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Living in a Violent Society

by Vince Pellegrino
Friday May 31, 2013
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What can we as gay people do when we are confronted by the face of hate simply for being gay and living our lives openly in a neighborhood which has been synonymous with gay freedom since Stonewall?

Just last week, a young man was brutally murdered on the streets of Greenwich Village while walking with a friend on a Saturday night. The tragedy was strikingly similar to a previous attack on a gay couple days before for doing exactly the same thing, walking.

In the face of such hatred, I struggle to understand, as a gay man living in supposedly one of the safest and most tolerant cities in America: Why this sudden surge in gay violence?

As I struggle with these tragic circumstances, I know that many within the GLBT community are also trying to understand why these small groups of "homophobes" are back on our streets and when is all this violence going to stop or, at least, diminish?

As a therapist and Interpersonal Communication professor at Hofstra University, I know that violence is viewed by many in our society as a viable solution to resolve conflicts, and as an outlet for aggressive self expression for those struggling with their own "inner demons."

One such "inner demon" which may be the case in this most recent murder could be attributed to internalized homophobia (gay shame) among the shooter who callously laughed when caught by the police that he "killed a fag." Such a hateful and self-justified response for such a senseless action had to have had some mental illness that prompted his hateful and pre-meditated actions.

But what, exactly, provoked this man to kill gays in particular? What thoughts raced in his mind to view gays as the enemy, or as a justified target for his hatred? Could they have been: "I’m having a real bad day and want to hurt someone! Look at those two fags!" And if those were truly his thoughts, then is this man’s insanity representative of only a few hatemongers or representative of an increasingly dysfunctional culture?

As I have recently heard said within the GLBT community, we gays are still considered by many within this country as the one minority it is still acceptable to discriminate against without reprisal. This belief system is clearly in evidence with all the hateful rhetoric against gay marriage legislation as of late.

But just because we are discriminated against, does that prompt the response by several within our own community toward arming ourselves against our attackers?

In a recent article "NY Gay Man Killed in Fifth Hate Crime This Month" in Queerty, the statistics on hate crimes are clearly not diminishing, but rather increasing. But what was most concerning about this specific article were the comments made by several of its gay readers, advocating carrying a firearm as a preventative measure toward deterring attacks. Have we really come to that? Maybe they have?

As our representatives in government fight between themselves on the subject of gun control, innocent civilians are being murdered in ever-increasing numbers, and episodes of gun violence seem to be happening everywhere around us for inexplicable reasons.

Some of the violence has struck uncomfortably close. The horrific Sandy Hook tragedy occurred only a few miles from my Connecticut home; in another incident, an officer trying to save her following a terrifying home invasion recently killed a young woman named Andrea Rubello. Rubello was a student at the college I have been teaching at for the past twenty years.

With these recent events, memories come flooding back to me of when my boyfriend and I at the time were the targets of a hate crime back in the early eighties. A gang of hateful young men at a Santa Monica, California, beach attacked us, shouting homophobic slurs before starting a physical altercation.

It was then and there, where I saw firsthand the face of hate just for being gay. In that moment, I was confronted with attackers who were literally foaming at the mouth with rage similar to that of a rabid animal.

Luckily for us, they mistook my strength and that of my partner, a former professional fighter, and we prevailed -- but not without emotional scarring following the event.

Bearing in mind what happened to me, I ask all of you, what is the answer to such hate? Fight back with equal force and buy a gun, as the gun lobby and an increasing number of gays strongly suggest?

The philosophy perpetuated by the NRA is, "The only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." To many, this brings the image of the "Wild, Wild West." Will the next step have everyone wearing either a white or black hat to distinguish the good guys from the bad?

Fortunately, in recent days a peaceful demonstration spontaneously happened in Greenwich Village where the last gay killing took place, with the intention of encouraging gay people to take constructive action. An action that. while peaceful, demonstrates that the GLBT community and their supporters have a warning for potential attackers and hate mongers: We will not allow future beatings to continue without a fight.

We as a gay community cannot take back our streets by matching violence with violence. Instead, we must tell our governmental leaders that action must be taken to end the violence. Gun legislation must be passed to prevent maniacs (such as the men who attacked innocents in Sandy Hook, Tucson, Aurora, Columbine, or Greenwich Village) from ever obtaining weapons. For instance, why does it take a machine gun to kill a deer? If we’re honest about the purpose for such weapons, aren’t they really meant for man hunting man?

More logically and peacefully, we must follow the actions of the great Martin Luther King and let those who hated Blacks back in the violent sixties know that they will not be allowed to hate us so easily.

We gays, who are now more powerful and visible in increasing numbers, must continue to demonstrate against hate, with the support of such political advocates as Christine Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg of NYC and so many others. We will prevail. Violence perpetrated toward our citizens, be they gay or straight, should never be tolerated or ignored.

Now is the time to take action -- not by taking arms, but through diplomacy. After all, even in the horrific wars on the past century, diplomacy was always the first action taken to prevent further bloodshed. Even if diplomacy did not prevent war, it did lead to the eventual resolution of wars.

Let’s keep in mind the famous lyrics of the Marvin Gaye song, "What’s Going On," which say: "Father, father, we don’t need to escalate. You see, war is not the answer. For only love can conquer hate."

I choose those lyrics of love in answer to the war of hate, and that should be the hope for us all.

Dr. Vince Pellegrino has PhDs in educational theater and drama therapy from New York University and is a board-certified psychotherapist in New York City and Connecticut. He teaches communications at Hofstra University. He is currently working on a book, "Gay Communication Game," about "Gayspeak"; an interactive TV program featuring real-time therapy sessions in development. Go to Dr. Vince TV for more information.

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