The brutal assault on Kevin Aviance, a beloved musical performer and outsized personality in the gay community, in the East Village on Saturday reminds all of us that anti-gay hatred and violence can flare at any time, even in those communities where we typically feel safest. Two other violent assaults against gay men over the weekend—in Astoria—though far less widely noted, further underscore the frightening randomness of this scourge.
As the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project was quick to point out, our increased visibility, both in June as Pride events happen all over town and more generally as we claim a more visible place in American society, has its downside. With visibility, comes backlash and for years now June has repeatedly emerged as the most violent month in terms of attacks on LGBT New Yorkers.
That is a sick irony, but one each of us needs to accept in order to deal with it more effectively.
There are plenty of great opportunities during the next several weeks to celebrate almost 40 years of our modern liberation movement. Many will be in crowded and public venues, easily attracting the notice of others outside the celebration. Late night parties in which alcohol and recreational drugs play a role will draw many of us. Common sense should be the watch phrase. Leaving such events alone, on dark, deserted streets doesn’t always make for a happy ending and particularly if you are feeling it, make sure others are keeping track of your whereabouts.
If the unthinkable happens, and you are the victim of harassment or violence, make sure to report it to the police and the AVP. Suspicions about the police’s interest in pursuing such hate crimes linger among many, but in fact the NYPD has improved its responsiveness and sensitivity dramatically in recent years. The 2000 enactment of a state hate crimes law means that convicted perpetrators are likely to face a stiffer penalty than otherwise.
And of course if crimes against our community are not reported, it is all that much harder to prevent future attacks against others.
One of the attacks in Astoria over the weekend involved both homophobic and racist taunts against three gay men, once again demonstrating that violence often comes at the intersection of a complex web of hate. The last year has witnessed a series of heinous crimes against African-American gay men—the murder and dismemberment of 19-year-old Rashawn Brazell of Bushwick; the brutal murder of 32-year-old Kenmoore Thomas with a barbell in his Harlem apartment; the beating of 28-year-old Dwan Prince that left him permanently disabled, also in Bushwick; and the fatal stabbing death of William Oliver, a 61-year-old man who may or may not have been gay, in a popular cruising spot in Prospect Park.
Last June, City Councilwoman Leticia James, an African American who represents Fort Greene and Crown Heights, faulting what she called “a conspiracy of silence” in Central Brooklyn, called on black leaders to speak up against the attacks on gay men. We should all borrow a page from James, and look to all of our communities—our own first among them—and demand greater awareness, outrage, courage, and response to the continued epidemic of anti-gay violence.
“We must love one another or die,” Lawrence Mass titled his anthology of writings about AIDS activist Larry Kramer. It’s a lesson that serves us in all the affairs of life, and at this season of pride a call to care for each other couldn’t be more appropriate.