Last month, Anthony Collao was at a party held by his gay-identified friends at a house in Woodhaven when five young people, none older than 17, pushed their way inside and violence ensued. Collao, who was perceived as gay by his attackers, was beaten to death. His death reminds us that anyone can be the target of hate violence, despite their sexual orientation, gender identity, and race -- but it doesn't tell us why. What went through the minds of those five young people as they broke in and beat Callao -- a stranger to them?
A week later, another young man, Damian Furtch, was attacked by two men as he exited a MacDonald's on Seventh Avenue in the West Village. Damian has spoken publicly about this incident and recounts that two men followed him and beat him while yelling anti-gay epithets at him. Damian suffered a broken nose and bruises to his face and head and required treatment at a nearby hospital.
Earlier in March, Barie Shortell, who has also spoken out publicly, was attacked as he exited a subway in Williamsburg on his way home. Barie was beaten by several young men using anti-gay epithets and was hospitalized for his injuries.
At the end of February, Robert Jenkins was killed, and a friend of his arrested for the murder, on Staten Island. The person arrested claimed that Robert had made unwanted sexual advances toward him that caused him to react violently.
What messages is our society sending that condone, even encourage, this violent behavior? What frustrations and unmet needs drive those who commit these vicious acts? One of the suspects in the killing of Collao bragged about his role in the attack in a Facebook posting. It's not the first time we have seen such postings online. We must ask, what part does our culture -- school, parents, community leaders, religious leaders, television, and neighbors -- play in allowing such senseless violence to happen?
On March 24 a vigil for was held for Anthony Collao in Woodhaven Queens. Many gathered. Some were angry, some wept. Some called for punishment of the perpetrators, some for solace for Anthony's family and friends. Many began to seek answers to these questions. People spoke about the culture of hate that is created by anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) sentiment, laws and policies. Speakers recognized the need to shift the messages that young people get from intolerance to respect and to focus on opportunities that young people need to do this. Hopefully the vigil was a turning point for critical conversations and strategies that we need to explore to change this culture of hate and foster a culture of respect. The New York City Anti Violence Project is committed to work with community members to foster these conversations to build more detailed and effective strategies.
Over the past year we have watched young people attack, bully, and sometimes kill other young people due to homophobia and transphobia. Responding to what happened to Anthony, Damian, Barie, Robert, and hundreds of others who are victim to this violence every day is not just about holding the individuals that attacked these people accountable. It's about holding every person accountable who contributes to a culture of bias and violence. Responding to violence is not enough. We must work to prevent violence by teaching, encouraging, and inspiring a culture of respect and safety for everyone.