No Coverage of the Violence against LGBT People of Color

Little is ever reported about hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of color, and how issues of race, gender identity, and sexual orientation trigger the type of violence against them. Nor are the reasons for the silence around such violence often explored.

While a nation cried out in horror over the brutal killing of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old white gay male student at the University of Wyoming, and the murder of Teena Brandon, a 21-year-old white Nebraskan transgender man culminated in the 1999 hit movie “Boys Don’t Cry,” untold numbers of hate crimes against LGBT people of color go unreported in mainstream papers. But they also rarely see the light of day in queer ones as well.

The murders of Shakia Gun of Newark, N.J., and Jessica (Horatio) Mercado of New Haven, Conn., are two recent victims of hate crimes that missed both straight and queer newspapers.

On the morning of May 11, 2003, Shakia Gun, 15, was stabbed to death when she and her girlfriends rebuffed the sexual overtures of two African-American men by disclosing to them that their disinterest was simply because they were all lesbians.

Around 3:30 a.m. Gun and a group of her girlfriends, ages 15-17, were taking a train from Greenwich Village, a noted LGBT enclave in New York City, to Newark. While waiting for the bus two African-American men in a white station wagon harassed the girls. “At some point during their interaction, they made their sexual orientation known. They made it clear that they weren’t interested,” Lt. Derek Glenn, a spokesman for the Newark Police Department told the Associated Press.

Incensed that the girls rebuffed them — and by lesbians no less — the two assailants reportedly jumped out of their car and got into a scuffle with the girls.

Stabbed by one of the men, Gun dropped to the ground and died shortly after arriving at University Hospital in Newark.

The murders of Shakia Gun of Newark, N.J., and Jessica (Horatio) Mercado of New Haven, Conn., are two recent victims of hate crimes that missed both straight and queer newspapers.

“We’ve certainly had women who were brutally attacked,” Richard Haynes, executive director of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project. “We hear of these cases more often among transgender women, when the men discover the kind of woman they’ve been flirting with.”

Case in point is Jessica (Horatio) Mercado. Mercado, a Latina transgender woman, was found stabbed to death in her Connecticut apartment. The details that lead to her death are unknown. Stabbed twice in the neck in her New Haven apartment, Mercado’s apartment was then set on fire in a possible attempt to cover up the crime.

The news, however, of her death and that of Gun’s comes to many of us LGBT people of color thanks to a press release put out by the Human Rights Campaign decrying the two recent hate crimes against LGBT people of color.

“On behalf of HRC, I would like to extend heartfelt sympathies to the Gunn and Mercado families and their loved ones. These tragedies underscore the importance of enacting meaningful federal hate crime laws that will help protect the GLBT community, and give local authorities the assistance they need to fully investigate hate violence,” said HRC National Field Director Seth Kilbourn.

Issues of race, gender identity, and sexual orientation trigger a particular type of violence against people of color that cannot afford to go unreported. Not reporting what is going on with LGBT people of color not only subjects us to constant violence that goes unchecked, but it also puts the larger queer culture at risk.

The statistics according to the Uniform Crimes report show that overall crime in this country increased by 2.1 percent in 2001. But hate crimes that same year jumped dramatically by 20.7 percent, where 14.3 percent were related to sexual orientation. How many out of the 14.3 percent, I wonder, were perpetrated against LGBT people of color?

The lack of reporting on this group is for three reasons — all dealing with race.

Not reporting what is going on with LGBT people of color not only subjects us to constant violence that goes unchecked, but it also puts the larger queer culture at risk.

The first reason is the “politics of silence” in LGBT communities of color to openly report these kinds of attacks unless it results in death. With being openly queer and often estranged if not alienated from our communities of color, reporting attacks against us by other people of color can make victims viewed as race traitors. And Because of the “politics of silence” that run rampantly in our LGBT communities of color we end up colluding in the violence against us.

The second reason has a lot to do with the dearth of LGBT reporters of color writing for both straight and queer white newspapers. Those papers sensitive to race issues but don’t have LGBT people of color working at them, often engage in the “politics of avoidance” and won‚t broach the topic for fear that the paper won’t bring the right angle or sensitivity to the topic. With the objective of newspapers to report the news, those newspapers that engage in the “politics of avoidance” when it comes to people of color do a disservice not only to the profession, but also to the entire LGBT community.

Dr. Thea James, an African-American lesbian emergency room physician at Boston Medical Center, sees a lot of these hate crime cases in her E.R. in which LGBT people of color have been assaulted by people in their communities. In getting her opinion as to why so little is ever reported in the news about these kind of hate crimes, she said, “Reporting of LGBT people of color involving race is complicated. Race is a lighting rod for white people, because they always think someone is accusing them of being racist. They want to avoid the topic at any cost.”

The third reason has a lot to do with newspaper reporters who view the topic of violence and people of color as synonymous. With such a skewed viewed, for these newspaper reporters, there is no news to report.

As one who writes for a queer newspaper in Boston, and also this online column, I take queer reporting of the news seriously, because if we LGBT reporters don’t do it then who will?

Queer newspapers in their beginning years were often subject to ridicule, censorship and prosecution. Gay News, a British queer newspaper which was founded in June 1972, was hauled into court in 1974 on obscenity charges because its cover photo showed two men kissing, which violated public standards.

In 1977 the editor of Gay News was prosecuted for blasphemy, known as the Lemon Case, because he printed a poem by Professor James Kirkup called, “The Love That Dare Not Speaks its Name,” which depicted the sexual feelings a Roman centurion felt for Christ on the Cross.

Serving us for over a quarter of a century now, queer newspapers have and continue to function as an outreach ministry to the LGBT community that neither the church nor the bible have afforded us.

In these beginning years, the production of queer newspapers was low-budget and self-produced and distributed. Usually several pieces of paper stapled together contained announcements, news clippings, letters, articles, resources, etc, and were written on a typewriter and then produced on a photocopy machine. This showed our tenacity to get the news out.

These papers brought spiritual sustenance, empowerment and affirmation to our communities, and each production was a renewal of our conviction and mission to obtain freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Queer newspapers keep the LGBT public informed about vital issues of the day. They create an appropriate forum for voicing differences within our communities, exposing queer injustice, demanding comprehensive police protection, and depicting a more sophisticated view of queer life that make us aware of our achievements.

Serving us for over a quarter of a century now, queer newspapers have and continue to function as an outreach ministry to the LGBT community that neither the church nor the bible have afforded us. Weekly they arrive bearing the truth and good news about our lives.

And as a guide for surviving homophobia and navigating through the labyrinth maze of heterosexism, these papers are a statement to heterosexual mainstream writers and newspapers that the LGBT community is no longer dependent on them to make us visible or newsworthy.

Therefore, queer newspapers have an obligation to report on our allies as well as our enemies. They are a mirror for the LGBT community in order for us to see ourselves proudly clothed and shamefully naked. They expose the ugly biases many in the world hold toward us, but they are to also show us our own.

For many of us in the LGBT community, these newspapers are the only medium that keeps us informed, and therefore, we have come to trust them. However, trust erodes when these newspapers focus on only one particular segment of our population as newsworthy, and leave the rest out.

Comments are closed.