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Bursting the Blue State Fantasy that Gay Enclaves Are ‘Safe’ to Be Out

In the past week NYC has been rocked by a few incidents of hideous violent attacks against gays and transgender residents. There have been shootings assaults outside gay bars and a brutal killing of Mark Carson in another shooting in the Village.

Michelangelo Signorile, who also points out the unending violence against transgender residents that goes under-reported in the media:

It’s sickening and enraging. And perhaps the shock I’m seeing expressed about it, particularly among younger LGBT people, underscores that many of us have been living with a false sense of security, intoxicated by the wins on marriage equality in the states and in the federal courts. It’s way too easy to grow complacent, fed by the desire to have the fight done with as well as by the seductive message of some in the media who’ve simplistically declared victory for the LGBT rights movement.

Victory is very far off, however, if we can’t walk the streets of even the most LGBT-friendly cities holding hands or expressing ourselves without fear of being taunted and violently assaulted. And for hundreds of thousands living in less tolerant places all across the country, openness has never been a reality. Until it is, we’re nowhere near victory.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that in New York City, in a state that passed marriage equality in 2011, hate crimes against LGBT people so far in 2013 are almost double what were at this point in 2012. And 2012 itself was a notable year nationally, with outbreak of anti-LGBT violence in some of the country’s most gay-friendly cities, like New York, WashingtonLos AngelesDallas and Atlanta. 2011 saw the highest number of anti-LGBT murders ever reported, with transgender people the hardest-hit victims. At least 13 transgender Americans were reported to have been murdered in 2012 alone.

Putting LGBT equality on the books does not equal universal cultural acceptance. That anger from our ignorant opponents has to be channeled somewhere, and if they have no legal recourse, then look out. After all, it’s been decades since the desegregation in the schools, the Voting Rights Act and other means to bring full legal equality for minorities to the fore, and it’s pretty clear that racism has not been extinguished. In fact, the election of Barack Obama has so unhinged some Americans that they easily succumb to grotesque racist rants and behaviors that I think would otherwise have remained under the surface.

I guess some people in Blue States where there are anti-discrimination laws in place and marriage equality definitely have rose-colored glasses on when it comes to the slow pace of cultural change. It makes it hard to explain the violence. Saaed Jones at Buzzfeed searched for answers:

I’m reluctant to call this a trend, as there are too many factors and, frankly, too much emotion involved to be sure. There are theories, of course, however inadequate: Crime tends to increase as the weather gets warmer. Perhaps we’re hearing about more crimes because LGBT folks are more empowered to report these attacks and draw attention to them. Maybe it has something to do with gentrification and neighborhoods “in transition” and conflict between new gay residents and reluctant “native” residents. We could go on and on, and likely will, because the news is terrifying and we want to understand why this is happening and what we can do about it.

And so, what are we left with, besides the awareness that even in our refuges we are not safe? Perhaps, little more, for now, than an unsettling reminder that maybe — just maybe — there are no true cities of refuge. Cities, by their nature, are organisms, ever evolving and shifting. The idea of New York City, the glimmering concrete refuge for queer folks, artists, and freaks, however romantic, is increasingly becoming a myth. Hell, how many queer young people can pay the rent in New York these days? Very few if the statistics regarding LGBT youth homelessness are any indication. Maybe it’s the refuge that never was. Maybe all we’ve ever done is escape from one seemingly intolerable place only to put down roots in a place we ourselves could tolerate.”

So it makes sense to me that the recent in-your-face-violence of the kind seen in NYC is more prevalent BECAUSE equality is at hand. In states where bigots still feel comfortable because of institutionalized discrimination, they lash out less often. There is very little of this kind of crime going on down here, but I’m preparing for major bigot eruptions here in NC once legal equality is finally secured and more people come out of the closet. That’s when the haters will lose it and act out the only way they know how — with fists, blunt objects…and guns.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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