Sarasota, Florida – The Associated Press carried this headline at 2 a.m. on September 11: Investigators Search for Man Who Set Fire at Gay Nightclub. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department officials say that neighbors of the popular gay nightclub reported it being on fire at approximately 9 a.m. this past Sunday. Officers are searching for a man in a dark, long-sleeved shirt and light colored shorts, carrying a gas can, who walked up the door of Throb Nightclub, and had his image captured by a surveillance video camera. He allegedly started the fire and ran from the scene. Authorities of the Florida State Fire Marshall’s Arson Unit and the sheriff’s office are asking the cooperation of the public in the search for a hate-filled perpetrator.
This troubling story caught the attention of Vicki Nantz, documentary film maker and LGBT advocate, who traces this anti-LGBT violence back to the speech and actions of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk jailed for contempt of court for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, and her attorney and co-founder of arch-conservative Liberty Counsel Mat Staver. Nantz, Producer/Director of films investigating violence against women and the LGBT community, warns her Facebook friends on this 9/11, “Be safe out there, everyone. Hate is in the air.”
What 9/11 has to do with an outbreak of anti-LGBT violence in southwest Florida fourteen years since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center Towers, the Pentagon, and the highjacking of United Airlines 93, drew the attention of Diana Butler Bass, the widely acclaimed commentator on the United States religious scene. Bass wrote on her Facebook wall for September 11, “One day, someone will write a book about how, in the early 21st century, we went from fearing and hating terrorists to fearing and hating people of differing political opinions. The sad and haunting legacy of 9/11 is thus.”
The disrubing irony of the heightened atmosphere of anti-LGBT rhetoric and violence on the 2015 anniversary of 9/11 noted by Nantz and Butler Bass is the courageous role openly gay heroes played on September 11, 2001. The Rev. Fr. Mychal Judge, Franciscan Chaplain of FDNY and one of the first firefighters to die in the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers, won his title as “the Saint of 9/11” that day. Avid rugby player Mark Bingham was one of the brave and desperate men who stormed the cockpit of UA Flight 93 over Pennsylvania, sacrificing himself to bring down the jet liner before its hijackers succeeded in crashing it into the White House or the U.S. Capitol Building. Both were openly gay men who threw themselves into the breach for their fellow human beings at a time of crisis and disaster. Both died sacrificially, not as any of the demeaning epithets being aimed at LGBT people by Cruz, Huckabee, Staver and their ilk since the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all fifty states, but as American heroes.
Butler Bass makes a convincing connection between the fear of terrorists stoked by politicians and pundits since the original September 11, and the demonization of persons of differing political views today. Fear not only twists the guts of the public. Its primitive energy offers craven haters with an ideological agenda to advance a ready vehicle to advance it. And she is also right that fear of the other has seeped so deeply into the American psyche that no community is immune from the temptation to spread rumor and innuendo against those who oppose them politically. Some LGBT people, for example, have indulged themselves in making cruel comments about the physical appearance of Kim Davis and her marital history. The vulnerability of LGBT people in America, however, calls for a reconsideration of post-9/11 manipulation of public fear.
Nantz helps us see that the threat of acts of violence against the lives and property of LGBT people is not simply another example of the political system in the Washington beltway gone awry. It has real consequences, from the arson at a gay nightclub to the epidemic murders of transgender women of color throughout the country. The hate in the air in post-9/11 America is a combination of the historical cultural loathing of LGBT people, and the cynical manipulation of a once-supreme white patriarchal group by the likes of presidential candidates and their legal and media henchmen. While they would deny any connection between their incitement of anti-LGBT sentiment and any outbreak of violence, their words and deeds are in the background of every hate crime perpetrated against the sexual and non-normative gender communities of America, and the reach of their cynical ideology is increasingly global. This anniversary of 9/11, our LGBT neighbors, families, co-workers, and friends are less safe in their persons, jobs, and property than they were even a year ago.
How we have declined from honoring the LGBT heroes of September 11 for their courage and sacrifice, to this 9/11 anniversary when anti-LGBT fear is being manipulated by calls for so-called “Religious Liberty” (read, “the re-imposition of oppression against gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people”), is the book that cries out for someone to write. Hate is in the air this 9/11, and what it portends is something every American should be worried about.
