Rashawn & Beyond: Anti-Violence News for Queer People of Color

The Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund aims to establish a sustainable tribute to Rashawn that promotes critical thought about the impact of violence and intolerance, particularly upon queer communities of African descent.

Through this blog, we provide action alerts, event postings and breaking news as a means of informing these communities in ways that enable them to combat racism and homophobia.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Anti-gay Hate Crimes Widespread

Source: UC Davis News & Information

Nearly four in 10 gay men and about one in eight lesbians and bisexuals in the United States have been the target of violence or a property crime because of their sexual orientation, according to a new study by University of California, Davis, psychology professor Gregory Herek.

"This is the most reliable estimate to date of the prevalence of anti-gay victimization in the United States," Herek said. "The data demonstrate that crimes against sexual minority adults, especially gay men, are disturbingly widespread."

Herek's findings were based on a survey he conducted in the fall of 2005 with a nationally representative sample of 662 self-identified gay men, lesbians and bisexuals. The study will be published in a future issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

Overall, 21 percent of the people in the survey reported being the victim of violence or a property crime -- including physical assault, sexual assault, theft and vandalism -- because of their sexual orientation. In addition, 49 percent said they had been verbally abused because of their sexual orientation, 23 percent reported being threatened with violence, 12.5 percent reported having objects thrown at them, and 11 percent reported housing or job discrimination. The total exceeds 100 percent because some individuals reported being the target of multiple attacks.

"These data highlight the continuing need for criminal justice programs to prevent and deter anti-gay crimes, as well as the need for victim services that will help to alleviate the physical, economic, social and psychological consequences of such crimes," Herek said.

The study found significantly different rates of victimization among gay men, lesbians and bisexuals. More than a third of the gay men said they had experienced violence or property crime because of their sexual orientation, or about three times the proportion of lesbians and bisexuals. Gay men also reported the highest rates of harassment and verbal abuse. And gay men and lesbians reported two to four times more housing and job discrimination than bisexuals. The disparities persisted after Herek controlled statistically for age, race, ethnicity and education.

"Men are generally more likely than women to be the targets of most kinds of violent crime, and this pattern seems to hold in anti-gay hate crimes as well," Herek said. "The gay men and lesbians in the study were much more likely than the bisexual men and women to be open about their sexual orientation. Their greater visibility probably also makes them easier targets for discrimination than bisexuals."

Survey respondents were randomly selected from a panel of more than 40,000 U.S. households maintained by Knowledge Networks, a survey research firm. The firm recruits panel members via standard telephone sampling methods; in return for regularly completing online surveys, the panel members receive free Internet equipment and access.

Previous studies of anti-gay hate crimes have relied on samples that were smaller or not representative of the U.S. population, Herek reported.

In the new study, survey respondents had an average age of 39. Most had attended some college. Two thirds were white, 16 percent black and 12.5 percent Hispanic.

Data collection for the study was supported by a grant from the Gill Foundation, a Denver-based organization that supports equal opportunities for people regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression.

Media contact(s):
• Gregory Herek, Psychology, (530) 752-8085, gmherek@ucdavis.edu
• Claudia Morain, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-9841, cmmorain@ucdavis.edu

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Lesbians sentenced for self-defense

All-white jury convicts Black women

Source: Workers World
By Imani Henry
New York

Published Jun 21, 2007 2:58 AM
On June 14, four African-American women—Venice Brown (19), Terrain Dandridge (20), Patreese Johnson (20) and Renata Hill (24)—received sentences ranging from three-and-a-half to 11 years in prison. None of them had previous criminal records. Two of them are parents of small children.

Their crime? Defending themselves from a physical attack by a man who held them down and choked them, ripped hair from their scalps, spat on them, and threatened to sexually assault them—all because they are lesbians.

The mere fact that any victim of a bigoted attack would be arrested, jailed and then convicted for self-defense is an outrage. But the length of prison time given further demonstrates the highly political nature of this case and just how racist, misogynistic, anti-gay, anti-youth and anti-worker the so-called U.S. justice system truly is.

The description of the events, reported below, is based on written statements by a community organization (FIERCE) that has made a call to action to defend the four women, verbal accounts from court observers and evidence from a surveillance camera.

The attack

On Aug. 16, 2006, seven young, African-American, lesbian-identified friends were walking in the West Village. The Village is a historic center for lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) communities, and is seen as a safe haven for working-class LGBT youth, especially youth of color.

