New York politicians, law enforcement agents and gay advocates expressed shock and dismay this week over the violent anti-gay assault against three men in Morris Heights, and the arrest of 11 other Bronxites this week who were charged with the crimes.
Governor David Paterson called the crimes “heinous.” Police commissioner Raymond Kelly used the word “despicable,” and the city’s openly gay city council speaker Christine Quinn said the crimes were “appalling.”
And on Oct. 14, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Quinn launched a public service advertising campaign called “Love Love. Hate Hate” that aims to “celebrate” diversity and “condemn” hate crimes in the city.
Local Bronx pastors, artists and community advocates are beginning to rally to plan a constructive response.
“The general response here among folks is shock,” said John Backe, the pastor of Fordham Evangelical Lutheran church, “and upset that this could happen and sort of puzzlement over how people can do that to one another.”
The horrific crime occurred after two other tragic anti-gay incidents this fall that captured national attention: the suicide of a Rutgers University student after he was secretly taped having gay sex and the attack on a gay man at Greenwich Village’s infamous Stonewall Inn. The spate of hate crimes against homosexuals placed a spotlight on the numbers of hate crimes in the city.
According to reports by the FBI, in 2008, 17 percent of reported hate crimes in New York City were based on sexual orientation. And as of Oct. 13, the New York Police Department had reported a total of 22 hate crime incidents in the Bronx, although they were not categorized by motivation.
Quinn spoke for five minutes from the pulpit at Fordham Evangelical Lutheran on October 10 to the assembled congregation of 60 parishioners. The church’s previous pastor Katrina Foster, who declined comment, is also openly gay.
“In the sermon we sort of recommitted ourselves to making sure our children are being taught,” Backe said of the importance of educating the community’s youth on the anti-gay attacks. “It’s not enough to assume that kids know what they’re doing sometimes. We need to be specific and say, ‘Treating people like this is wrong.’ ”
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has been active under the spotlight.
On Oct. 11, GLAAD asked Universal Pictures to remove what it believes to be an anti-gay scene from the studio’s new film called “The Dilemma.” Two days later, GLAAD announced its partnership with Facebook to try and work together to remove anti-gay comments, after “hateful” ones were posted the previous week on a page devoted to anti-gay bullying.
Activists in the Bronx believe this is a teaching opportunity for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community and are also looking to capitalize.
“We need to strike while the iron’s hot before people forget this,” said Dirk McCall, executive director of the Bronx Community Pride Center. “It’s a chance for us to actually teach people about tolerance, and teach people about the LGBT community and introduce ourselves.”
McCall announced to a group of 40 attendees at an Oct. 13 pride center meeting that the center was going to work toward three goals: forming a rally, becoming involved in town hall meetings and developing a school outreach program. Bronx Community College advertised a silent March for Dignity on Oct. 28 “in light of the recent events near and around” campus.
“Our silence when a hate crime occurs, is interpreted as permission,” said Ben Stock, the president of Brainpower, a New York City non-profit organization that teaches art to LGBT homeless youth. Stock does not believe sending young people to jail will solve the problem. “We need education, and we need to live together.”
Arthur Aviles, the art director of the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, said he believes a rehabilitation program could be the answer.
“I would love it if we had some kind of system that helped them come to their victims in a way that was sorrowful, in a way that smacked them upside their head with their humanity,” Aviles said. “Going to jail? I don’t think there’s much there. They just punish you. They don’t teach you anything. They were taught some horrible things that they shouldn’t have been taught, and we should get them untaught.”
Starting Friday, print ads for the mayor’s “Love Love. Hate Hate” ad campaign are expected to be placed at 200 locations throughout all five boroughs, and campaign videos to air on local television stations and appear on screens in New York City taxis. Bloomberg and Quinn’s press release said ads will be in English and Spanish and appear until at least the end of the month.
An existing ad campaign called “I Love My Boo,” created by the New York City-based, non-profit organization the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, seeks to increase the visibility of black and Latino gay men. “Boo” is a slang term for a significant other, and the ads show black and Latino men as couples. According to the 2000 Census, 35.6 percent of the Bronx is black or African American and 48.4 percent is Hispanic or Latino. About 1,000 ads are expected to be posted in subway cars and 150 subway stations during the month.
The success of these initiatives is yet to be seen, but Stock believes the LGBT community needs to draw something positive from the anti-gay attacks.
“We’re going to take this and make something good out of it,” Stock said.
Additional reporting by Nick Pandolfo and Yardena Schwartz