In 2006 I moved from Michigan, right into the open arms of New York City. I was following a girl there, of course, but New York always held an appeal to me as an artist and a lesbian. The traditionally “gay” areas of the city, Chelsea, the Village and Hell’s Kitchen were and are still, my stomping grounds. I’ve walked those streets countless time alongside the gay men in my life, and while holding hands with my wife. The West Village is home to The Duplex, where I had my cabaret debut. It’s also where my friends and I began to notice a change. Where just the June before, people flocked into the streets to celebrate the passing of gay marriage in New York, now a growing hostility towards our community began to pick up steam.
Recently, my friends and I stopped frequenting Christopher Street at night, concerned about the steely stares and mumbled insults that felt so very out of place in this gay mecca of New York. But still, I don’t think any of us were prepared to feel truly unsafe in our city. We had no idea that the backlash against equality would slither its way in and begin to take shape here. We are the city of piano bars and dirty water hot dogs. New York is the place where dreams are made.
In the month of May, there have been eight attacks on gay men in the New York community. That’s twice the number of hate crimes last year. While all are shocking and unexpected, some were incredibly vicious and brutal. On Saturday, May 18, a young gay man named Mark Carson was murdered on the streets of Greenwich Village. He was menaced, followed, and eventually shot in the face by a man who called him “faggot.” Gay people move from all over the world to cities like New York and San Francisco, so they can leave behind the taunts and threats of violence they experience elsewhere. Mark Carson was like so many of us, just trying to make a better life for himself in this city. Any of my friends could have been Mark Carson. I could have been Mark Carson.
Just because the attacks have been focused on gay men, does not mean that the lesbian community isn’t being affected. You mess with our brothers, you mess with us. Also, last month, a man hurling gay slurs attacked a woman with a bottle at a popular restaurant in the Village.
New Yorkers came together this past Monday to rally against the rising tide of violence. Mayoral hopeful and out lesbian City Council Speaker Christine Quinn condemned the violence and urged New Yorkers not to let fear control us. “We are never going to go back to the time when it was unsafe to walk down the street holding the hand of someone you love who may be the same gender,” Quinn said. I truly believe she’s right; I don’t want to see those bastards get the best of us. However, I couldn’t stop the nervous feeling that rose in me when my friends ventured out to the West Side on Monday evening. Hugs were tighter, cautions were exchanged. “Nobody needs to be a hero right now,” I lectured. “If someone approaches you, run as fast as your toned asses can carry you.” As I walked the same streets on my way home, I resisted the urge to hold my wife’s hand. I instantly felt like a coward. That evening, another gay man was attacked. On Tuesday night, two more.
June is Pride Month in New York and there are events celebrating all things LGBTQ throughout the weeks leading up to the big Pride parade on June 30. It’s usually such a joyous time, but the frivolity and pageantry we have come to expect doesn’t feel quite right in lieu of recent events. It feels more like a time to reflect and come together as a united people. A call to action to take our city back. The Anti-Violence Project, a tremendous organization here in New York, has instituted Safe Nights, which will run on Fridays, now through the end of June. Dedicated volunteers will be offering outreach and safety tips to the community, as well as patrolling the streets in the targeted areas. The same streets where our brothers and sisters fought for our rights over forty years ago during the Stonewall Riots.
It doesn’t matter if you live in New York City, or Atlanta or Juneau; the tide is turning for LGBT people across our country. A wise movie lesbian once said, “If there’s a thing that can’t be stopped, it’s not possible for there to be something else which can’t be moved.” The marriage equality and gay rights movement is an unstoppable force. DOMA will soon be dead. One by one, we will get the same rights to love and marry as every other citizen in the states where we live. There will be backlash, but we will find a way to shine our light out of the darkness. It seems scary now, but the bullies won’t win. They can only make us stronger.
In memory of Mark Carson, Mollie Judith Olgin, Brandon Teena, Matthew Shepard, and the countless others in our community that have fallen at the hands of ignorance and hate.