As they passed the Independent Film Cinema, 29-year-old Dwayne Buckle, an African-American vendor selling DVDs, sexually propositioned one of the women. They rebuffed his advances and kept walking.

“I’ll f— you straight, sweetheart!” Buckle shouted. A video camera from a nearby store shows the women walking away. He followed them, all the while hurling anti-lesbian slurs, grabbing his genitals and making explicitly obscene remarks. The women finally stopped and confronted him. A heated argument ensued. Buckle spat in the face of one of the women and threw his lit cigarette at them, escalating the verbal attack into a physical one.

Buckle is seen on the video grabbing and pulling out large patches of hair from one of the young women. When Buckle ended up on top of one of the women, choking her, Johnson pulled a small steak knife out of her purse. She aimed for his arm to stop him from killing her friend.

The video captures two men finally running over to help the women and beating Buckle. At some point he was stabbed in the abdomen. The women were already walking away across the street by the time the police arrived.

Buckle was hospitalized for five days after surgery for a lacerated liver and stomach. When asked at the hospital, he responded at least twice that men had attacked him.

There was no evidence that Johnson’s kitchen knife was the weapon that penetrated his abdomen, nor was there any blood visible on it. In fact, there was never any forensics testing done on her knife. On the night they were arrested, the police told the women that there would be a search by the New York Police Department for the two men—which to date has not happened.

After almost a year of trial, four of the seven were convicted in April. Johnson was sentenced to 11 years on June 14.

Even with Buckle’s admission and the video footage proving that he instigated this anti-gay attack, the women were relentlessly demonized in the press, had trumped-up felony charges levied against them, and were subsequently given long sentences in order to send a clear resounding message—that self-defense is a crime and no one should dare to fight back.

Political backdrop of the case

Why were these young women used as an example? At stake are the billions of dollars in tourism and real estate development involved in the continued gentrification of the West Village. This particular incident happened near the Washington Square area—home of New York University, one of most expensive private colleges in the country and one of the biggest employers and landlords in New York City. The New York Times reported that Justice Edward J. McLaughlin used his sentencing speech to comment on “how New York welcomes tourists.” (June 17)

The Village is also the home of the Stonewall Rebellion, the three-day street battle against the NYPD that, along with the Compton Cafeteria “Riots” in California, helped launch the modern-day LGBT liberation movement in 1969. The Manhattan LGBT Pride march, one of the biggest demonstrations of LGBT peoples in the world, ends near the Christopher Street Piers in the Village, which have been the historical “hangout” and home for working-class trans and LGBT youth in New York City for decades.

Because of growing gentrification in recent years, young people of color, homeless and transgender communities, LGBT and straight, have faced curfews and brutality by police sanctioned by the West Village community board and politicians. On Oct. 31, 2006, police officers from the NYPD’s 6th Precinct indiscriminately beat and arrested several people of color in sweeps on Christopher Street after the Halloween parade.

Since the 1980s there has been a steady increase in anti-LGBT violence in the area, with bashers going there with that purpose in mind.

For trans people and LGBT youth of color, who statistically experience higher amounts of bigoted violence, the impact of the gentrification has been severe. As their once-safe haven is encroached on by real estate developers, the new white and majority heterosexual residents of the West Village then call in the state to brutalize them.

For the last six years the political LGBT youth group FIERCE has been at the forefront of mobilizing young people “to counter the displacement and criminalization of LGBTSTQ [lesbian, gay, bi, two spirit, trans, and queer] youth of color and homeless youth at the Christopher Street Pier and in Manhattan’s West Village.” (www.fiercenyc.org) FIERCE has also been the lead organization supporting the Jersey Seven and their families.

The trial and the media

Deemed a so-called “hate crime” against a straight man, every possible racist, anti-woman, anti-LGBT and anti-youth tactic was used by the entire state apparatus and media. Everything from the fact that they lived outside of New York, in the working-class majority Black city of Newark, N.J., to their gender expressions and body structures were twisted and dehumanized in the public eye and to the jury.

According to court observers, McLaughlin stated throughout the trial that he had no sympathy for these women. The jury, although they were all women, were all white. All witnesses for the district attorney were white men, except for one Black male who had several felony charges.

Court observers report that the defense attorneys had to put enormous effort into simply convincing the jury that they were “average women” who had planned to just hang out together that night. Some jurists asked why they were in the Village if they were from New Jersey. The DA brought up whether they could afford to hang out there—raising the issue of who has the right to be there in the first place.

