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Gay Bullying and Suicides Hit African-American Community

Cyril Josh Barker | 11/8/2010, 9:49 a.m.

NEW YORK--Recent anti-gay attacks and suicides among gay youth have ignited a conversation about a problem that those in the LGBTQ community say is nothing new.

As the case of what many are calling one of the most brutal anti-gay crimes unfolds, three of the 11 suspects accused of participating in an attack in an abandoned house in the Bronx have been set free. Brian Cepeda, 17, Bryan Almonte, 16, and Brian Cepeda, 17, were all cleared on charges after the Bronx district attorney's office said there was a lack of evidence.

Meanwhile, one of the latest suicides took place in the city when 26-year-old Black gay youth activist Joseph Jefferson took his own life on Saturday. Jefferson worked with HIV/AIDS charities and was an assistant to promoters of Black LGBTQ events.

"I could not bear the burden of living as a gay man of color in a world grown cold and hateful towards those of us who live and love differently than the so-called 'social mainstream,'" Jefferson posted on his Facebook page the day he killed himself.

Those in the Black gay community plan on celebrating Jefferson's life this Friday at the LGBT Center. The event is being put on by the organization Gay Men of African Decent. Funeral services for Jefferson will be held in Brooklyn at Pone Funeral Home on Sunday.

To address the issue of bullying and suicides, several LGBT organizations are rallying on Thursday at 5 p.m. at Washington Square Park.

Last Thursday, dozens of LGBTQ youths of color, along with several elected officials, gathered on the steps of City Hall to speak out against anti-gay bullying and the recent suicides.

The rally, led by the organization Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment (FIERCE), declared October as LGBTQ Youth Empowerment Month and also addressed the need for a 24-hour LGBTQ youth center in the West Village.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, openly gay City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and gay City Councilman Daniel Dromm support the themed month.

"We are thrilled to have the mayor and Speaker Quinn and other elected officials' support of LGBTQ Youth Empowerment Month," said John Blasco, organizer of FIERCE. "It is crucial that we continue working together to create even more spaces for LGBTQ youth to take leadership in the communities and in the fight for justice."

At the press conference, several LGBTQ youth told stories of abuse and abandonment they had experienced in the city by being who they are. Gay youth of all racial backgrounds have a higher rate of suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because they feel conflicted or ashamed about their sexuality. Family members often throw many gay teens out of their homes when they come out.

"We chose empowerment because to us, empowerment means being seen, heard and having the power to make the changes we need immediately," said FIERCE member Veronica Tirado. "We need policy changes that ensure safe spaces in our schools and jobs."

Likewise, gays in the Black community are also the subjects of bullying. One of the most recent and notable cases involving a Black gay man occurred in 2006, when Michael Sandy was killed after being hit by a car while he was trying to escape attackers in Brooklyn on Plumb Beach.

After meeting a man in an online gay chat room, Sandy and the man arranged a meeting. When Sandy arrived, he was confronted by four men who robbed him and chased him onto the highway. Sandy was then hit by an oncoming vehicle and died from brain injuries.

Last week, City Councilman Lew Fidler dedicated a bench on Plumb Beach in honor of Sandy.