This month, the world went crazy. I don’t know if you noticed it where you live, but in my corner of the world—New York City—gay bashing and hate crime violence seemed to skyrocket. A few weeks ago, I was working at my newspaper job in the Bronx when we got a call about a body floating in the Harlem River. I didn’t know it then, but that body was a Rutgers University student who leaped to his death off the George Washington bridge after his classmate broadcast his gay hookup on the internet. Then, two men were arrested for attacking a gay man in the bathroom of the Stonewall Inn, one of my favorite gay bars and the birthplace of the gay rights movement. As if that wasn’t enough, a few days later, a Bronx gang tortured and sodomized two men alleged to be lovers in a crime so violent and cruel I don’t even want to write about it. I hadn’t even recovered from reading about that crime when I saw Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino’s pictures splashed all over the front page of every newspaper because he went off on a heinous anti-gay rant.
There are lessons in these horrific stories, even if they are lessons we try to forget. In this city, where men wearing heels and pink, neon tights are hardly looked at twice, there are still people with so much homophobic hate that they will do or say almost anything. And if hate crimes can happen inside the Stonewall in the West Village—where homosexuals outnumber straight people—they can happen anywhere. I know this is horrible to think about, but after reading about a gang using a toilet plunger and baseball bat to sodomize two men, I thought, Maybe these aren’t issues I should push to the back of my mind.
I found myself being slightly more careful than usual after reading about these incidents. When my girlfriend and I ventured to a bar outside the city that I was unfamiliar with, I looked around carefully. Noticing that it was mostly full of men with short, gelled hair and Ed Hardy T-shirts, I told her we should stay on the DL. I know, I was stereotyping, but I was also just being careful in an unfamiliar situation that gave me a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I am not paranoid, nor do I think I’m going to be the victim of the next hate crime, but I am remembering that we—not just homosexuals, but people in general—could all be targets for one reason or another. Sadly, it’s a good thing to keep in mind. There is someone out there who hates you because you wear a head scarf or because you are a woman. There are people who think skin color determines intelligence and value. And there are groups with such unmitigated, horrendous hate that they are willing to do almost anything to show you how little you’re worth. It’s sad, but it’s true.
Yes, we have come very far as a society. There are TV shows about gay people. We have a black president. Women get promoted to high-powered positions in the business world. Still, there are people, even in an overwhelmingly liberal, open city, who will hate you because of something you cannot help.
These past couple of weeks tell me that although we have come far, it isn’t far enough.