New York City, New York – What began as a celebratory drink in a NYC BBQ restaurant concluded horrifically when a patron attacked two gay men with a wooden chair after barraging them with homophobic slurs. The Advocate reports that the gay couple, Jonathan Snipes, 32, and Ethan York-Adams, 25, dropped in to Dallas BBQ to toast Cinco de Mayo with margaritas Tuesday night when the assault took place. Snipes told investigators that he was texted around 11 p.m. that a member of his family had died suddenly, and as he was hastily exiting the premises with York-Adams, he accidentally toppled over a drink belonging to another customer. The heavy set baldheaded customer spat out slurs against the couple, allegedly saying, “White faggots! Spilling drinks!”
Snipes took exception to the slur, and called on the man not to use antigay language toward his friend and himself, at which point the angry customer lept to his feet and assaulted Snipes. The New York Daily News reports that the assailant punched Snipes to the floor, and then kicked him in the head and spine, shouting, “Take that, Faggot!” Other customers and restaurant staff parted the brawling assailant from the couple, who retreated to get away, when the bearded, baldheaded attacker launched into the two gay men, beating them over the head with a wooden chair. A bystander, Isaam Sharef, captured the savage beating on video, which may be watched here. The room filled with screams and confusion. A staffer can be heard shouting out, “Stop, stop, stop!” York-Adams, who was helping his partner to a seat following the initial attack, was knocked to the floor. Snipes collapsed into a booth, stunned by the blow. Customers attempted to restrain the assailant, who rushed out of the restaurant.
Police say that Snipes and York-Adams absorbed at least one heavy blow from the chair, but declined to go to hospital, because Snipes said he had no health insurance to cover the costs of treatment. Snipes said that the blows from the baldhead, bearded man snapped the cartilage in his ear, bruised his head, and knocked one of his teeth loose. Snipes told DNAinfo, “These guys attacked us specifically because they knew we weren’t their type of people. It was disgusting.”
The NYPD is still investigating this incident, but have declined to call it a hate crime, as of yet. Various sources say that the obviousness of the bigotry displayed by the attacker will mean authorities will have to classify this assault as yet another anti-LGBTQ hate crime in the Big Apple.
Chelsea, the location of the restaurant, has been believed to be a safe neighborhood for lesbians and gay men. The old “common wisdom” will have to be revised, now. The violent attack makes it abundantly clear that homophobic assaults against LGBT people are by no means a thing of the past.
New York, New York – Violence against LGBTQ people soared beyond 2,000 reported incidents in 2013, according the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Statistics released in the NCAVP annual report on Thursday showed queer folk living at the intersection of homophobia and other forms of discrimination such as race, gender, and citizenship status are most at risk of being targeted for harm in the United States.
The Advocate reports that the level of violence remains consistent with 2012’s statistics, varying little in either direction–still registering one of the highest numbers of anti-LGBTQ violent crimes since the NCAVP has kept records. For example, though the number of murders of LGBTQ people fell to 18 reported homicides in 2013 from the all-time high of 25 in 2012, those most likely to die because of their sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender identity were people of color and transgender women. 89 percent of the victims were people of color, and 72 percent were transgender women. “What emerges clearly in the findings of this year’s report is that many of the people at risk for the most severe hate violence are at the intersection of multiple forms of oppression and discrimination including racism and citizenship status,” said Aaron Eckhardt of the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Region. “Anti-LGBTQ hate violence can no longer be viewed in isolation from other forms of violence that our community members are experiencing based on their identities.”
Generally speaking, the NCAVP Report shows:
- A substantial increase in the severity of the violence reported against LGBTQ people
- Transgender people, especially transgender women, undocumented people, racial and ethnic minority people, and gay men face the most savage violence
- Transgender women, people of color, and gay men face the greatest risk of hate crime murder
- While danger from bias driven violence is still a public matter for many, occurring in the streets of our cities, other places once thought to be “safe” have begun to show alarming increases in attacks, such as private residences, workplaces, and shelters
- Fewer victims of anti-LGBTQ violence are reporting crimes to the police, and those who do report increased hostility toward them by the very law enforcement organizations pledged to protect them
On this final alarming finding, Christopher Argyros of the Anti-Violence Project of the Los Angeles LGBT Center says, “For some of our most impacted communities, especially transgender people and transgender people of color, the hostility and violence faced at the hands of the police [when they do report crimes] is at an alarming level.”
