Beloved Gay Leader Savagely Attacked in Sunnyside Dies
[Editor's Note: On Saturday, November 17, a March Against Violence/ March for Justice/ March For Peace/ March For Lou will be held. The event will gather at 51st Street and 43rd Avenue in Woodside at 4 p.m., and participants will march to 41-00 43rd Avenue, where Lou Rispoli was attacked on October 20. Bring candles to hold aloft during the march.]
BY ANDY HUMM | Lou Rispoli, described by friends as the heart and soul of the gay community in Sunnyside, Queens, where he lived for more than 30 years, was attacked by two men with whom he was seen walking at 2 a.m. on October 20 outside 41-00 43rd Avenue. He was hit in the head with a blunt object with such force that neighbors who heard the assault but did not see it thought he had been shot.
Rispoli was removed from life support, and on October 26, the office of City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer announced the victim had died. That statement also announced a $22,000 reward –– offered by the mayor’s office and the NYPD –– for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for Rispoli’s death. Anyone with information about the attack is urged to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS, submit tips at nypdcrimestoppers.com, or text those tips to 274637 (CRIMES), then enter TIP577.
The day before, Van Bramer, fighting back tears, said at a press conference in his office, “He will not survive, and this will be a homicide.” At that moment, Rispoli lay in a hospice at Elmhurst Hospital.
Van Bramer, who is gay and represents Sunnyside, said the assault on Rispoli, whom he knew as a friend and someone who worked on his 2009 campaign, “is a tragedy for our neighborhood and our city.”
The victim was 62 years old.
The one eyewitness who has come forward has not been able to provide much of a description of the two assailants other than that they were likely in their 20s. A third man, who stood lookout by a car that the group, including Rispoli, may have emerged from prior to the assault, was tall. The car has variously been described as an SUV or a white two-door.
It is not yet known whether this was an anti-gay bias attack.
Police released a photo of the victim in the hopes that anyone who may have information about the attack will call the NYPD TIPS hotline. But police are not yet giving out any details about the crime, saying only that “the investigation is ongoing.”
Rumors were flying around the community about the nature of the crime, according to a local reporter, but nothing has been substantiated beyond the testimony of the lone witness, who apparently did not have a good view of the attackers. There were no surveillance cameras outside the building where the attack took place, but Van Bramer said police are checking cameras in the area in an effort to track Rispoli’s movements and those of his assailants.
Mark Horn, Rispoli’s good friend for decades, read a statement on behalf of the victim’s husband, family, and community of friends, many of whom gathered for Van Bramer’s press conference.
Describing Rispoli as “loving and generous,” Horn said, “He touched so many so deeply. That he was struck down so violently leaves us all speechless with grief.”
Horn told Gay City News that even before there was God’s Love We Deliver, Rispoli was cooking meals and delivering them to people with AIDS in the neighborhood. Rispoli’s involvement in LGBT rights went back to the Gay Academic Union in the 1970s. He was also secretary to the legendary out gay composer Virgil Thomson for many years. His family has requested privacy and that his spouse’s name not be used in the press.
Horn said that at holidays, Rispoli opened his home to gay and non-gay friends who did not have family and served sumptuous meals.
Rispoli and his husband married on their 31st anniversary in August 2011, having met on the subway in 1980. The couple raised two daughters together.
Eric Lehman and his partner Gerry Oxford came to the press conference for their friend of ten years.
“He was a force of nature,” Lehman said, “with a very big personality.”
Rispoli seemed to have been a beloved figure among Sunnyside residents, gay and straight alike. His ill-fated midnight walk was not thought of as unusual since he often had trouble sleeping and roamed the neighborhood and its late-night shops. But there is no good information on why he took this particular walk and whether or not he knew his assailants or had had previous trouble with them.
Van Bramer said, “He was not robbed to our knowledge.”
Recalling the day he met Rispoli at a house party for his 2009 Council run, Van Bramer said, “He said he was thrilled that an openly gay person was running. He was a great volunteer and became a friend to us.”
The councilman added, “Lou was a proud gay man. He fought for full equality for our community. But I don’t know if he was attacked because he was a gay man. This is a good and safe neighborhood where gay men and lesbians can walk the streets and be who they are.”
Horn said, “He was a pillar of the gay community and he was a pillar of this community [of Sunnyside]. Lou was not afraid. He went where he wanted when he wanted.”