The Daily News reporting was relentless in its racist anti-lesbian misogyny, portraying Buckle as a “filmmaker” and “sound engineer” preyed upon by a “lesbian wolf pack” (April 19) and a “gang of angry lesbians.” (April 13)

Everyone has been socialized by cultural archetypes of what it means to be a “man” or “masculine” and “woman” or “feminine.” Gender identity/expression is the way each indivdual chooses or not to express gender in their everyday lives, including how they dress, walk, talk, etc. Transgender people and other gender non-conforming people face oppression based on their gender expression/identity.

The only pictures shown in the Daily News were of the more masculine-appearing women. One of the most despiciable headlines in the Daily News, “‘I’m a man!’ lesbian growled during fight,” (April 13) was targeted against Renata Hill, who was taunted by Buckle because of her masculinity.

Ironically, Johnson, who was singled out by the judge as the “ringleader,” is the more feminine of the four. According to the New York Times, in his sentencing remarks, “Justice McLaughlin scoffed at the assertion made by ... Johnson, that she carried a knife because she was just 4-foot-11 and 95 pounds, worked nights and lived in a dangerous neighborhood.” He quoted the nursery rhyme, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” (June 15)

All of the seven women knew and went to school with Sakia Gunn, a 19-year-old butch lesbian who was stabbed to death in Newark, N.J., in May 2003. Paralleling the present case, Gunn was out with three of her friends when a man made sexual advances to one of the women. When she replied that she was a lesbian and not interested, he attacked them. Gunn fought back and was stabbed to death.

“You can’t help but wonder that if Sakia Gunn had a weapon, would she be in jail right now?” Bran Fenner, a founding member and co-executive director of FIERCE, told Workers World. “If we don’t have the right to self-defense, how are we supposed to survive?”

National call to action

While racist killer cops continue to go without indictment and anti-immigrant paramilitary groups like the Minutemen are on the rise in the U.S., The Jersey Four sit behind bars for simply defending themselves against a bigot who attacked them in the Village.

Capitalism at its very core is a racist, sexist, anti-LGBT system, sanctioning state violence through cops, courts and its so-called laws. The case of the Jersey Four gives more legal precedence for bigoted violence to go unchallenged. The ruling class saw this case as a political one; FIERCE and other groups believe the entire progressive movement should as well.

Fenner said, “We are organizing in the hope that this wakes up all oppressed people and sparks a huge, broad campaign to demand freedom for the Jersey Four.”

FIERCE is asking for assistance for these young women, including pro-bono legal support, media contacts and writers, pen pals, financial support, and diverse organizational support. For details, visit www.fiercenyc.org.

Articles copyright 1995-2007 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.


Source: Gay City News

On Wednesday night over 500 people filled the City Council chamber for a celebration of "LGBT Pride and the Journey to End Violence and Hate." Among those honored were NYPD Detective Kevin Czartoryski, the Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund, established in recognition of the brutal 2005 murder of a 19-year-old gay man from Brooklyn, and the Gay-Straight Alliance at Port Richmond High School in Staten Island.

Tony-winning actor Stephen Spinella opened the evening, and Speaker Christine Quinn, the first openly lesbian or gay leader of the Council, flanked in the front row by her partner, Kim Catullo, and her father Lawrence, recalled the city's decades-long struggle to achieve gay rights.
In the midst of her speech, half a dozen protesters from ACT UP and the Radical Homosexual Agenda unfurled protest banners from the balcony. They were criticizing a new police regulation requiring groups of 50 or more to first obtain a police permit. "You've criminalized the Dyke March and the Drag March," Tim Doody (pictured with Nina Resnick) of ACT UP yelled. Quinn allowed the protesters to have their say, after which they were escorted from the building. There were no arrests.

Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, the chamber's other out lesbian member, who has been a vocal critic of the regulation, spoke up on Quinn's behalf. "My speaker cannot do anything until the Council is behind her," Mendez told the chamber.

Family members of Rashawn Brazell are shown with Quinn, Mendez, and Brooklyn Councilman Lew Fidler; and students from the Port Richmond Gay-Straight Alliance are also pictured.

-Jefferson Siegel

Friday, June 15, 2007

Hate-crime rap for teen in fatal stab

Source: New York Daily News

A 17-year-old held in the stabbing death of a Brooklyn man plunged a knife into the victim's back because he was gay, authorities said yesterday.

