think about it.

Despite the recent Madison Square Garden attacks, I sill felt safe. New York has been my home for more than half my life. I have come to feel very safe here as an out gay man.

“You don’t get nervous about it?” my friend continued. “Yeah, of course, around here it’s fine. In this neighborhood it’s totally safe. But, would you feel comfortable doing it in other neighborhoods?”

“There’s always going to be some insecure jerk yelling something, but I think I’d feel comfortable in almost every neighborhood in New York,” I said.

I never before thought of myself as naive.

Tony and I often walk down the street holding hands. Whenever I meet him for lunch, I give him a quick kiss goodbye as I’m leaving. I don’t think anything of it. I’m just displaying the usual affection shown by any couple. It took me years to accept myself, and I can’t allow anyone to stop me from expressing something as positive as affection.

This past Monday evening, I was walking the same route I take every day with my dog. But this time it gave me a shiver. This time I was marching with 1,500 outraged New Yorkers. We were marching against the violence. We were marching for Mark.

Tony was Facebooking live updates and pictures. The crowd was chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, homophobia’s got to go,” and other rallying cries. While I was biting my upper lip to keep from crying.

This is my home. I’ve walked by that corner hundreds of times while holding Tony’s hand. And now, holding his hand again, I felt sick to my stomach. I felt sick because of the injustice. Because of the loss of life. Because my home had been violated. Because I thought we had moved beyond this. Because I felt vulnerable.

With change comes fear. I understand that. And there have been huge changes since the world was shocked when Ellen came out sixteen years ago. Actors and sports stars are now leaping out of the closet. NBA basketball player Jason Collins recently came out. The number of gay couples who are now able to marry is growing. Minnesota just became the twelfth state to ratify same-sex marriage. The tide is definitely turning. One by one, the rest of the states will tumble. As will many of the countries. Last week France became the fourteenth country to legalize gay marriage.

A few short years ago I would have never thought any of this would be possible within my lifetime. Though we still seem to be in a constant state of one step forward, two steps back. There have been 22 hate crime attacks in New York since January, compared to thirteen during the same period last year. And as long as the federal government continues to treat gays as second-class citizens and deny them the right to marry, it will send a message to angry misguided people that homosexuals are not equal and therefor deserve to be at the receiving end of ugly slurs, a kicking boot, or a loaded gun.

Late Monday evening, in the shadow of the rally to end hate violence, another man was being victimized across town; beaten and kicked until he was knocked unconscious as the attacker shouted antigay slurs. The following morning, in lower Manhattan, two more gay men were verbally and physically assaulted.

We are taught to hate. We learn it. We can also learn to accept and embrace. But we need counter-programming: school initiatives that teach diversity, acceptance and tolerance. We need to be taught to celebrate diversity.

Tuesday morning, Tony and I walked our dog down the same route we we had taken the night before. We were not accompanied by 1,500 chanting New Yorkers. It was just us. We walked in silence.

Will I think twice next time I feel like taking Tony’s hand as we walk down the street? I don’t know. I certainly hope not. I can’t allow fear to stop me from being myself.

Do I feel safe?

I’ve been in the same committed relationship for 16 years. I’m not rich. I’m not famous. I yield no political power. I have nothing of great value that anyone would want to steal.

I’m just a normal gay man. Which alone is enough to get me killed.

Below are photos by Tony Acosta from the protest and vigil this week following Carson’s murder:

Jeff Nishball

About Jeff Nishball

Jeff Nishball spent 8 long years in film marketing and publicity for DreamWorks Pictures; and yes, all celebrities do look smaller in person. He is currently working on his first novel. Jeff lives in New York (aka “the city”) with his partner, Tony, and their dog, Chankla. Latinos apparently think the dog's name is absolutely hysterical.
This entry was posted in Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to To Die For: The Rise In Antigay Violence

  1. frank says:

    Thank you. Boots on the ground viewpoint.

  2. Terrific essay, Jeff. Impressed by your self-awareness and the sensitivity to shifting perspectives. I’ve grown almost – almost – complacent about my comfort level as a gay man in NYC. And while the tide is turning, it hasn’t washed away the hatred and fear.

    Check out my response to harassment in my neighborhood:

    http://www.theweeklings.com/tgualtieri/2012/07/27/the-kraken-inside-me/

  3. Pingback: To Die For: The Rise in Anti-Gay Violence — The Good Men Project

  4. This is a powerful piece, well written and animated in its details.

    After a person decides to come out, there is no turning back. Fear is bound to surface as the LGBT gains more ground; the bigoted believe they have no recourse but violence. The world can be an ugly place as hate arises. However, hate must be overcome with love, ultimately. While must stand up to this brutality, it is only when love overflows that any enduring solution will emerge. In the meantime, we must protect ourselves; perhaps the young and the strong and the fearless need to patrol our neighborhoods as was done in the days following Stonewall in 1969. When Johnson signed Civil Rights legislation, it certainly wasn’t smooth sailing for African-Americans. Terror was the name of the game but Black Power took hold and ultimately won the day. Not totally, but substantially.

