I Was Attacked for Being Gay and HIV Positive. Here's How I'm Fighting Back.
June 29, 2016
Credit: 111chemodan111 for iStock via Thinkstock
In this three-part story, TheBody.com contributor Todd Heywood speaks up about his experience of a brutal anti-gay and anti-HIV attack and its aftermath, explaining "I am not only supporting my own healing, but hoping to illuminate a path toward overturning the policies that continue to fuel violence and other life-threatening dangers for LGBT people and those living with HIV."
It was supposed to be a night of deep-dish pizza and connection. It was supposed to be an evening to break the paralyzing isolation within which my social anxiety envelops the majority of my life. Instead, it became a night of crime and terror, with an aftermath revealing the far-reaching influence of not only of homophobic violence but also the compounding harms of state-sanctioned HIV stigma and bias.
Seven months later, as a reporter, victim, an advocate and a person living with HIV and anxiety, I find myself facing fallout from this crime from multiple directions. Each perspective is a facet of reality that shines a light on the full story.
In speaking up, I am not only supporting my own healing, but hoping to illuminate a path toward overturning the policies that continue to fuel violence and other life-threatening dangers for LGBT people and those living with HIV.
A Terror Informed by Experience
As a reporter with nearly three decades of experience writing about the LGBT experience in the U.S., I have more than a passing familiarity with how anti-gay pick-up crimes turn out. I reported extensively on the 1996 pick-up murder of a popular and well-respected, but deeply closeted, gay sports reporter for the local daily. He met his killer at a local straight bar. They retired to the sports reporter's home near downtown, and the killer stabbed him repeatedly -- law enforcement called it "overkill" -- then drenched his blood-soaked corpse in gasoline and set it afire.
I also reported on the murder of another man who picked his assailant up while cruising. The killer claimed he shot the victim, execution style, in the back of the head in a panic because the victim tried to have sex with him.
The two men who came over to my house ostensibly to break bread -- a social tradition as long as recorded history -- had also come under false pretenses. They had no intent to break bread and bond. They had every intention to harm.
About two hours into our meal, the discussion moved to sex, something all three of us knew was a potential from our initial email communications. When I turned my back to the two men, one removed handcuffs, grabbed me and cuffed me. As he shoved me face down on the corner of my bed, the other began raining blows on the side of my face and the back of my head. The other joined in.
My body instinctively froze and went limp. I had one thought: "This is how I am going to die." As the blows fell on my head, I knew from that it was quite possible I would not get out alive.
Ransacked, Robbed and Escape
Forced to lie on the corner of the bed, face down, my face swollen, the side of my head bleeding, my hands cuffed with police-issue handcuffs, one man ransacked my apartment. The other remained with me, his knee in my back.
As the ransacker tore apart my apartment, he called out questions. The two pretended to be cops for a time. At one point, my guard announced to the other: "Remember to search the house so we can get a search warrant." If it were not so deadly serious, this bad B-movie imitation would have been laughable.
The ransacking complete, my guard manhandled me from the bedroom, through my living room, into the kitchen. He ordered me to kneel. I did. He stepped outside to confer with his conspirator, and I used the opportunity to dash for the door, slamming it shut with my shoulder. I turned around and with my cuffed hands fumbled with the lock. My heart pounding in my chest, through the window beside my apartment door I could see the two men look at each other in confusion.
When the lock clicked, I could feel my chest release and I took in a breath. I don't know how long I had held my breath. The two men's confusion abated; they jumped in their minivan and drove away.
I went into the living room. My cell phone was missing from the coffee table. I knew I needed to get to a phone to call the police. I sat on my butt and slid my secured hands under my ass, down my legs, under my feet and to my front. I returned to my back door. I looked out the window. The men were gone.
I unlocked the door and made my way to a neighbor's. The cops were called and within minutes the apartment and neighborhood were flooded with police.
Let's be clear. This was an anti-gay hate crime. That's not what only I call it, but what the Lansing Police Department, the Ingham County Circuit Court and the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office called it.
How do we know?
In their November 30 video confessions, seven days after they attacked me, the men told investigators that they deliberately targeted the "fucking faggots on Craigs list," because they were "sick" and "would not report it to the police." I later learned that my HIV medications were also deliberately taken in an attempt to jeopardize my health -- one of the attackers explained to the police that he took my meds because he knew my status and didn't want me to live because "I tried to touch him."
Michigan does not have comprehensive civil rights protections for the LGBT community. Nor does it have comprehensive anti-bias crime laws. In fact, Michigan is one of many U.S. states that are considering legislation -- two bills actually -- to regulate which bathrooms transgender people can use. And the state legislature punished the state board of education by removing appropriations when the agency dared to suggest that LGBT students had a right to a respectful and safe learning environment.
As the ambulance drove me away, I saw officers entering and exiting my apartment. It was just the beginning of seven months of interactions with police, prosecutors and the judicial system -- interactions that would reveal the gaping chasm in access to justice for those of us who are queer, HIV positive and living with social anxiety, as well as highlight how social and political policy and rhetoric feed the stigmatization that those of us living with these identities experience daily.
Read Part II of Todd Heywood's account here.
Copyright © 2016 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.
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