June 13, 2013
May 2013 was one of the worst months for attacks on gay males in New York City, based on sexual orientation, in decades. In no fewer than 11 attacks, individuals and couples found themselves on the receiving end of a barrage of verbal attacks which culminated in frightening fits of rage and physical violence, including Mark Carson's very tragic death by an assassin's bullet.
During this Gay Pride month, it is important to remember that, as far as we have come, we still have very far to march before we see daylight. I would first like to thank the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) for providing the statistics and demographics that were the basis for this article.
It would seem that out of nowhere our community was under siege, once again, and the answers to "why now," and how to stop this new wave of violence, were left dangling in the air. These men, mostly young, some white, two African American, had very little in common outside of their sexual orientation. The locations of their attacks were varied, from Midtown West, to Soho, and even Greenwich Village -- the historical base of gay culture in New York City. The one characteristic they all shared, without a doubt, was their gender. All male, each and every one of them. From stranger attacks, to domestic violence and "hook-up" crimes, gay men are truly a community at risk, with gay males of color being the most vulnerable yet least likely to report crimes to the police.
According to the NCAVP, the demographics of these attacks are almost textbook, down to the lone African-American man that was murdered, as opposed to his white counterparts that were beaten, but thankfully left alive. Gay males are at the forefront of bias attacks based on sexual orientation; but interestingly enough, we as a nation and community have refused to be specific in our representation of this fact. Politicians, local and national media, as well as social services organizations called these violent acts "attacks on the entire LGBTQ population."
As a gay man, I appreciated the solidarity; but these were not such attacks. Not one of the persons who reported being harmed during the month of May was anything other than a gay man. Why the refusal to state the facts? What harm could come from being honest and saying that these bias crimes were occurring to males only? This is not to deny, or take away from, any other group whose members have been victims of bias attacks, but rather to point out a need for specificity to make the most vulnerable of us aware of their plight and create programming to assist them.
Historically, we have become a world of political correctness and inclusion that has worked for the benefit of all sometimes, and some all of the time. But specificity is a wonderful tool to address particular concerns that affect one population or subgroup over another. Being able to spot the tree for the forest is a rare trait that we should desire to cultivate more. It ensures that proper resources are assigned to the most affected communities as well as shine a bright light on the acts so that potential solutions may be created and cultivated. This simple notion has been utilized in just about every single social and medical issue humankind has found him/herself confronting. So, why are these bias attacks different?
The world is a dangerous place for gay men, and even more so for those that are not "gender conforming"; but collectively, we don't know what this means. There is no university which solely studies male gender socialization, and specifically targets gay males. Our lack of knowledge regarding male interaction and socialization has left us stumped and with a level of ignorance which would never be seen as acceptable in any other area of science.
For almost 50 years, criminologists, lawyers and politicians have spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars researching violence against every population except males. Their findings have concluded that men are the instigators of most violence in the country, but they fail to express that males are also the most frequent victims of violence as well. This second fact is crucial in being able to address the concerns of bias attacks against gay men. We cannot control, predict or protect gay males when we refuse to see them as true victims of crime but merely as perpetrators.
Further, without specific research into the male mind, we cannot understand why males are socialized to ignore their guy intuition, or "Spidey sense," if you will, but are rather encouraged to be risk takers. This lack of threat aversion and the cultural meme to "fight back" leaves many gay men at a disadvantage when combined with a lack of self-defense skills and social education about their chances of becoming victims of a crime. This is interesting, when every gay male in North America has either been a victim of a bias crime or knows at least one close male that has been.
Our communal acceptance of male risk has led many of us to take chances that would make our grandmothers cringe. The Internet is abuzz with activity from social "hook-up" sites at 3am that would rival national newspaper sites at 3pm. New York City streets and subways are alive with young and older men seeking the company of strangers as the dawn greets them. Yet we are surprised when any of these midnight rendezvous turn disastrous.
Knowing and accepting these facts as ... well, facts, is a great starter to conversations about how to keep gay men safe in a world that fears and hates them. Now, understand, this is not victim blaming; this is creating a dialogue which includes risk assessment and evaluation as well as preparation. A logical assessment of one's past and present actions is a wonderful way to ensure future protection.
So, why do we not have these open and realistic conversations with men? Well, some of us do, with our close friends, other males that are trafficking as we do, but no one else. Any true relief from these attacks must begin from a place of honesty and creating a safe space for gay men to discuss their actions as they relate to their sense of self and their personal identity. From this, programs designed around situational avoidance, de-escalation and self-defense trainings based on real-world scenarios may thrive. Gay men working with gay men is the key, because we cannot legislate tolerance or acceptance but we can teach knowledge and physical awareness. Criminals don't target "gays"; they confront those they believe to be easy targets. There will always be criminals, but being gay does not mean you must always be a victim.
It is in the best interest of the entire community to allow men to create these safe spaces for themselves, so that they can speak honestly, fall down, cry and learn to accept the challenges associated with being gay males in a world that does not like gay males. By constantly stating that these are crimes against the entire LGBTQ community, we are devaluing the experience of the males living and dying on our streets. We are conflating the real terror they feel as they leave their homes with the concerns of others that are not facing real-world violence on a daily basis. We are also not allowing them a place at the front of the line to learn how to defend themselves from these attacks; and worst of all, we are yet again sending the message that their lives are not as valued as those of the rest of the LGBTQ community.
During the month of May, 11 bias attacks were committed against gay males. These were attacks on males only, and they deserve the right to be held, comforted, healed and taught to protect themselves without the need to defend why they deserve a safe space of their own.
The Gay Male Rights Project was born out of the need to address these bias attacks on gay males, from a male-centric perspective, by gay men that walk the streets along with them every day. Our organization will provide suggestions, tips for safety, comprehensive medical and psychological referrals, as well self-defense classes for gay men, in a safe space, on their own terms. The time to protect gay males is now.
Diego Wesley Iglesia, J.D., is an AIDS activist, health care policy expert and the founder/executive director of the Gay Male Rights Project (GMRP).