The recent shootings in a Tel-Aviv LGBT center that left 2 dead and 15 injured understandably shocked the world. Though incidents in the black community usually receive little or no attention, we have our own problems with homophobic violence here in the U.S.
On July 26th in New Orleans, a 21 year-old born with the name Eric Lee, who dressed in women’s clothing and went by the name “Beyonce” was found dead of multiple stab wounds in his apartment. According to The Advocate.com, Lee had been arguing with the three young women who were later arrested and charged with his murder.
With the exception of the accused being women, this story is all too familiar. According to the most recent report for the Anti-Violence Project, while bias violence against LGBT people increased only 2% from 2007-2008, the number of murders jumped 28% over the same period and were at their highest level since 1999.
Of all reported bias violence, 20% were people of African descent. According to the Gay & Lesbian Straight Education Network report one-third of all African-American LGBT students surveyed experienced some form of physical violence in school due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and were the among the least likely of all students of color to report incidents to parents or other school authorities.
Black LGBT children also learn at an early age that to be queer can be mean violence, even if you have a supportive family, which I was lucky to have. But a protective family may not help you in the outside world.
Roger English was a 42 year-old black gay man. He was a family friend who sometimes dressed in drag in the housing projects where we lived in Cleveland, Ohio. I was 11 years old on Easter Sunday in 1986. Warm plates of food and laughter were shared, and the latest music spinning from the record player was fraught with tension and strange silences when “Uncle Roger” had not made an appearance. It was Easter Sunday and no one had heard from him since the Good Friday before. By late afternoon, my worried family sent Roger’s brother to his apartment to check in on him, and found him dead from five bullet wounds to the head.
In the 23 years that have followed, I have lost friends to homophobic violence, I have written and consoled parents and friends, and organized rallies and vigils to remember the people we continue to lose to senseless violence. Sakia Gunn, Rashawn Brazell, Duanna Johnson, and Roberto Duncanson are just a few of the recent cases that have had any media coverage — all mostly due to organizing by Black LGBT people. And yet, many Black community leaders and organizations who espouse the “stop the violence” rhetoric, have remained totally silent when the victims of violence are gay lesbian, transgender, or sometimes just perceived to be any of the above.
Though the Matthew Shepherd Act that added sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate crimes statutes will soon become law, those will only ensure longer prison terms for people convicted of hate crimes. But then it is already too late. And I see little benefit to providing more fodder to our already gluttonous prison system. Sending homophobes to a homophobic institution and expecting them to return to our communities less hostile toward gay, lesbian and transgender people doesn’t seem like a real solution to me.
There is work happening in the black community to ensure more safety for LGBT people. In New York City, the Audre Lorde Project is working in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy on community solutions to stop queer-bashings, and the Rashawn Brazell Memorial Scholarship Fund has for three years, given small grants to aspiring college students who are willing to become leading forces against homophobia on their college campuses, in honor of the 19 year-old found dismembered in a Brooklyn, NY subway station in 2005.
The black community knows full well there are lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people in the community. Always have been, and always will be. And despite the well-known celebrities who are rumored to be gay, or the hairdressers and church choir members, none of this violence will end until the community realizes we have value—even when we’re not performing for you.