Volume 76, Number 5 | June 21 - 27 2006

Gay Pride
A special Villager supplement

‘Stop the violence,’ hundreds cry, in Village march

By Jefferson Siegel

While the L.G.B.T. community prepares for one of the city’s largest parades of the year this Sunday, there was another march last weekend many wished they didn’t have to make.

Organized by the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, last Saturday’s rally and march through the Village was held in response to a particularly violent 24-hour spate of bias attacks.

The first and most widely reported occurred just after midnight on June 10 when Kevin Aviance, an internationally famous drag singer, was beaten after leaving Phoenix, a gay bar on 13th St. and Avenue A. Aviance was set upon by four men who beat him in the middle of First Ave. at 14th St., breaking his jaw and fracturing his knee after allegedly yelling anti-gay slurs.

Hours later, three gay men were attacked in Astoria, Queens. The next morning another gay man was taunted and then beaten in Queens.

“It’s a bunch of hostile children,” Desmond Cadogan of the East Village said of the attack on Aviance. “I don’t think their community teaches tolerance.” Two of Aviance’s attackers lived nearby in the East 20s; the other two came from the Bronx and Newark. They ranged in age from 16 to 20.

“It’s tragic that, in this world, there’s still hate,” City Councilmember Rosie Mendez said while standing among the gathering crowd on the corner at the start of the rally. Mendez, who is openly gay, heard from horrified constituents following the attack.

“It’s about tolerance,” she said. “People need to understand we’re all different in this multicultural city.”

Mendez has made efforts to reach out to young people.

“I go to public schools,” she said. “When school officials ask me to talk about what made me political, what politicized me was coming out. Kids have come up to me afterwards and said, ‘Thank you. I have two mothers and some of the kids make fun of me. Having you here makes a difference.’”

The Anti-Violence Project recently released some sobering statistics. In a report tracking incidents of hate-related violence, although attacks decreased slightly in 2005 compared to 2004, they are still up more than 10 percent compared to four years ago. Five hundred sixty-six incidents of bias violence were reported throughout the five boroughs and Long Island last year.

Hedda Lettuce scaled a lightpole to make her speech.

“New York and, certainly, the East Village, is an incredibly diverse and tolerant area,” observed Clarence Patton, A.V.P.’s executive director. “But that does not mean that it has been able to insulate itself from the hatred that our community experiences.

“This isn’t a gay issue,” Patton stressed, “this is a community issue. Ten percent of our hate-violence crimes are actually [perpetrated against] people who are straight.”

Over the course of an hour, people filled the street near Stuyvesant Town. Holding signs reading “Respect” and “God Loves Us All,” many expressed their outrage.

“I was just shocked that this kind of stuff still happens,” said East Villager Matt Shapiro, “not only in our neighborhood but in Manhattan, in America. It’s unacceptable to hurt each other.”

State Senator Tom Duane kickstarted the march by yelling into a bullhorn, “Whose streets? Our streets! We are a community that does not allow hate crimes.”

Performance artist Hedda Lettuce arrived, resplendent in a green-tinted wig and matching dress and nail polish, and promptly slammed President Bush’s recent push for the Marriage Protection Amendment.

“It’s not O.K. for George W. Bush to say, ‘Hey, gays can’t get married’ because it’s trickle-down hate,” Lettuce said.

About 300 marchers walked west on 13th St. chanting “Justice Now” and “No More Hate.” They passed through a Third Ave. street fair and by several outdoor cafes. People emerged from businesses, some cheering on the marchers. At Sixth Ave. a driver beeped his horn in support, eliciting more cheers.

“Stop the violence, stop the hate; it’s queers that make this city great!” was the chant as the mass turned down Seventh Ave. Forty minutes after they set out, they arrived at Christopher Park in Sheridan Square.

Borough President Scott Stringer was there to greet the arriving marchers.

“It means that we still have work to do to make our streets safer for everyone,” he said of the attacks.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn condemned the incidents in a statement released at the rally.

“These brutalities should signal a call for every single New Yorker, both gay and straight, to condemn such violence and discrimination.”

There was supposed to be a raised platform for speeches, but finding none, Lettuce climbed a light pole to tell the crowd of a surprise. Aviance, dressed in black and hobbling, his left leg in a soft cast and his jaw wired shut, suddenly appeared.

“You can’t keep a good queen down,” he told the throng as calls of “We love you Kevin” and “Get well soon” rang out. He held up a large box and pulled a ribbon off it. Reaching inside, he pulled out a red plastic reflector and held it aloft. His words slurred, speaking through his closed mouth and in visible pain, Aviance echoed the marcher’s chant, “Stop the violence, stop the hate.”

He was asked what could be done to curtail the bias attacks.

“Everybody’s asking me that,” he replied, barely audible, practically biting down on his words as he pointed in several directions. “You can stop it, you can stop it, you can stop it. You have to say, ‘Stop the hate.’ You have the power.

“God knows, I didn’t want to be there,” he said, speaking after the rally. “But, there’s a reason for everything, you know?” He said his jaw would be wired closed for several more weeks. Aviance had been looking forward to giving several performances during Gay Pride week, professionally one of his busiest times of the year. Asked when he might be able to start singing again, he suggested, “Probably in a month. I want to set goals for myself, but I can’t really meet them 100 percent. I’ll set one goal and just try to get there.”

With hundreds spurred to march in reaction to his attack, Aviance was humbled.

“What can I say? It’s so beautiful, you know? You have to keep marching, you can’t just stop today.”

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