These statistics should be read in the context of a severe undercount of bias driven violent crimes against all those living at the intersection of anti-LGBTQ and other minority forms of discrimination. Every agency and expert charged with reporting the number of hate crimes against the queer community in the United States, including the FBI, acknowledges that the statistics on report are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the actual experiences of violence against LGBTQ people. For example, the current NCAVP annual report, Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities in the United States in 2013, recognized as the most comprehensive snapshot of anti-LGBTQ violence in existence, is based on data from no more than 14 anti-violence programs in 13 states across the country and Puerto Rico. States reporting were: Ohio, Illinois, Colorado, California, Michigan, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Minnesota, and Arizona. Reportage is voluntary, with many law enforcement organizations neglecting to report anything, either from bias, apathy, lack of funds to do so, or a combination of these passive aggressive motives.
Williamsburg, New York – A gang of Hasidic Jews, some identified as members of the Satmar Hasidic Shomrim (Safety Patrol), shouted homophobic and racial slurs as they brutally beat a gay black man in Williamsburg on December 1. The victim, 22-year-old Taj Patterson, suffered multiple injuries including a crushed eye socket, a torn retina, and cuts to his right knee and hip. This week, five hasidim were arrested for the attack by the New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force. They have been charged with Gang Assault in the First Degree and a variety of other charges, though at this point a hate crimes charge has not been lodged, even considering the report of witnesses that a barrage of homophobic slurs accompanied the assault. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 25 years for each assailant proved guilty. Failed Messiah, a blog covering news in the Hasidic community since 2004, identified those arrested as Pinchas Braver, 20, Aharon Hollender, 28, Abraham Winkler, 39, Mayer Herskovic, 21, and Joseph Fried, 25. Two of the alleged assailants fled from the United States to Israel immediately following the incident, but were apprehended there.
The five suspects and a number of other hasidim who allegedly participated in the attack are all members of the Satmar Hasidic Jewish community, a large and influential ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect with pre-World War II roots in Hungary. According to A Life Apart: Hasidism in America, the Satmar Hasidim number at least 45,000 in Williamsburg today. The Shomrim is a volunteer neighborhood watch drawn from the Satmar community. Activists in Williamsburg quickly denied the involvement of the Shomrim in the attack, but according to the Brooklyn Paper, the denials left room to conclude that some of the attackers were indeed members of the watch group. An Orthodox rabbi who decried the attack did not mention the participation of the Shomrim in the December attack. Rabbi David Niederman, president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, said, “The bedrock of the Williamsburg community is tolerance for one and another. Any act of violence by any individual, against anyone, for whatever reason, is condemned in the strongest possible terms.”
EDGE on the Net reports that Patterson is a fashion student studying at the New York City College of Technology. While he says he does not remember much from the attack that occurred with swift savagery, he clearly recalls at least one of his assailants shouting, “Stay down, faggot, stay the fuck down,” as he kicked Patterson in the face. Since the horrific incident, Patterson has undergone surgery to repair his torn retina.
The true heroine of the whole bloody affair was the driver of Bus 57 who slammed on her brakes and stepped out of her bus snapping pictures of the assault with her cell phone, according to the New York Post. The NYPD say that the attacking gang fled the scene when they realized she was taking their pictures.
Brooklyn, New York – A straight resident of the Williamsburg section of greater New York City was viciously beaten by a man yelling homophobic slurs, adding to the alarming number of hate crime attacks in the Big Apple. David Jimenez, 40, who identifies as a heterosexual man, told reporters from the Brooklyn Paper that the assault seemed to come out of nowhere as he walked his two Boston Terriers back to his apartment at about 11:30 p.m. on September 25. Jimenez says he had just escorted a group of his friends to a cab. As he passed a group of men sitting on a stoop on South Third Street between Bedford Avenue and Berry Street, he said he heard slurs being hurled at him, which he tried to ignore as he continued down the street toward his home. The next thing he knew, a brutal punch struck him in the face out of nowhere. “Someone started screaming, ‘Hey you, faggot,” said Jimenez. “I turned around and gave him a look like, ‘What the hell?’ and the next thing I know the guy starts punching me in the face.”
Jimenez could not successfully defend himself as he struggled to hold onto the leashes of his dogs as blows rained down on him. The assailant, who remains unnamed as of this report except for his being a 35-year-old man, broke his victim’s nose in four places, bruised his jaw. blacked both his eyes, and shattered the bones in one of his eye sockets. The attack was bloody, leaving copious stains of blood on the sidewalk that remained there for days after the crime. Though Jimenez is a straight man, NY1 reports that authorities are now investigating the attack as a bias-motivated hate crime. A witness to the crime called police who found the attacker still at the scene soaked in his victim’s blood. Officers arrested the assailant, and charged him initially with assault and possession of a controlled substance, and resisting arrest. Jimenez, now recuperating at home in preparation for reconstructive surgery to his face, says the wounds he suffered go far beyond the physical ones on his body: “My head, it cannot comprehend how this is the case, where you literally catch someone with blood in their hands, because when he was taken in, his fist was full of blood, and he’s out here walking while I’m in here locked in my house because I’m afraid of going outside.”