An indictment filed yesterday added a hate-crime rap to the murder charge against Omar Willock - crimes punishable by life in prison.

Willock, who is being held without bail in the slaying of Roberto Duncanson, 20, allegedly snarled at the victim, "What are you looking at, f----r?" when their paths crossed on St. Marks Ave. in Crown Heights on May 12, sources said.

Willock unleashed a salvo of anti-gay slurs because he thought Duncanson was flirting with him, they said.

Although Duncanson walked away and stopped to see a cousin near Brooklyn Ave., Willock was waiting with more insults when the victim emerged from the apartment, cops said.

Heated words turned into a fight, and the teen allegedly whipped out a knife and stabbed Duncanson four times. Duncanson died at Kings County Hospital - where he was born - about an hour later.

"He had the heart of a lion," Karen Sterling-Palmer said of her charismatic son, who managed the photo department of a Manhattan CVS drugstore. "Roberto was a respectful kid, but if you offended him, he would retaliate."

The mother said her son never told her he was gay and that she didn't believe he was.

But co-workers at the Chelsea CVS said Duncanson's homosexuality was common knowledge and he didn't try to hide it.

"He was loud, crazy, loved his fashion and liked to have fun," said Sara Perry, 19. "He was a very optimistic person, too. He always put a smile your face."

Perry added that Duncanson had made a lot of friends during his 18 months at the store, "and now we're all affected by his death. There's a silence here."

"You know he was supposed to go to Miami at the beginning of this month to celebrate his 21st birthday. And he was planning to go back to school to be an X-ray technician. This was just horrible, very horrible."

Oren Yaniv, Kerry Burke and Robert F. Moore

Murder charge in Brooklyn gay killing

source: The Advocate

SUMMARY: Prosecutors say a Brooklyn teenager fatally stabbed 20-year-old Roberto Duncanson on a Crown Heights street because he was gay.

A Brooklyn teenager has been indicted on murder charges for fatally stabbing a man because he was gay, Kings County prosecutors said Thursday.

Roberto Duncanson, 20, also of Brooklyn, died soon after the May 12 attack.

Alleged killer Omar Willock, 17, faces 25 years to life if convicted.

Willock and Duncanson passed each other on St. Marks Avenue in Crown Heights, and Willock became enraged, accusing Duncanson of looking at him, prosecutors said in a written statement. Duncanson continued walking to a friend's house as Willock shouted anti-gay remarks. It's unclear how Willock knew Duncanson was gay, prosecutors told the New York Daily News.

On his way home, Duncanson again passed Willock, and Willock again berated him for his sexual orientation. Duncanson tried to walk away, but Willock came after him, first with his fists and then with a knife.

Paramedics found Duncanson on the sidewalk, stabbed four times; he died an hour later at Kings County Hospital. Memorial services were held May 20 at the New Haven Temple of Seventh-Day Adventists in Brooklyn.

Willock, charged with second-degree murder and second-degree murder as a hate crime, was being held without bail Friday. (Barbara Wilcox, The Advocate)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Historic Agreement to Stop Anti-Gay ‘Murder Music’

Reggae stars renounce homophobiaBeenie Man, Sizzla and Capleton sign deal

LONDON, June 13, 2007 – Three of the world’s top reggae/dancehall singers have renounced homophobia and condemned violence against lesbians and gay men.

Beenie Man, Sizzla and Capleton had previously released anti-gay hate songs, including incitements to murder lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

They have now signed up to the Reggae Compassionate Act in a deal brokered with top reggae promoters and Stop Murder Music activists.

The agreement follows the three-year-long Stop Murder Music campaign, which resulted in the cancellation of hundreds of the singers’ concerts and sponsorship deals, causing them income losses estimated in excess of five million dollars.

“The Reggae Compassionate Act is a big breakthrough,” said Peter Tatchell, of the British gay human rights group OutRage!.

Mr Tatchell is coordinator of the worldwide Stop Murder Music campaign. He helped negotiate the deal with the three singers.

“The singers’ rejection of homophobia and sexism is an important milestone. We rejoice at their new commitment to music without prejudice,” said Mr Tatchell.

“This deal will have a huge, positive impact in Jamaica and the Caribbean. The media coverage will generate public awareness and debate, breaking down ignorance and undermining homophobia.

