Greensboro, NC – A gay veteran of Iraq who was savagely attacked, beaten, and set on fire by a younger man who checked into a hotel with him finally succumbed to his injuries on Saturday. Stephen Patrick White, 46, a well-regarded member of the gay community in Piedmont North Carolina and a patron of Club Chemistry, a popular gay bar in Greensboro, was fatally assaulted by Garry Joseph Gupton, 26, a city employee of the Water Services Department. The two met, according to witnesses at Chemistry, and left the club together late on November 8, as this blog previously reported. They checked in to the Battleground Inn.
White’s injuries were horrendous. He suffered burns over 52 percent of his body, and had large portions of his arms amputated in an attempt to save his life. Gupton was arrested on the scene and charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. The City Water Services Department subsequently fired Gupton from his job as a consequence of the investigation. Now, Gupton is charged with first degree murder. Q Notes reports that the Greensboro police are saying that there is no evidence of a hate crime in this case. The Q Notes report includes this statement from a Greensboro PD spokesperson:
“He (Gupton) never verbalized to us that he intended to kill somebody,” said Susan Danielsen, a Greensboro police spokeswoman. . . . There’s absolutely no evidence to indicate that this is a hate crime.”
She added: “We’re not sure what caused Mr. Gupton to act so violently. This is not a crime motivated by hate.”
But Danielson could not refrain from adding that while the Greensboro PD are “sure this is not a hate crime,” they have no other explanation for Gupton’s heinous acts, including his use of fire in his deadly attack on White. “We’re not sure what caused Mr. Gupton to act so violently,” Danielson went on to say to Q Notes. Then, as if she had opened a door she did not want to open, Danielson concluded, “This is not a crime motivated by hate.”
At this point, all the public has to go on is the assurance of the police that a brutal attack against a gay man who was naked in a hotel room that included a weapon often reserved particularly for the “purification” of “sodomites,” fire, was not a hate crime. Police in the Tarheel State are not permitted to investigate bias-motivated crimes of violence against LGBT people anyway, since the state has refused to include them in its hate crimes statutes. Nonetheless, the police seem eager to rule out hate crime in this instance.
Let us say for the time being they are correct. There was no hate against homosexuality expressed in this crime, explicitly. This, the police are suggesting, was a consensual sexual situation gone terribly bad. Still, the public is left to ask who brought the flammable material into the room? Why was fire used in this case–a give-away for extreme passions and, yes, hatred of the victim targeted in attacks involving burning someone, in this instance as in the instances of thousands of other gay men and lesbians, to death?
However this crime went down in the Gate City, an entire LGBT community is left fearful, shocked, and wondering. Chris Srgo, Executive Director of Equality North Carolina, vocalized the anguish of the statewide community in a statement on Saturday:
“Stephen White’s death is a tragic loss for the Greensboro community and North Carolina. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Stephen’s family. Equality NC promises to follow this investigation closely to ensure that it is thorough and justice is served. The loss of a community member is always tragic, but this loss is unacceptable. As fellow citizens of Greensboro, my husband Ryan and I mourn tonight and stand in solidarity with the LGBT community in Greensboro.”
Of course, it is wrong to suggest that an obvious marker for homophobia (perhaps internalized homophobia), the use of the torch to burn a gay man (where the despicable term “faggot” originates–the burning at the stake of gay men as if they were dry wood), inevitably leads to the conclusion that Stephen White was attacked so savagely because of his sexual orientation. Yet, is it not also a mistake of equal magnitude to conclude that because the suspect, Gupton, never verbalized that he intended to kill someone that night, he simply went berserk, and finding flammable liquids at hand, thought to use fire as a way to punish his naked pick up for the night?
The North Carolina state motto is “Esse Quam Videri” (“To Be Rather Than To Seem”). Perhaps it would do investigators and lawmakers in Tarheelia well to move beyond what they seem to want to believe in this instance-to the point that they refuse to investigate or legislate even the possibility of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes-, and to answer the nagging question about the motive for the use of fire to kill another gay man the Old North State.