Thousands of New Yorkers marched through the streets of Greenwich Village Monday—the same streets that saw the landmark gay rights "Stonewall Riots" in 1969—to protest the recent shooting of a gay man and draw attention to the "culture of hate" which has fueled the recent increase in targeted violence.
Openly-gay Mark Carson, 32, was shot in the head Friday evening in the New York neighborhood while his attacker allegedly taunted him with homophobic slurs. He later died in a hospital.
“We’re here! We’re queer!” and “Homophobia’s got to go!” was chanted as protesters marched through the Village. The demonstration culminated with a rally at the site where Carson was killed, on the corner of 6th Avenue and 8th Street, where a vigil of flowers and candles continued to grow throughout the day.
City residents and gay rights advocates were joined by Christine Quinn, mayoral candidate and the city’s first openly gay City Council speaker, and Edie Windsor, who is currently fighting a case before the Supreme Court over the rights of gay couples.
"It's not enough to just hold the individuals that perpetrate violence accountable, we have to hold every person who contributes to this harmful culture accountable." -Sharon Stapel, Executive Director of NYC's Anti-Violence Project (AVP)
The marchers are hoping to bring attention to the recent increase in crimes against the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community, particularly in New York City, despite gains made in the political arena.
In New York City alone, there have 22 incidents of gay violence so far this year, up from 13 during the same period last year.
"As we make progress across this country toward LGBTQ equality, we are seeing a reactionary backlash of hatred," said Sharon Stapel, Executive Director of New York City's Anti-Violence Project (AVP).
According to Stapel, the rate of these targeted incidents of violence continues to rise. She writes:
From 2010 to 2011, we saw a 13% increase of reports of this violence in New York City, which followed an 11% increase from the year before. In 2011, our National Coalition (NCAVP) reported the highest number of LGBTQ bias-related homicides in its 15 year history.
"That backlash—especially when it comes in the form of hate speech say from community leaders who people look up to and respect—it really does encourage an anti-LGBT sentiment in the world and it really says to people that its okay to hate gay people," Stapel told the New York Times.
"A lot of people thought when (same-sex) marriage laws passed in this state that everything would automatically get better, but changing people minds takes longer," added Marissa Higgins, who wed her wife Danielle in February. "Until then, unfortunately there is going to be violence."
In recent weeks, several US states including Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage, bringing the total to 12 states and Washington DC, that now allow the practice. New York approved gay marriage in 2011.
In a separate incident Monday evening, another openly gay male was attacked while leaving work in New York's East Village. Reportedly, the assailant was yelling homophobic slurs as he was kicking and beating the victim.
"Shock, outrage, anger sums up how I am feeling today as one of my very good friends was gay bashed last night," wrote the victim's friend on his blog. "I am thankful it was not worse as NYC's hate crime spree continues."
According to the Associated Press, police pledged Monday to increase their presence in the Village through the end of June, which is Gay Pride month, and public schools are being asked to hold assemblies or other discussions of hate crimes and bullying before summer break.
Also, on May 24th, the AVP is launching a Community Safety Night (pdf) initiative during which they will fan out to those neighborhoods most affected by anti-LGBTQ hate violence to talk to people about safety.
"We need to make clear the connection between anti-LGBTQ laws, hate speech and violence," Stapel continues. "We need to make the ridicule, dismissal and derision of LGBTQ people socially unacceptable, and insist that LGBTQ people are recognized as equal members of our society. It's not enough to just hold the individuals that perpetrate violence accountable, we have to hold every person who contributes to this harmful culture accountable."