“Having these major reggae stars renounce homophobia will influence their fans and the wider public to rethink bigoted attitudes. The beneficial effect on young black straight men will be immense,” he said.

This view is mirrored by fellow Stop Murder Music campaigner, Dennis L Carney, vice-chair of the Black Gay Mens Advisory Group (BGMAG) in London.

Mr Carney is of Jamaican descent, and played a leading role in negotiating the Reggae Compassionate Act.

“I am thrilled that Beenie Man, Sizzla and Capleton have signed up to this historic agreement with the Stop Murder Music campaign,” he said.

“We welcome their commitment to not produce music or make public statements that incite hatred and violence against gay people.

“This is a giant leap towards restoring peace, love and harmony to reggae music. These performers are sending a clear message that lesbians and gay men have a right to live free from fear and persecution – both here in the UK and in Jamaica,” concluded Mr Carney.

In the Reggae Compassionate Act the three singers pledge to:
■ “respect and uphold the rights of all individuals to live without fear of hatred and violence due to their religion, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or gender”;

■ “there’s no space in the music community for hatred and prejudice, including no place for racism, violence, sexism or homophobia”;

■ “we agree to not make statements or perform songs that incite hatred or violence against anyone from any community”.

In this declaration the artists promise to not sing lyrics or make public statements, in Jamaica or anywhere else in the world, that incite prejudice, hatred or violence against lesbian and gay people.

“By signing the Reggae Compassionate Act, they are stating that, in future, they will not release new homophobic songs or authorise the re-release of previous homophobic songs,” Mr Tatchell pointed out.

“They also agree that they will not make homophobic public statements.

“They recognise that prejudice, hate and violence have no place in music – that singers should unite people, not divide them. They are now committed to opposing homophobic prejudice, discrimination and violence.

“This commitment is a major blow against homophobia in the Caribbean and in popular music,” he suggested.

“The Reggae Compassionate Act applies worldwide. If any of the three singers break this agreement anywhere in the world, we will resume the campaign against them.

“As a result of them signing this statement, for a trial period we are suspending the campaign against these three performers. If they abide by the agreement we will make this suspension permanent.

“The other five murder music artists – Elephant Man, TOK, Bounty Killa, Vybz Kartel and Buju Banton – have not signed the Reggae Compassionate Act. The campaign against them continues,” Mr. Tatchell said.

“These singers have incited the murder of lesbians and gays. They should not be rewarded with concerts or sponsorship deals.

“The Stop Murder Music campaign urges organisations worldwide to intensify the campaign to cancel these five singers’ concerts and their record, sponsorship and advertising deals.

“These artists have openly encouraged the murder of lesbians and gay men, which is a criminal offence in every country. We call on all people of good conscience to boycott these promoters of hatred and violence; and to campaign against them with the same determination that they would campaign against racists and anti-Semites.

“These unrepentant homophobic performers are the moral equivalent of neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan,” said Mr Tatchell.

His views are echoed by Gareth Wiliams, co-chair of the Jamaican gay human rights group, J-Flag:
“This statement against homophobia and violence is a move in the right direction,” he said.
“We hope it is not commercially motivated by the singers’ desire to maintain their concert revenues, but a sincere commitment that will encourage an end to homophobic violence and to all violence against everyone.

“The five artists who have not signed the statement should now follow this lead and declare their support for universal human rights, including the human rights of lesbian and gay people,” said Mr Williams.

Brett Lock, an OutRage! member and key organiser in the Stop Murder Music campaign, pointed out that Stop Murder Music had never accepted any agreement where an aerist had agreed not to perform homophobic lyrics at concerts in Europe and the US, but continued performing them in the Caribbean.

“The idea that these singers can incite the murder of gay people in Jamaica and then come to Europe and be accepted as legitimate artists is morally sick and indefensible.

“The only agreement we will accept is an agreement that they will not incite homophobic hatred and violence – in lyrics or in public statements – anywhere in the world, including Jamaica.

“This is what the Reggae Compassionate Act says, and this is the pledge made by the three singers who have signed it,” said Mr Lock.

The Reggae Compassionate Act was negotiated by Eddie Brown of Pride Music UK, with the support of the promoters Michel Jovanovic (Mediacom France), Klaus Maack (Contour Germany), Peter Senders (Panic Productions Holland), Fabrizio Pompeo (Tour de Force Italy), Julian Garcia (Roots and Vibes Spain) and Tim Badejo (Dubble Bubble Scandinavia).