As EDGE On The Net reports, the hate crime attack on Jimenez adds an alarming new dimension to the rising epidemic of violence against LGBT New Yorkers in recent months, since even heterosexual people who are merely mistaken for being gay are now being targeted. During the summer, two alleged anti-gay hate crimes were investigated in Williamsburg by police, and in Manhattan, a gay man was fatally shot to death in the Chelsea/Greenwich Village area of the city, one of the queer-friendliest sections of the Big Apple, and the cradle of the modern LGBTQ Rights Movement. Jimenez told CBS 2 New York that coping with the crime against him will be a longtime struggle. “That’s the most difficult part — waking up every morning and trying to live my life like normal,” he said.
New York City, New York – A 21-year-old transgender woman of color was removed from life support after five desperate days in a coma from a savage hate crime attack in Harlem. Islan Nettles, an aspiring fashion designer, was assaulted by a man allegedly enraged when he learned that Ms. Nettles was not a biological male. She and her transgender friends were walking near 148th Street and Eighth Avenue on Saturday night when the barbaric attack took place at around 11 p.m.. One of her friends ran for help to a nearby police precinct as Ms. Nettles struggled for her life with the assailant, shouting transphobic and homophobic epithets, on top of her in the street, according to NY1. She was rushed to Harlem Hospital where she was initially reported as conscious, but soon fell into a coma from which she never woke up. NYPD reported that Ms. Nettles was determined brain dead, and she was removed from her ventilator on Thursday.
New York Police are investigating the assault as a bias-driven hate crime. Mayoral candidate, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer issued statements decrying this latest violent incident involving LGBTQ New Yorkers, according to The Gothamist. De Blasio said, “This is a horrifying and painful moment for our city. Ms. Nettles’ murder was crime rooted in hate and ignorance. My heart goes out to her family and her friends as they come to terms with this inexplicable act of violence.” De Blasio continued, “Make no mistake: The denial of fundamental rights to transgender New Yorkers fuels the appalling violence this community continues to face. That must end. Delivering justice here requires we investigate this hate crime and hold the perpetrator or perpetrators fully responsible. But it also demands we finally affirm the rights of transgender New Yorkers as full and equal members of our city, state and country.” Stringer added his outrage at the crime, “The savage beating death of a transgender women in Harlem this past weekend was an appalling and unacceptable crime that has no place in New York City. We pride ourselves on tolerance and generosity toward others in this City, but the murder of Islan Nettles is a reminder of how far we still have to go in ensuring that all New Yorkers can walk the streets with dignity and safety.”
A suspect named Paris Wilson, 20, was arrested by police and charged with the beating. Wilson was initially charged with misdemeanor assault in the third degree and harassment in the second degree. Since Ms. Nettles’ death, upgraded charges are expected on Friday. The Black Youth Project called the murder “horrible,” and lamented the awful waste of a talented young transgender woman’s life. Ms. Nettles, who worked for a time at Ay’ Medici, a Harlem design house. On her LinkedIn page, she wrote movingly of her love of fashion design: “Fashion became a definite decision for my life after my first show with my hand designed garments in high school at the 11th grade.”
Ms. Nettles’ hate crime murder is the second fatality in a wave of violence against New York City’s LGBTQ community that has racked up record numbers of violent attacks each year for the last three years in a row.
New York City, New York – Nelson Falu, 20, was sentenced by the Bronx Supreme Court to seven years in prison for his role in a horrendous 2010 gay torture case that rocked the Big Apple for weeks. Falu is the first of eight Latin King Goonies to face justice for his role in the sexual torture of three persons the gang believed to be gay. According to Gay Star News, Prosecutor Theresa Gottlieb told the court on August 9 that Falu’s victims would rather have a plea bargain settle the issue rather than be forced to “relive” the horrors they endured at the hands of the Goonies in October 2010.
