Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Is Mark Carson our Matthew Shepard moment?

As some may have heard, in the late hours of Friday night, a young man was shot in cold blood on the streets of New York City. For some, murder is a fact of life that comes with living in a large  city but this was not any type of murder. What happened on this weekend was another in a series of recent attacks on those who identify as gay. With one brutal shot form a pistol, Mark Carson, a NYC gay man who recently moved to Brooklyn was murdered not for his money or his race but because of his sexuality, by a deranged individual who uttered gay epithets before pulling the trigger. With the recent strides LGBT issues have been making on a national level it was a glaring reminder that work still exists on many other levels. Mark Carson's tragic murder can be seen as a reminder of Matthew Sheppard's tragic death and a another look at the work that needs to be done to combat hate crimes against LGBT.

There were many ironies in the death of Mark Carson. The first is that he lived in a city that has one of the largest communities of LGBT people in the nation. San Francisco is considered being in first place with the many people who identify as gay. The increase in numbers doesn't guarantee that no ignorance would be inflicted on those who are gay buy you would think there would be more tolerance. The second irony is that Mr. Carson was murdered in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood that is considered to be the birth of the gay movement and also home to businesses and residences of the gay community.  And it's not lost that he was only a short distance from the Stonewall Inn, a historical landmark that represents the fight of the LGBT. So you would think there would be some safety of being able to freely express one-self as compared to other less tolerable neighborhoods in the city. The third irony is that the murder happened on the same weekend where annually large group of people from different race, gender and sexuality come out in force to participate in the AIDS Walk in New York City.  I was one of the many on the rainy day and perhaps the rain all day Sunday was a symbol of the sadness the tragedy had wrought.

So with this observation how can something so brazenly horrific happen in a city inundated by gay members and in a place that is so progressive when it comes to free expression. In looking at a comparison to Matthew Sheppard I have to quickly say there actually is no comparison as any murder should ever be look at as a ruler to determine who was killed in the most horrific way. They were both tragic deaths that shouldn't have happened.  But Mr. Sheppard's death at the time placed a larger spotlight on hate crimes against gays. His untimely death happened during a time when as a nation we weren't having public conversations about equality.  Mr. Carson's death does the same as it also made us aware that his death was only one of 5 that happened in the recent weeks and 22 within the year, an increase from last year.  The talk about equality was still in effect yet unlike the time of Matthew's passing discussion of equality has been in a different context. The conversation is less about tolerance and bias against gays but centered on the ability of those in the LGBT community to have the same rights of marriage.

The right to marry is a great achievement that has seen many who were in objection, now a witness to the passing of marriage acts across the country. So there's no question that hard worked efforts have been successful but as a community have we placed all our eggs in one basket. Have we placed other important items on a to-do list and will only address them as one marks off items one by one while shopping? A question can be asked with the passing of Mr. Carson perhaps we should reexamine that agenda or to-do list and come back to one of the greatest harms that are affecting the LGBT community, hate or bias crimes. We can create a new countdown as we see states enact tougher hate crime laws and introduce anti-homophobia in our school's curriculum. I'm sure if we lined up the issues many will state that theirs is more important but in this moment we should see this as reminder that we all, whether gay or straight, are affected by crimes against those who are gay.  The killer didn't just take the life of Mr. Carson but he also took someone's child, someone's best friend, someone's family member.  Those lives will never be the same.

In truth bias crimes happens every day to the LGBT community. The weapon of choice may not be a bullet coming from a gun but can even be as simple as derogatory comments meant to belittle, discriminatory practices that treats one less than or a treatment of a second class attitude that denies full rights. These weapons are carried and enacted by many in the United States and freely used. Often times the physical harm is inflicted and the victim is placed in a justice system that perpetrates that second class citizen feeling, simply ask one who is transgender. They can share their horror story of trying to seek help after being attack and in seeking help are mocked by the ones whose job is it to be there for them. And sadly those who are transgender fall into the chorus of fellow gays and lesbian who simply don't report their crime at all as they feel nothing will be done, an unreported statistic that would truly show the level of bias crimes against the LGBT community.

So yes this should be our Matthew Shepard moment. It should be our alarm bell that rings out and makes us aware of the complacency that has enveloped us. It should be a renewed dialogue about what is really going on and how someone is shot dead in plain sight in the street simply because of who they are. Mark Carson's death should be for a reason as I know he lived for a reason. It should be conversation that includes those who love us and neither sexuality nor gender should a determining factor on who sits at the table to make action against hate. This fight is for all. This wakeup call is for all. Mark Carson's death is for all of us to make hate crimes against LGBT something that we need to address now, not later. We can't let Mr. Carson's death be in vain.