“We would not have secured this agreement without their helpful contacts, input, patience and commitment,” Mr. Tatchell said. “We thank them for their hard work.”

Friday, June 08, 2007

Homeless Youths Star in Ads for Ali Forney Center

Source: The New York Blade

Friday, June 08, 2007

Eleven months ago, when David Williams’s mother turned him out of her home because he was gay, he wandered the streets of Manhattan for three weeks, sleeping in the Columbus Circle subway station. Eventually, he found refuge at the Ali Forney Center, a shelter for homeless LGBT youths. His experience there has been so positive that he wants to tell many people about it. And he will.

Williams, 21, and other residents of the Ali Forney shelters will be the faces and voices of an ad campaign scheduled to begin this month in brochures, newspapers and magazines, and on posters, television and web sites. It will target gay youths who are homeless or in dire situations at home. Its message is simple: Help is out there.

“There’s nothing I can do that’s going to make it OK for a kid to be thrown out by his parents,” says Carl Siciliano, Ali Forney’s executive director. “But it doesn’t have to be such an utter tragedy.”

Siciliano is referring to the homeless LGBT young men and women who get caught up in the potentially fatal cycle of drugs, prostitution and violence. He saw it too often in the ’90s, when he began working with LGBT homeless. It’s why, in 2002, he set up the Ali Forney Center, named after a homeless gay youth who was murdered.

Since then, several churches have begun offering shelter to LGBT youths in New York City, but Ali Forney remains the most comprehensive. It offers meals, counseling, health services and employment and housing assistance at a Chelsea location and emergency or longer stays at six shelters in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The Ali Forney shelters—actual apartments—are the most attractive of the options. The transitional homes are decorated like they belong to young professionals.

Recently, one of shelters—located on a quiet block of red-brick apartment buildings on Clifton Place in Brooklyn—is buzzing with activity. The five residents and a cadre of volunteers are working on the early stages of the ad campaign. Williams and roommate Queenasia Bailey, 20, pose seated in grey armchairs. Photographer Joan Beard is crouched in front of them, fiddling with her camera, while filmmaker Matt Paco hovers nearby. In one bedroom upstairs, more volunteers help the residents document their lives.

Williams now has a degree in graphic design and plans to get one in social work. He runs a reading program at a health center. Queenasia, a lesbian who’s been with Ali Forney since January, is studying to gain her GED and plans to become a nurse. Currently, she works as a home-help aid for elderly people.

“It gives me a chance to do everything else that I need to do, because I have a stable environment to live in,” Williams says of Ali Forney.

The new ad campaign will be the center’s second and most ambitious. The first took the form of newspaper ads and posters in subway stations and trains. They each featured a parent, a baby and a message of acceptance. In one, a father proudly rest his face against that of a chubby baby boy. The caption read: “Would you stop loving him if you know he’s gay?” The main target of the ads were Caribbean black and Latino communities, from which emerge most of the homeless LGBT youths. “People are coming to New York from countries where there’s much less acceptance or even understanding of homosexuality,” says Siciliano. “You have this gulf between the experience of the kids, who connect to the gay community in New York, and the parents.”

Ali Forney’s evolution, from simple beginnings in a church basement to leader in LGBT youth activism, has been propelled by demand. Siciliano realized that shelters and a few services weren’t enough to make up for the past neglect of young LGBT needs.

“As we became more well-known, kids were starting to call us when they’re still at home,” Siciliano says, “saying my father’s beating me up for being too effeminate or my mother won’t let me around the other kids because she thinks it’s contagious. These were situations where the kids didn’t feel safe and welcome any more in their homes.”

The center, which receives funding from state and federal agencies and private donors, began to offer family counseling. The ads are another type of outreach. The response to the first campaign was so strong—calls to the center increased five-fold, says Siciliano—it demanded a second one.

Arthur Korant, creative director of the gay marketing company Double Platinum, conceived and directed the first campaign. He’s doing the same for the second, providing his services free. He says although last year’s ads were confined to publications and locations within New York, they had impact outside of the city.

“We found the campaign went on blogs all over the country,” he said, adding that he’s expecting the new campaign to do even better.

Photographer Joan Beard sees Ali Forney’s work as wide-reaching. Beard volunteered to help after being moved by a speech Siciliano gave at a benefit. It’s not the first time she’s worked with young people in tough situations.