Falu and seven other Goonies tortured a 17-year-old gang recruit they assumed was gay, and then lured another 17-year-old and a 30-year-old man they assumed was having gay sex with the teens into their Bronx safe house that served as a makeshift dungeon, where they were sexually tortured, as well. As reported by Unfinishedlivesblog.com, the Goonies fell upon their victims like wolves, sodomizing one of the 17-year-olds with the wooden handle of a toilet plunger, solely because they suspected them of being gay. The victims were berated with homophobic slurs and burned with cigarettes, beaten with chains, and repeatedly sodomized with a wooden bat for hours. The suspects were arrested and charged with with sodomy, abduction, imprisonment, menacing, assault, and robbery as bias motivated hate crimes.
LGBTQ Nation quoted Mayor Michael Bloomberg as saying at the time of the arrests of the Goonies, “Like many New Yorkers, I was sickened by the brutal nature of these crimes and saddened by the anti-gay bias that contributed to them. The heartless men who committed these crimes should know that their fellow New Yorkers will not tolerate their vicious acts, or the hatred that fuels them.”
Falu, who was 18 at the time of his crimes, and two other gang members accepted plea deals in June. It remains to be seen if the five others will accept plea bargains, or face trial in court.
Outbreak of Anti-Gay Attacks in Brooklyn and Queens, New York Continues Trend of Homophobic Violence
Brooklyn, New York – Since Sunday of last week, there have been two anti-gay bias attacks reported in Brooklyn, and another hate crime assault in Queens, according to various news sources. On Wednesday night, openly gay Kevin Kiadii, a 25-year-old freelance makeup artist and a male friend were assaulted in Prospect Park, CBS 2 reports. Kiadii, notable for lodging a sexual misconduct suit against ex-Elmo voice artist, Kevin Clash (see NewsOne story), was randomly chosen for harassment and assault by a group of five teens who were allegedly drunk and/or high. When the most aggressive of the teenagers, the one also displaying the most intoxication, confronted Kiadii with homophobic slurs, the gay man offered the youth a soda as an attempt to diffuse the situation. Undeterred, the assailant took a “fighting stance,” in Kiadii’s words, and when Kiadii told him to back off, the youth jumped at Kiadii and said “‘I’m going to [expletive] you up’ and do this and ‘you F and [expletive].'” Kiadii took a perfume bottle from his bag and wielded it like a can of pepper spray to back off his attackers. “One of the dudes tried to kick me in the face, but just missed and he got me in my shoulder,” Kiadii said. Kiadii managed to get off a 911 call to police, handed his phone to a bystander, and wrestled with his main attacker, who left Kiadii with an injured hand, cuts and bruises. Speaking to the New York Post, Kiadii said his ploy with the spray bottle of perfume may have prevented something much worse from happening to him. “If it wasn’t for my Dior bottle, I’d be in so much damage,” he said.
The police responded quickly, arresting four youths ranged in age from 13 to 18 years of age, and a fifth suspect who is 21. Charges have been filed against the teens and the 21-year-old for harassment as a hate crime, and the prime assailant faces charges of aggravated assault as a hate crime, according to The Advocate. Expressing his appreciation for the swift action of the police, Kiadii is thankful that he was not more seriously hurt. Still, the assault has left him shaken but determined to broadcast what he had to face, so that others will not have to endure an anti-gay attack like his. “I’m appalled. I’m in awe,” Kiadii told CBS 2. “I just really want my story told because I know there a lot of people in the city who deal with stuff like this.”
Police are also searching for an unidentified Brooklyn suspect who punched a 27-year-old gay man twice in the face on the J Train at approximately 11:45 p.m. last Sunday, May 26. The assailant hurled anti-gay slurs at his victim as he carried out the attack, according to DNAinfo. The suspect fled out the back of the subway car to escape arrest. Police described the suspect as a man in his mid-to-late-20s, 6 feet tall, with dark hair tied in a bun. He was last seen wearing a blue denim jacket, police said. The New York Police Department Hate Crimes Task Force is carrying out the investigation. The subway assault and investigation were announced by the New York Police Department on Friday of this week. Also reported this week was an earlier bias-related attack upon a woman in Queens on March 17 of this year. Police say that the suspect approached a 49-year-old woman, cursed her with homophobic epithets, and punched her in the face before fleeing the scene. He is described as between the ages of 20 and 25, five feet four inches tall, 140 pounds, with brown eyes and black hair. At the time of the assault, the attacker was wearing a small mustache. The suspect reportedly has been sighted in the area of the 115th Police Precinct. No explanation has been given for the lateness of the report on the Queens attack as of this report.
Anti-gay violence is spiking alarmingly throughout New York City. Better than 30 incidents of anti-LGBT hate crimes have been reported this year, one of them a fatal shooting, easily doubling last year’s statistics for anti-gay attacks during the same time period.