The pictures could not be more different.
Kate: a teenager, white, blonde, supercute, posing for the camera, in a neat "Recently Posted" grid of shots uploaded to Facebook. She'd fit right in to the cast of Glee, she'd be played by Hayden Panettiere in the TV-ification of her story. She could easily pass for that cheerleader who saves the world if she weren't already on the basketball team. She could also easily pass for straight. Or at least what most of America thinks a straight girl looks like.
Mark: A handsome man of color, a face you see a thousand times a day on the streets and subways of New York. His picture, taped to a piece of cardboard from Staples, and lit by candlelight and sallow streetlights. He, too, escapes the American stereotype of what "gay" looks like.
The other striking difference: Kate is alive, fighting high school expulsion and legal charges in a small Florida town.
Mark was shot in the face and killed at 6th Avenue and 8th Street, at midnight on a well-lit corner with a Chipotle right across the street, all just blocks away from the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. Mark is not fighting anything any more.
The two cases have also crossed my Facebook feed, and there too, the game of compare and contrast continues.
The "Free Kate" movement hit my wall like a tsunami. Post after post, link after link of media outlets that had picked up the story of Kaitlyn Hunt, this girl first kicked off the Sebastian River High School basketball team for being a lesbian, then expelled when her girlfriend's parents filed charges for "2 felony counts of 'lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12--16 years of age,' because she has a girlfriend who is 15", per the Change.org petition page, now with over 36,000 signatures, started by her father. The other set of parents have taken a personal issue of bigotry and anti-gay intolerance and made it legal, nasty, and highly public.
News of Mark's shooting, at the hands of an unknown-to-Mark, hate-speech spewing gunman, came in more like the morning tide, a few posts, a personal invite to a midnight vigil (from out New York City Council candidate Corey Johnson), some shared links of the same notices over and over from a smattering of gay websites (it eventually received the attention of the NY Times, the first of the recent rash that has). I know you never know how Facebook determines who sees what, but as a gay man with mostly gay male friends (and as a Facebook addict), the imbalance of these two stories struck me.
On Facebook, a Free Kate group appeared, swollen to staggering numbers virtually overnight, rallying its troops, lots of Britneys/Brittanys posting text-speak "we heart u's!" and "prayers for Kate!!!". There are cries to get the ACLU involved, and links to Florida legislators. There's also a nasty undertow of "agree or get out" to the group that has all but shut down debate about how the sex laws actually apply, what the real issues are ("Leave the coach out of it!!" one person said, of the coach who kicked her off the team.), and posts are disappearing as fast as they appear unless they start with "We love you!", a new t-shirt idea or bracelet request.
As rainbow-colored memes in her support continued to populate the Free Kate group page, new images came across my own feed: the bloodied face of Christopher Bryant, one half of a couple gay-bashed in the truest dictionary sense just days ago in London, a day after a revolver ended Mark Carson's life. And a mere week or so after a Hell's Kitchen couple was beaten near Madison Square Garden, by a gang of fans wearing Knicks jerseys. My own efforts to get #knicksbashers off the ground, and get GLSEN and GLAAD to speak up to the Knicks themselves didn't gain as much traction as #freekate seemed to. I'll bet good money Kate gets on Ellen before even just the beaten couple's picture gets on ESPN.
On the sidewalk across from where Mark Carson was hit by a bullet to the head after being hit with homophobic hate speech, the West Village community gathered at midnight Saturday to light candles and remember him, the newest face of five in a recent May-wave of anti-gay violence in well-lit "good" parts of Manhattan. And the first fatality of the wave.
The gathering was like a casting call for the Christopher Street opening number in Wonderful Town, what you'd expect (mostly) of the vibrant, defiant neighborhood of the West Village, although as two speakers noted, skewing to less color, and fewer late-teen attendees than hoped. I'd pass that last issue off as the hour of the vigil, but the Village streets are full of teens on any given Saturday night.
The speakers (most, impromptu, after the introduction by organizer Adam Feldman, and members of Queer Rising) shed their own light on this dark event and candlelit moment. Most poignant were the two transgender allies, each talking about their fear, their lifetimes of street violence and battery, their resolve amid staggering numbers of missing or dead transgender community members, unreported, unremembered, unmarked. And, I can only imagine, each with the internalized question, "Where were you all before?"
I wondered what the ladies and girls and handful of men on the Free Kate page would be saying if Kate looked like some of these people with the bullhorn or alongside me on that street corner, or one of the many kicked from homes, the queer kids - pierced, inked, defiant, butch or femme - instead of this picture-perfect girl inspiring rainbow memes and Twitter hashtags, bracelets and merchandise. Merchandise. Would they be signing their full names to that petition, or would they be sniggering, "Are you sure that's a girl?" hidden behind a cutesy screenname, as I've seen many times on other pages. And I wonder how many of the people on Free Kate know who Matthew Shepard is. Was.
Do the victims of violence have to "look like me" before we are moved to action?
I'm all for any movement or moment that inspires passion, and a larger conversation about LGBT rights. But I have to admit, there is a bit of resentment that so many have jumped on the Kate bandwagon when men and woman have been shot, beaten, burned, kicked out of homes (by parents as gay teens, by landlords as gay adults), robbed of jobs, immigration safeties and, in the case of Mark Carson, their very lives. For who they choose to love. No. For WHO THEY LOVE. There is no choice. We have to remove the words choose and choice from the equation.
I'm sure there are transgender men and women or people of color wondering why this gay white male is finally wondering, too. It's a fair question.
Mark and Kate are two ends of the rainbow spectrum in some ways, and in many other ways, they don't get anywhere near reaching the outer range of diversity within our community. It was eloquently noted by several of the speakers at the vigil for Mark Carson that those extremes, the Ts and Qs of our community are the ones that are most often the lightning rods for the most shocking and frequent violence.
Yet, it seems, the picture-perfect are the ones that get the media attention. Kate is on her way to being a media darling, it seems, a poster child no doubt we'll see on Katie and Anderson 360.
And Mark? Mark is gone. Martyrs don't give great sound bites.
I know I am late to this party, and I'm not naïve: I know race and age and socio-economic factors determine what missing posters get passed around... or passed by. So I guess I'm guilty of the same thing: getting up in arms because, with Kate on one end and Mark on the other, the brackets of the spectrum just closed in on me a little more when it comes to inequality and danger. Maybe that's what's making me mad: that it's taken these encroaching similarities for me to be moved. And just maybe that's a sad reason.
I'd like to think that the more entrenched I've become in the fight for equality, my opened eyes have also meant a more open heart and a louder voice. I find myself thinking more than I ever did before, "You go, girl!" when I see any person wearing their identity on their sleeve, and I now think, even in the "safety" of Hell's Kitchen, when I see drag queens rushing to their nightly gigs at Vlada or Posh, "Those dames are brave," and not just dismiss them with an eyeroll or a giggle. Sometimes, bravery wears a big wig and fabulous platform shoes.
But that's why all role models are so important. Why public coming out stories are so important. Why "I'm From Driftwood" and "It Gets Better" are still important. Why Zachary Quinto and Jason Collins are important. Why telling your favorite barista or bankteller or cousin that you are gay is important.
I'm glad people are passionate. I'm glad families in that Florida town are using the L Word at the dining room table and pep rallies as they say the name Kaitlyn Hunt, I really am.
I just hope we remember the name Mark Carson, too. Say his name: Mark Carson.