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Suicides and Gay-bashings: More Violence for LGBT People

By Evelyn Schlatter on October 7, 2010 - 4:12 pm, Posted in Anti-LGBT

The violence never seems to end. This past month has been downright horrifying, with at least five teenagers nationwide committing suicide as a result of anti-gay bullying. There were also two attacks against gay victims in New York City communities normally considered LGBT-friendly.

A patron was gay-bashed in the restroom of Manhattan’s legendary Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village – a site considered the very birthplace of the gay-rights movement – on October 3. Police say Matthew Francis, 21, and Christopher Orlando, 17, both of Staten Island, accosted Ben Carver, 34, in the restroom of the Stonewall about 2:30 that morning. According to Carver’s account – which he posted on his blog – Francis asked him if he was gay. Thinking Francis was joking, Carver responded, “Where are you, buddy?” Francis answered by saying “In a gay bar. Don’t pee next to me, faggot.” The men then demanded money, but Carver refused. Francis subsequently punched Carver in the face and Orlando tackled him and pinned his arms, Carver said. Carver, however, fought back, freeing an arm and striking one attacker several times with his elbow. “It was a pretty intense fight,” Carver told the New York Post.

Francis and Orlando fled, but were pursued by bar employees and patrons. The suspects were quickly caught by police and arrested.

Earlier the same weekend, a group of gay men were confronted and assaulted in the nearby Chelsea neighborhood. Six men allegedly confronted the group using anti-gay epithets, and one – later identified as Andrew Jackson, 20 – allegedly threw a trashcan into one victim’s head. Jackson was arrested; the five suspects remain at large.

These incidents highlight a distressing, on-going problem of violence directed against the LGBT community. To address the issue, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program has just released a new film, Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History, that highlights the destructive power and the tragic consequences of anti-gay bullying.

The irony of the Greenwich Village attack was not lost on the media and the blogosphere. The Stonewall Inn became the flashpoint for the modern gay rights movement on June 28, 1969, when a police raid triggered an uprising in an era when gay men and women generally stayed deeply closeted. That night, Stonewall patrons fought with officers and several days of demonstrations followed, creating the impetus for a new movement.

Last weekend’s attacks came at the end of period during which at least five teenagers nationwide committed suicide after being bullied or taunted as being homosexual. Two youths, 13-year-old Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, Calif., and 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Ind., hanged themselves after cruel and relentless anti-gay harassment. Thirteen-year-old Asher Brown of Houston fatally shot himself after similar treatment. Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, 18, leaped off the George Washington Bridge to his death after his roommate allegedly posted video on the Internet of him having sex with another man. And in Providence, R.I., openly gay Johnson and Wales University student Raymond Walsh, 19, hanged himself in his dormitory room, although all the circumstances of his death are not yet known. All the deaths happened during the last three weeks of September.

The suicides and the reported New York City attacks have left anger, sadness, and frustration in their wake among LGBT people and their friends, relatives and supporters, and intensified a national dialogue on bullying in schools and beyond and the climate that allows and encourages acts of violence against LGBT people.

Stonewall Inn co-owner Stacy Lentz called the attack “an isolated incident” and “not something that has happened here before.” New York City District 3 Council Member Christine Quinn, who lives in Chelsea and is gay, stated that the incidents over the weekend are “jarring,” but that they’re “not something that typically happens in Chelsea and Greenwich Village in one weekend.”

Still, said Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City-based Anti-Violence Project, the danger of homophobia-driven tragedies is an ongoing reality. “I get asked a lot about why there is a sudden spike in violence and my answer is: there is not,” Stapel said in an October 6 editorial. “Instead there has been a sudden spike in attention about this violence. Every day LGBT people endure bullying from our classmates, our families, our employers, our neighbors and strangers. Every day we face judgment because of who we are.”

“[O]ur society treats being gay or transgender as bad, or weird, or … sick, and collectively denounces gay and transgender people,” Stapel said. When that message is the primary message heard in schools, churches, at home and at work, “the conclusion has to be that we, as LGBT people, do not have a place in this society or in this world.”

The threat of violence is ever-present to many LGBT people, even in a place like the Stonewall Inn. “You always expect it,” said Eric Wilson, who attended an October 5 rally at the landmark establishment. “Whenever there’s some sort of gain in the gay rights movement, there is always some retribution.” Wilson expressed his thoughts in a New York Daily News video posted on the Internet.

Stonewall beating victim Carver wrote in his blog that when attacked, one should fight back and eliminate the threat, but only to the extent one needs to escape from harm. That’s because, Carver says, “We must be better than these bullies, and we must not give away our power to them by entertaining thoughts of fear and violence. While righteous anger is acceptable, we cannot let them take our peace.”

Carver says he forgave the men immediately and says he’ll respect whatever decision the legal system makes. He also extended condolences to the families of Francis and Orlando, saying he’s sure it’s a difficult time for their mothers.

  • Crystal Hugo

    I am a student that has been bullied by other students before and I have also been sexually harrassed. I told my mother about these issues; my family and I moved. I feel much safer, but it is scary to know there was a chance that those kids could have tooken my life.

