A recent spate of apparent anti-gay hate crimes in New York City reached a nadir on Friday night when 32-year-old Mark Carson was shot in the West Village. It's a jarring incident for both the ferocity and the location of the incident.
According to the police report, Carson and a friend were walking in Greenwich when three men approached them and began taunting them with questions. In reaction to the men's cut-offs and tank tops, Elliot Morales asked, "Are you gay wrestlers?" and, to Carson about his male friend, "Is he your boy?" Carson and his pal offered their rejoinders —" Oh yeah? Well, what do you look like?” and "Yes" — and went on their way. That's when alleged shooter Elliot Morales, a 33-year-old ex-con—who witnesses later told police had been hurling anti-gay barbs all night—followed Carson and his companion, confronted them, brandished a pistol and then fired once, at Carson's head. Carson fell into the street at the corner of Sixth Avenue and West Eighth Street, about two-and-a-half blocks from the Stonewall Inn, the epicenter of the modern gay rights movement. He was dead. Later, when he confessed after a brief chase, Morales reportedly "laughed in hideous glee."
With Carson's death, the total number of reported anti-gay hate crimes in the Big Apple this year is 22, up 77% compared to the 13 attacks in same time period last year. Now New York City's trying to come to grips with how something so horrific and brutal could happen in such a progressive city. New York State Sen. Brad Hoylan of Manhattan said he's "outraged" by Carson's death and the other anti-gay crimes we've seen here in recent weeks, including the beating of two men outside Madison Square Garden. State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick said, "We must stand together as one city and declare that New York is not open for bigotry."
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was unequivocal in his description of the murder as a "hate crime." And Christine Quinn, the lesbian City Council Speaker who's running to replace Mike Bloomberg as New York City's mayor, also came out to denounce Carson's death. "There was a time in New York City when hate crimes were a common occurrence. There was a time in New York City when two people of the same gender could not walk down the street arm-in-arm without fear of violence and harassment. We refuse to go back to that time," she said. "This kind of shocking and senseless violence, so deeply rooted in hate, has no place in a City whose greatest strength will always be its diversity.”
Showing their solidarity, local activists and residents held a candlelight vigil on Saturday night. The NYC Gay Men's Chorus sang a song in Carson's honor during the AIDS Walk on Saturday. And today, Monday, May 20 at 5:30pm, activists and allies will gather for a short march against hate from the LGBT Community Center on West 13th Street to the site of Carson's death, five blocks south.
Carson's killing reminds me in some ways of Matthew Shepard's 1998 death. That was a different time, long before marriage equality was a national cause, before it was common for celebrities to come out (Ellen DeGeneres had only done so one year prior and her sitcom would soon be canceled) and it was a time when about 44% of people still thought overbearing mothers or other external factors made you gay. Shepard's death, brutal and vindictive and taking place out in the Wyoming countryside, shocked the entire nation. It was a wake up call, the first time a murder of its kind made national headlines, and perhaps the most famous anti-gay murder in the nation's history. Shepard's name and legacy would become synonymous with the fight against discrimination and bigoted violence here in the States, so much so that the landmark hate crimes law President Obama signed in 2009 is in part named for Shepard. It's under that law that Morales, officially charged with a hate crime, will be tried for Carson's murder.
The political, social, and cultural climates have all changed since Shepard's death 15 years ago, but that only makes Carson's death all the more stunning. Even after years of changing minds and countless marches and votes and lobbying for rights, even as more Americans know a gay person in their own lives and support marriage equality, there are people who hate and want to kill gay people, even in New York City. But this isn't a New York City crime. This is an American crime.
Mark Carson may not have been murdered in the heartland or in a state known for its conservative politics, but the bile that fed Morales's crime is the same bile seen from people like Michele Bachmann or evangelical leader Bryan Fischer. It's the same bile that let the GOP presidential candidates claim they would ban marriage equality, and it's the same bile that keeps the Westboro Baptist Church on the street, spouting messages like "God Hates Fags." The hate and bigotry may come in different forms, but it's all the same, and no one is safe from it.
To be more than just a senseless act of hate, Carson's death must impact more than just New York City. It must resonate from coast to coast, serving as a grim and hopefully urgent reminder that 36% of this nation, an estimated 85 million Americans, still believe that homosexuality should be discouraged. There's acrimony out there, floating on the waves of amber grain from sea to shining sea, and it must be stopped. The anti-gay dark ages aren't a thing of the past — not yet, at least, but maybe Carson's death can bring us one step closer to a brighter future.