“Just having people available to support and nurture them, it can boomerang,” says Beard. “You touch one kid’s life, and they may touch two people’s lives, and they touch five lives on and on and on like that.”

Studies have shown that LGBT teens are more likely to wind up on the streets than straight teens and more likely to be victims of violence. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Coalition for the Homeless released a report last December that found that up to 42 percent of the nation’s homeless youth identify as lesbian or gay. That means, of New York City’s estimated 15,000 to 30,000 homeless youth population, about 6,300 to 12,600 are LGBT.

But the picture isn’t all bleak. Ali Forney’s “would you still love them …” campaign drew responses from as far away as Peru, says Siciliano. Most of the calls were from parents who wanted to support their gay teens but weren’t sure how.

Siciliano tells the story of a 15-year-old Mexican boy who came in for counseling with his mother. He was convinced that she could never accept him despite her repeated avowals to the contrary. He finally broke down.

“He started to cry, and they hugged each other,” says Siciliano. “It was very moving.”

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Coalition Demands Action, Accountability

Source: Windy City Times
by Amy Wooten

In hopes of placing pressure on the City to respond to a recent attack, the Coalition for Justice and Respect held a press conference in City Hall June 1, calling for further investigation of a hate crime committed against a Black gay youth, as well as a City Council hearing regarding violence against the Black LGBT community.

According to Coalition for Justice and Respect’s Marc Loveless, an 18-year-old Black gay youth was attacked in Hyde Park over two weeks ago. The victim called the police, who took a report of the incident. Later that day, the victim spotted the attacker and called the police again. According to Loveless, the attacker bragged to police that he had “beat up a faggot boy.” Allegedly, when a supervisory officer was called to the scene, the officer blamed the victim for getting attacked, saying, “You know the way you are is why you were hit.” The officer then allegedly said he would not deal with the situation and drove off. The attacker was released.

The Coalition for Justice and Respect also demands that the supervising officer be reprimanded for what they call inappropriate behavior.

“We want him identified,” Loveless said. “We want it made public, and we want him reprimanded.”

The group was formed after a Dec. 31, 2006, shooting on Chicago’s South Side, where two masked individuals opened fire in a house commonly known as “Gay House.” Loveless is outraged that the City showed response following the shooting, yet is taking so long to respond to an attack of a Black gay youth.

“Black lesbians and gays throughout the city have human rights, civil rights and a right not to be a victim to crime,” he continued.

Alongside Loveless was Bob Schwartz of Gay Liberation Network (GLN). The organization also endorses that the supervisory officer be reprimanded and a City Council hearing take place.

“This officer committed the offense of blaming the victim,” Schwartz said. “It is wrong to blame the victim, and thereby justify this violence.”

“For us to be here in 2007 and to be talking about this means something drastic needs to happen,” Loveless told the media. “Where does it stop? Do we wait until someone is actually killed?”

According to Loveless, and confirmed by Bill Greaves, City of Chicago’s liaison to the LGBT community, police are willing to sit down and talk about the issue. Greaves added that the Chicago Police Department is “very distressed” about the issue, and has made every attempt to reach the victim, without success. The police have also, according to Greaves, launched an internal investigation, and have reached out to the victim’s mother and community-based organization Working for Togetherness, in an effort to reach the victim.

“No one should be harassed in the City of Chicago,” Greaves said. “But we need the help of everyone.”

Friday, June 01, 2007

The long road back

Drag performer Kevin Aviance reflects on his recovery a year after a brutal attack

Friday, June 01, 2007

Almost one year ago, drag performer and singer Kevian Aviance’s life changed irrevocably. On June 10, 2006 he was beaten by several men after leaving New York gay club Phoenix. The injuries left Aviance with a broken jaw, dozens of bruises and emotional trauma.

“I can tell you that everything in my whole life that I had put away, everything came to a head this year,” says Aviance, 39, of the recovery process. “After the beating, I just allowed all my feelings to come out and deal with all these things that I’d been dealing with since childhood. It’s been a rough year.”

Reports of Aviance’s attack, during which he was not dressed in drag, included up to seven attackers who started by throwing garbage bags and a paint can at him before they punched and kicked him, using anti-gay slurs during the incident. (Four attackers pled guilty on March 21 to the assault. No others have been charged.)