  • John Molina

    Mrs. Hawkins-Legoretta, must be an East Coast “thing.” I haven’t heard that word in seven years at a California high school.

  • cindy hawkins-legorreta

    As an English teacher, I am especially distressed when I pass one of our local High Schools, here on Union Square and students standing outside will routinely harass, or viciously goad each other. They seem to use this as a form of recreation. The most frequently used word? After the ‘N” word? The “F’ word – you will hear one of the kids say to another, “Man you are a FAGGOT!” It is literally a knee jerk response for some teens to use this expression freely, with intent to brand, label, shame, or harass. By all means, let us continue to take strong action to help our gay brothers and sisters who are attacked in the street, in bars, or hassled at the workplace. But let’s also keep a sharp eye on the energies and language being put out there – both toward vulnerable young people attempting to come to terms with their sexuality, in a hostile environment – AND from other young people bound and determined to do them harm.

  • beholder

    I wouldn’t be surprised if we see another Stonewall.

  • Paen

    Good for you Patricia.It’s nice to know that there are still lots of real Christians who don’t think that they get to throw the first stone.

  • Patricia

    All of us – gay, straight, whatever – need to stand up and say, “Enough.” As a Christian, I am especially ashamed of churches that spew homophobic hate. There are gay Christians, and they are as deserving of Christ’s love and compassion as anyone else. Those of us who are Christians need to speak up and not let the right wingers take away our voices. They are NOT the only Christians, just the loudest.

  • Paen

    Concerned it’s not just the LGBT that need to stand up to this,we all need to.I’m straight but because I was seen to be diferent I got bullied by homophobes in school and still have nightmares because of it.Everybody has the right to live in peace no matter how many ignorant scum feel otherwise.

  • skinnyminny

    Concerned Citizen,
    I agree with you on this one! It is not right that we, in this country, say that we want to spread democracy while having these type of problems at home. Lately, it appears that people of color, religion, sexual orientation have been targeted for discrimination, harassment, physical assault and worse. I think it doesn’t help that there’s a cable channel that appears to tolerate this type of behavior, and looks to encourage it.

    I agree with you also. But, I think one of the reasons the school doesn’t want to get involved is fear. One of the fears is a lawsuit.

    I also think that the churches and politicians are responsible as well. Churches and politicians have been very vocal about spreading fear and hate. It’s interesting that the anti-government folks are saying they want less government, yet, they are calling on the government to ‘regulate’ this issue. Meaning, they are saying that LGBT community should not be teachers, should not be able to adopt children, and the children of LGBT couples cannot attend certain PRIVATE schools (meanwhile they want to abolish public schools).

  • Concerned Citizen

    It’s time far those in the LGBT community stand up and fight the homophobes. It’s one thing to have an opinion, but it another matter when people are taunted, called names and physically abused and murdered. this nonsense must stop. Those in the LGBT community shouldn’t hestitate to get down and dirty with the homophbes. Surviving is the key to living at all cost.

  • Carter

    I just remembered a story my son told me when he was in Grammar School…. “They tell us to tell the Teacher if we get bullied” he said. “That’s a joke” he replied, “The bully just laughs it off; sometimes right in the teacher’s face”.

    What do you tell your boy if he says something like that? When it comes down to school-yard bullys; the teachers are helpless to intervene.
    No; the schools have failed when it comes to helping a child who is a victim of that type of mistreatment..

  • Carter

    Bullying in schools is a disgusting thing that has to stop.
    I am sorry if all the apologists for the Teacher’s Union are going to get very defensive about this (I was once a teacher and can see what’s coming….) but teachers are the first line of intervention.

    When I was quite young and went to high school I was suspended for fighting. I remember it very well because I punched some other students who was making fun of a student with cerebral palsy. Frankly I would do it again. The teacher’s did nothing. I remember looking at that kid in the wheelchair and choking back tears at the way he looked at me after I punched the guys who were teasing him. I don’t think I would ever forget it. I didn’t even know him; but I knew he was suffering a Hell I would never know.

    I brought up my son differently than many parents. We didn’t have TV in the home; we had books. I gave him opportunities for that the school system didn’t. Some schools don’t even offer PE as a mandatory element so all those kids have no physical outlet.

    “More money for schools”….That’s all I hear. It’s really more money for administrators! Bullys in schools are partly an administrator’s fault because of the deep seated fear of “rocking the boat” or calling attention to “ANY” problem that their school may have.

    I’m sorry but I call ’em like I see them and public schools in America today fail their student’s needs. They fail in their responsibilities.

    A young person who bully’s another kid should be the one who receives some repercussions. But he is an athlete or she is a cheerleader….it isn’t going to happen. Ask any young person about bullys in school; it’s a part of life; but it doesn’t have to be.
    many people would say that is just life but do they think that bullying a kid in a wheelchair is just “part of life”? If so, perhaps they need to be on the receiving end for a bit…..