Living as we are in a time of astonishingly rapid progress in the movement for LGBT civil rights, it can sometimes be easy to forget how much work still remains to be done -- until something happens that jolts us out of our complacency.
For many in the LGBT community, one such jolt is the alarming rash of anti-gay violence currently taking place in New York City, arguably the birthplace of the modern LGBT rights movement and widely considered one of the most gay-friendly cities on the planet. In the last three weeks there have been five attacks on gay men, including several brutal beatings and one murder. And the city's police commissioner revealed at a news conference on Saturday that bias-related crimes so far this year are up considerably compared to the same period last year.
The latest incident took place late Friday night, when a gunman shouting homophobic slurs chased 32-year-old Mark Carson (right) through the West Village and then murdered him. The suspect, Elliot Morales, reportedly laughed gleefully as police arrested him, boasting to deputies, "I shot him in the face."
Earlier this month, Nick Porto and his partner Kevin Atkins were walking arm-in-arm after having just finished a Sunday afternoon brunch when they were suddenly surrounded by four rowdy New York Knicks fans outside Madison Square Garden. The men viciously assaulted the couple, repeatedly kicking them, punching them, and shouting homophobic slurs -- all in broad daylight.
After two gay men were denied entry to an after-hours billiard club on May 10, police say they were also approached by a group of men who shouted anti-gay slurs and beat them, causing severe facial injuries to both victims. One was beaten so badly he had to have eye surgery.
The attacks have shocked and galvanized LGBT New Yorkers and their straight allies. A midnight candlelight vigil on Saturday drew hundreds, including prominent local activists, politicians, and candidates. This afternoon, a coalition of LGBT groups have organized a march and rally in response to the upsurge in anti-gay hate crimes. And an impromptu memorial containing candles, flowers, and cards has sprung up on Eighth Street at the site of Carson's murder.
The city's response to these tragedies is heartwarming and inspiring. But it is also a sobering reminder that despite the tremendous progress that's been made, LGBT people still face harassment, intimidation, violence, and even death just for being who we are -- not just in far-flung corners of the globe, but in our own backyard.