NEW YORK — Thousands marched the streets of Manhattan Monday to protest the killing of a gay man allegedly taunted with homophobic slurs – the most recent in a spate of bias attacks stirring up anxiety, disbelief and outrage in a famously gay-friendly neighborhood.
"We're here! We're queer!" and "Homophobia's got to go!" were among chants as a crowd marked the death of 32-year-old Mark Carson in Greenwich Village – not far from the site of 1969 riots that helped give rise to the gay rights movement.
Christine Quinn, the city's first openly gay City Council speaker, marched along with Edie Windsor, whose pivotal case to win the same rights for gay couples as heterosexual couples is before the Supreme Court.
Carson was killed Saturday as he walked with a companion through the Village. Police say a man charged with murder as a hate crime shot Carson in the head in the heart of one of the city's most progressive neighborhoods.
In the wake of the deadly shooting, officials said Monday that police would increase their presence there and in nearby neighborhoods through the end of June, Gay Pride Month.
A group that combats anti-gay violence planned to fan out to various areas on Friday nights through June to talk to people about safety. And public schools are being asked to hold assemblies or other discussions of hate crimes and bullying before summer break.
City officials, gay-rights advocates and others joined the march Monday evening to denounce a rise in hate crime reports in a city that generally sees itself as a capital of diversity and tolerance.
One of Carson's aunts, Flourine Bompars, was among the marchers.
"The family would like to have justice be served, so that Mark's death is not in vain," she said at a rally at the march's end. She described her nephew as "a loving and caring person."
Fabio Cotza, a gay member of an interfaith Bronx church, said the killing "really makes me scared ... especially since it happened in this area."
He said he looked around cautiously when he got off the subway train to march.
"You feel like you're making headway and then it seems like there's a backlash," he said.
The city and especially the Village have long been beacons for gay people. The gay rights movement crystallized in the Village in June 1969, when a police raid at the Stonewall Inn touched off a riot and demonstrations that came to symbolize gays' resistance to being relegated to society's shadows.
Yet gay-bashing has continued to flare up in New York at times in recent years. In one particularly sinister case, three men connected with a 28-year-old man online in 2006, lured him to a rest stop off a Brooklyn highway with a promise of a date and mugged him, chasing him into traffic; he was hit and killed.
In 2010, authorities said Bronx gang members beat and tortured four people in an anti-gay rage, two men were accused of a gay-bashing beating at the Stonewall Inn itself and a man spewed homophobic insults while throwing a punch at another Village bar – all assaults that happened within little more than a week.
Police say there has been a rise in bias-related crimes overall so far this year, to 22 from 13 during the same period last year. The New York City Anti-Violence Project, a nonprofit group that tracks police and other reports of hate attacks against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, says its numbers rose 13 percent in 2011 and 11 percent the previous year.
But officials and advocates can't pinpoint a reason for the recent rash of attacks or even whether it reflects more violence or more aggressive reporting of incidents.
Advocates see such attacks in the context of a culture that has grown more accepting of gays in some ways - 12 states have now legalized gay marriage - but doesn't universally ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.
"We have to ground this in the fact that, first, LGBT people still are without full equality in this country," said Sharon Stapel, the Anti-Violence Project's executive director.
Carson was walking with a companion when he was followed and taunted before being shot in the face on a street blocks from the Stonewall Inn early Saturday, police said.
Elliot Morales is being held without bail in Carson's death. He hasn't yet entered a plea, and his lawyer didn't immediately return a call Monday.
The shooting came after other attacks fueled by anti-gay animus in recent weeks, authorities say. Those include a report last month of a man making anti-gay remarks and attacking a woman with a ketchup bottle at a Village diner; a man told police he and a friend were victims of a gay bashing outside a subway station in Midtown Manhattan this month; and two men walking arm-in-arm near Madison Square Garden report being jumped by a group of men on May 5, police said.
"This happened in Midtown, during the day, with a ton of people around," one of the victims, Nick Porto, wrote in a Facebook posting. "... When are we safe?"
It's a question the Anti-Violence Project hopes to help answer by sending staffers and volunteers out to various neighborhoods on Friday nights, starting this week, to engage gay people and others in conversation. The message: Stay safe, but also stay proud.
"We want to give people tools that can de-escalate situations but also say, `You need to be yourself,'" Stapel said. "We're not telling people, `Take your rainbow sticker off.'"
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