Aviance had been due to perform at New York City’s Pride two weeks after the attack, but with his jaw wired shut it seemed enormously unlikely that he would be able to make it to the event at all. In fact, he wasn’t going to go, but then he heard that some people were going to skip the celebration because of his absence.

“I was in a lot of pain, [on] a lot of morphine,” he says. “It was painful, but to see everyone’s faces — everyone was very happy.”

He went, he says, also to make a stand for all the victims of hate crimes.

“I was alive,” he says. “A lot of people are dead after a beating like that. I wasn’t just walking for myself, but for all the victims.”

HIGH-PROFILE CASES like Aviance’s often jolt people’s consciousness, says Clarence Patton, executive director of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.

“Since Kevin was already well-known within the community, that did add a different dynamic to things. People identify with what happened to him, because they already felt a connection to him because of his work and his connection in the community,” Patton says. “People are like, ‘God if something could happen to this person, then perhaps it could happen to any of us.’ What gets most of us through the day — most days — is an ability … to say you know that this happens, but it’ll never happen to me. People need to create barriers between themselves and people who are motivated by violence.”

The guilty pleas of the four attackers meant that Aviance was not required to go to court to testify, but giving the depositions and seeing theirs was difficult enough, he says.

“Seeing their sneakers and they were just right there in front of me, it was really hard for me,” he says.

Despite the trauma of his experience, Aviance seems to be trying to detach from the hatred his attackers expressed to him.

“[People ask], ‘Don’t you want these boys dead?’” Aviance says. “No, I don’t. I wasn’t brought up that way. I was brought up to turn the other cheek, and it’s hard when your cheek is broken. I would hope that we could have a discussion one day. It happened so fast, it was so crazy and … I forgive them.”

The process of forgiveness is as complex as the act implies, and Aviance is the first to admit it’s not easy.

“It is hard because sometimes you just want to scream and yell and you just have to sit in the now and know that it’s going to get better … [there’s a] lot of work involved, but it’s going to get better.”

AVIANCE’S JOURNEY OVER the past year went far beyond walking at Pride or healing physically. (The process isn’t complete, either. He’s in speech therapy to work on his diction hampered by his broken jaw, which still locks on occasion.)

He says he continues to experience panic attacks when he sees people who resemble his attackers and sometimes when he walks he senses that someone is behind him when no one is there.

“I go to the doctors because they really help me a lot,” Aviance says. “You just don’t know about things and they explain it to you afterward: ‘This is why this is happening.’ It’s something that lingers on for a long time in your life. It doesn’t just go away.”

For a while after the beating, Aviance tried to heal himself, turning to drugs and alcohol, but finally a friend told him he had to go to rehab.

“I had a dear friend that at the time came on board to help manage what was going on in my life, and he pretty much said that we couldn’t go on any further unless I got help. So I thought about it for about three weeks and then went off to get help.”

Aviance headed to treatment on Feb. 1.

“I got better that way and allowed myself to heal because I wasn’t healing properly. It was hard. Once you go to treatment, you start opening up all these things you put away. You had 28 days to do that. If I didn’t do this, I know that right now I wouldn’t be alive because the pain and everything was so intense, so dramatic, I didn’t have a handle on it.”

Several months out of treatment, Aviance says he feels farther along in the healing process.

“I think it was really good for me, because I’m a better person today,” Aviance says. “It’s so hard to even describe all that happened and all the suffering that I’ve been though, but I feel so good now.”

Aviance is working on a women’s shoe line, his third album and his Pride performances. The album, titled “Misterpiece,” will debut later this year, and it shows what Aviance considers a greater emphasis on masculinity for him.

“It’s funny how the true self is coming through,” he says. “With ‘Misterpiece,’ it just came at such a good time in my life. The third album is such a good part in your career because it’s when you get to do your art. And a lot of people don’t make it to their third album.”

The shoes, Aviance says, were inspired by his mother.

“My mom was a big shoe person … she loved the shoes,” he says. “She’s always my inspiration.”

The collection of shoes is moderately priced, starting at $49, and though they go up to large sizes, the main clientele is women, Aviance says.

“[The shoe line] is just sent from heaven. I love it. We just did the fall collection. It’s beautiful, beautiful stuff,” Aviance says and admits that the fall collection is his favorite.

Despite his busy professional and artistic schedule, most of his energy is focused on considering his life more fully.

“Every day is a beautiful day. Things I never used to care about before, I care about. When people say something to me now, I listen. I’m working on myself right now. I just want to be a better person.”