May 16’s direct action marked the latest brilliant stroke by the energetic and forward-looking LGBT activist group Queer Rising. The demonstration was an anti-violence rally and march at the entry to Madison Square Garden (MSG), as thousands of New York Knicks fans were entering the stadium for an NBA playoff game. The location was exactly where, 11 days before, two gay men had been brutally attacked in broad daylight by Knicks fans as they were leaving a game.
The two men had been walking arm-in-arm in the crowd and a violent altercation ensued, resulting in multiple severe injuries for the victims. Eugene Lovendusky, a founding member of Queer Rising and the rally’s organizer, said, “The attackers suspected in the May 5 assault were still at large, and so in front of MSG, while fans entered the arena, seemed the most logical and impactful location to stage a rally.”
The prophetic message could not have been more eloquent or, tragically, timely. On May 17, the very next night, Mark Carson was shot at point-blank range and instantly killed in a homophobic assault on the corner of Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village.
These attacks are by no means isolated incidents. Between May 5 and 21, there have been eight—reported—homophobic assaults. New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has released the shocking fact that, while hate crimes are down almost 30 percent this year, anti-gay hate crimes are up over 70 percent.
It is crucial to note that none of these incidents were secret back-alley beatings, but were, in fact, instances of extreme violence which took place among crowds of passersby on well-travelled streets in parts of town considered relatively safe: Herald Square, the West Village, the New York University and East Village area, and SoHo.
Queer Rising sounds a call for direct action “to see a rise in awareness of the community at-large and an increase in vigilance, security, and protection,” according to Lovendusky, and is working in league with New York City’s Anti-Violence Project, the Office of the Mayor of the City of New York, and the New York City Police Department, especially as the city prepares for Pride in June.
The passionate and articulate speakers at Queer Rising’s meticulously organized rally formed a broad spectrum of representatives from Church and State, and LGBTQ advocacy groups, including Marriage Equality USA’s Cathy Marino-Thomas, the Center for Anti-Violence Education’s Raven Koch, QUEEROCRACY’s Jeton Ademaj, the NYC Antiviolence Project’s Tasha Amezcua, Miss Stonewall 2013 Frostie Flakes, and LGBTQ civil rights attorney and advocate Yetta G. Kurland, each of whom made powerful statements on behalf of awareness, self-respect, family values, inclusion, partnership, and meeting fear with strength and understanding. Rev. Mark E. Erson of St. John’s Lutheran Church, on Christopher Street, called for all liturgical leaders to re-think the language used to describe the LGBT community, and purge it of hate, saying, “Our hands are not dirty.”
The well-ordered march, which followed the rally, traced a path, escorted by police, from MSG down Eighth Avenue through Chelsea to its destination, at Horatio Street’s Jackson Square Park, and chants of “Hey hey, Ho ho! Homophobia’s got to go!” echoed in the streets from hundreds of marchers. There was an overwhelming show of solidarity and enthusiasm from cheering pedestrians and motorists, as well as people in cafés, restaurants and shops along the march route, and the number of marchers swelled as bystanders became participants.
As the LGBT community makes gigantic strides toward achieving full equality under the law, it is important to recall that the most dramatic racial riots of the Civil Rights Movement took place after, not before, desegregation. At this pivotal moment in the history of human rights, the aim of Queer Rising is “to be as pro-active and as re-active as possible, when it comes to responding to and advocating for the queer community,” said Lovendusky.
Clearly, Queer Rising has its finger on our pulse-beat, and the subtle role it has played undercover in our urban life is daily becoming more vital as it looks to New York City Pride and beyond, and the quality of life after the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.
As the activities of the Queer Rising go public, a chant from the march comes to mind: “Queer people are under attack! What do we do? Stand up! Fight back!”