[Photo by Adam Feldman]
Last night, Adam Feldman (theater critic for Time Out New York) organized a midnight vigil for Mark Carson, the Black gay man who was killed in the West Village Friday night. We gathered on 6th Avenue and West 8th Street, on the corner where he was shot in the face. It was an intense, emotional event. I’m bad at estimating these things, but I think there were around
100 [edit: 300] people there. While a few speakers betrayed an upsetting short-sightedness about how violence operates in our society, most were eloquent and inspiring. In no particular order:
- Performer and playwright Justin Sayre started things off with a volcanic, passionate sermon about the perceived danger of queer love — how the straight world fears us for the very thing that makes us most powerful, and so the only response is to love harder, love louder, and love more than ever. His tone set the stage for the event, and allowed people to fully feel the emotions we’d all been locking up tight.
- Photographer and ACT UP vet Jon Nalley revealed, shockingly and emotionally, that Mark Carson is also the name of a fallen ACT UP comrade. Jon schooled the crowd about the true cause of AIDS death (not the HIV virus, but government neglect and institutional heterosexism), highlighting the connections between one Mark’s death and the other’s.
- Long-time activist and Stonewall vet Jim Fouratt pointed out something that SHOULD be obvious, but which hadn’t occurred to me — that there used to be a hospital TWO BLOCKS from that corner, but in the wake of St. Vincent’s closing, Mark had to be rushed to Beth Israel all the way across town. Perhaps, in the distance between these hospitals, Mark’s life could have been saved. In that sense, the politicians that allowed St. Vincents to be converted to a luxury condo high rise — politicians like lesbian mayoral candidate Christine Quinn — may have gay blood on their hands. Jim helped us understand how depriving a gay neighborhood of a hospital is inherently homophobic and violent.
- A trans woman who was once homeless in that same neighborhood spoke intensely about how vigils shouldn’t be the only time we come together, and how we must take our struggle to the U.N. to fight for queer safety internationally, and hold the U.S. to the highest possible global standard.
- Eugene Lovendusky, a member of Queer Rising read a first-person account of the Stonewall Riots, in which a gay rioter’s head was injured on that very corner, his blood pouring into the street. Another rioter screamed into the city, “THIS IS THE BLOOD OF YOUR BROTHERS!” It was chilling, to consider the bloody history of that location.
- Another Queer Rising member, Ben Strothmann, pointed out that this murder was allowed to happen because the killer had access to a gun, and that the supporters of gun rights, deep down inside, are primarily afraid of the specter of the Black gunman, who will infiltrate their towns and homes. These gun rights advocates feel they need weapons to protect themselves from their racist fantasy. It underscored how racism fuels violence against ALL peoples.
- Khaela Maricich from The Blow was like: we’re all going to die anyway, and it’s better to die being yourself and expressing your love and your identity than hiding it and living longer. Her comment was somewhat insensitive to queers in greater danger than her, like trans people and people of color, but I understood what she was trying to say.
- An older trans man shared that he was attacked in Manhattan only a few days ago, and reminded the crowd, with tremendous grief in his voice, that trans people are killed CONSTANTLY in this country.
- A straight mother spoke because her adult son in another city asked her to, so she could share her love and support with us.
- Interestingly, a straight young woman who lives on that block confessed that her initial impulse was to text her gay friends, warning them to “dial it down” so that no one on the street would know they’re gay, but that, after hearing the speakers, she realized that this was the wrong lesson - that we should “dial it up,” to demand our right to exist. ”DIAL IT UP” became a chant, briefly.
- A Black gay man spoke with great anguish, commenting on how not many other men of color were in attendance, and laying out so clearly how different queer people have unique challenges and specific circumstances — that Mark Carson’s life as a Black gay man was significantly different from the lives of the white gay men who made up the majority of the crowd.
- A few speakers mentioned the importance of hate crimes legislation, and thanked the police for their cooperation with the vigil, and one speaker even said, “THANK YOU TO THE NYPD OF TODAY FOR NOT BEING THE NYPD OF 1969!” and though I had been resisting the urge to speak, that was my last straw
I got up on the box and said something like this:
I hope this doesn’t sound callous, but I was not surprised by this death. Queer people are killed in this country all the time. I have always thought of myself as someone who is vulnerable to murder. Four trans women were killed in the month of April alone — four in one month! So when things like this happen in our neighborhoods, we need to ask ourselves what this violence means. And we have to be skeptical about solutions like hate crimes legislation, which just feeds the prison industrial complex — an industry that profits from the imprisonment of queers and people of color. One third of all adult Black men in the U.S. are in prisons, and trans people are disproportionately arrested and locked up. We cannot continue to support this! And while I’m sure individual NYPD officers were polite in the lead-up to this vigil, we cannot forget that the NYPD ritually harasses trans people and people of color in this city! Trans women are arrested simply for walking down the street! So when we talk about how queer people need to be “safe,” we have to ask ourselves what “safety” really means — because the NYPD does not makes us safe! It harasses and imprisons us! We must reckon with these connections — that Mark Carson’s death is an extension of the violence that oppresses so many others, from the institutional violence of governments to the random violence of a crazy guy with a gun.
I make a living speaking in front of people, but talking at this vigil was terrifying. As I spoke, I felt myself hyperventilating, and I worried I would vomit. After I stepped down, I sat on the curb a few yards away from the crowd, catching my breath.
I wish I had specifically named the Stop & Frisk policy that makes queers and people of color vulnerable to police harassment. I wish I had called out Christine Quinn for supporting this policy.
I wish I had acknowledged a previous speakers’ disappointment about the lack of people of color in attendance. I wish I had pointed out the sad truth: that our queer “community” is still so segregated, such that when a white person organizes a vigil and spreads the word through his social networks, that message will not automatically filter into Black queer circles. When I mentioned this afterwards to Ted Kerr from Visual AIDS, he added that many queers of color are
not willing to make [edit: cautious about making] themselves vulnerable to the kind of police surveillance that surrounded the event. This hadn’t occurred to me, and reminded me that so many aspects of our queer condition are so complicated, and we all have so much to learn and understand about each other.
When the event was over, I was surrounded by friends and colleagues. People whom I respect, and who inspire me on a regular basis — the people I came to NYC hoping to meet, and the people who keep me here. I was proud of Adam for making this happen, and proud of my community for showing up.
But I was sad too — not just about the senseless death of this man — but that there didn’t seem to be anyone at this vigil who knew him. It seemed indicative of the intense divide amongst queer people in this city.
Tomorrow night, there will be another rally — this one sponsored by the (often idiotic) LGBT Center and featuring Christine Quinn herself — the lesbian mayoral candidate whose policies hurt queer people and may have allowed Mark Carson to die. I will not be in town for this event, but I am fixated on it. Will there be resistance to the party line? Will Quinn be heckled? How can we best honor Mark Carson’s death? What comes next?
[CORRECTION: The earlier riot on that corner was not Stonewall, as I write in this post. Here’s the clarification from John Knoebel:
"This was not an incident from the 1969 Stonewall Riot […] but happened at the somewhat larger riot of the next summer in August 1970. This was when hundreds of activists pulled off a large demonstration in Times Square against police harassment of gays and lesbians there and then ended up marching all the way to the village where a violent confrontation with police involved many more hundreds from Sheridan Square to 8th Street.]