    Fear begets attack. And attack begets attack. Yet, we must have a strong response. It’s hard not to be afraid in these times, but we must not submit to our fears. If we do, they win. Don’t let them win. Don’t.

  5. Sharon Kass says:

    Doing harm to homosexuals is wrong. But sometimes doing the right thing will be taken by some of them as hurtful.

    The fact is that the key causative factor in homosexuality and transgenderism is faulty bonding and identification with the same-sex parent, starting in early life. This is proven. These disorders are preventable and treatable (www.narth.com).

    The truth will out. “Gays” are fully human. But they are not fully well.

    • NARTH is an organization that believes that homosexuality is an “illness” and not a “condition.” That is its basic premise. Charles Socarides, a cofounder of NARTH, is considered the father of conversion or reparative therapy which claims that sexual orientation can be changed or diminished. Richard Socarides, his son, a NY attorney who worked for President Clinton as a Public Liason to the LGBT community, is gay and apparently disagrees with his father.

      So do many others. They believe that homosexuality is NOT a mental disorder and condemn conversion/reparative therapy as destructive and harmful. Here’s a partial list:

      Pan American Health Organization (PAHO): Regional Office of the World Health Organization
      National Association of Social Workers
      American School Counselor Association
      American Psychological Association
      American Psychoanalytic Association
      American Psychiatric Association
      American Medical Association
      American Counseling Association
      American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
      American Academy of Pediatrics

      One day the likes of NARTH will convert to the sane view that homosexuality is simply a normal variant of sexuality that is found across every species on the planet. One can only hope that day is soon.

    • Usually, when commenting online, I keep it positive. And I was going to take the high road with you, Sharon. I was going to refrain from a reply to your comment as Jeff Nishball had the tolerance to do, or respond politely like Robert Scherma had the grace and compassion to do. Since Mr. Scherma thoroughly demolished your argument, I don’t feel the need to include more of the myriad ways in which your viewpoint is so resoundingly wrong and intensely hateful. I have the feeling logic, reason, fairness and putting yourself in another person’s shoes are just not your cup of tea anyway.

      But I couldn’t leave your stupidity and ignorance hanging out there. Like someone braying the N-word in a crowded public place or hanging a Nazi flag out of a window, sometimes it’s important to point out what an ugly stain on an enlightened society ideas like the ones you espouse really are. As I’ve already mentioned to the writer of this essay, it’s hard to believe in 2013 this point still needs to be made.

      So as a straight man with close friends and family in the LGBT community, I must say this: you and your cohorts at this frightening organization that treats the natural occurrence of homosexuality in humans as a disorder are complicit in these hate crimes.

      You may pay lip service to the fact that it’s wrong to physically harm a homosexual man or woman, but the hurt you trigger is just as painful and still more broadly insidious.

      You don’t use guns or bats or even taunts, instead you use embarassingly incomplete research, backwards conclusions and staggering arrogance to do your damage. It’s not right. It’s not okay.

      I only hope one day you realize the wounds you inflict and the ripple effect of the violence you incite. I hope one day you can take steps toward tolerance and acceptance.

      With that, I do believe you might still have the chance to make yourself well.

  6. NARTH is an organization that believes that homosexuality is an “illness” and not a “condition.” That is its basic premise. Charles Socarides, a cofounder of NARTH, is considered the father of conversion or reparative therapy which claims that sexual orientation can be changed or diminished. Richard Socarides, his son, a NY attorney who worked for President Clinton as a Public Liason to the LGBT community, is gay and apparently disagrees with his father.

    So do many others. They believe that homosexuality is NOT a mental disorder and condemn conversion/reparative therapy as destructive and harmful. Here’s a partial list:

    Pan American Health Organization (PAHO): Regional Office of the World Health Organization
    National Association of Social Workers
    American School Counselor Association
    American Psychological Association
    American Psychoanalytic Association
    American Psychiatric Association
    American Medical Association
    American Counseling Association
    American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
    American Academy of Pediatrics

    One day the likes of NARTH will convert to the sane view that homosexuality is simply a normal variant of sexuality that is found across every species on the planet. One can only hope that day is soon.

  7. Thanks for this important piece, Jeff, and for drawing attention to the work that still needs to be done in fighting homophobia and hatred toward the LGBT community. It’s hard to believe these same lessons of tolerance need to be taught given the progress made in some areas, but they still very urgently do.

    My apologies in advance if I go now to unload on an above comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>