18 October 2009

Jack Price and College Point

Had I known about yesterday's march, I might've gone over to College Point and joined all of those people who were showing their solidarity with Jack Price.

Last Friday, two young men beat him while taunting him with anti-gay slurs as he left an all-night deli in the neighborhood. He's still in the hospital with a broken jaw, collapsed lung and shattered ribs.

The good news is that residents marched alongside LGBT activists and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The interesting thing is that they were outraged over the fact that Price was attacked for any reason and that such violence should occur in their neighborhood. Most of them knew him, or knew friends or relatives of his, and were upset that he would meet with such violence in their neighborhood.

In other words, they weren't necessarily marching out of sympathy for gays. Rather, some were marching for someone they knew, and possibly loved. Probably others were marching out of a sense of justice: that no human being should meet with such violence. One of the more gratifying things I've learned is that there are many more people than I imagined who feel that way, or, at least, can have that sense evoked in them. Still others were worried about their neighborhood "going down the tubes."

The bad news is that many more people didn't go to the rally because they feared, not necessarily the attackers themselves, but the homophobic and otherwise bigoted "element" they all know exists in their neighborhood, as it does nearly everywhere else. Some of that "element" was penned up by cops in one of the parks: They chanted their slogans and held up their signs but weren't allowed near the march. I wonder if anybody had a sign that read "God Hates Fags," as the Most Right Reverend Fred Phelps sported in a rally that followed the murder of Matthew Shepard.

Speaking of whom...It was around this time in 1998 that he was left to die in the cold Wyoming desert night. I remember that time well: Tammy and I were taking a weekend trip to a town near Syracuse, where I would meet her family for the first time. We heard about Matthew on the way up. She was shocked, in part, because two of her best friends were gay men; I felt my skin crawl, as it did in those days whenever I heard about a "hate crime," because I wasn't "out of the closet" about my own identity or the gay-bashing I committed when I was a teenager.

Places like Wyoming are often dismissed as "flyover country" and neighborhoods like College Point are often derided by denizens of more affluent and trendy arrondissements for being too far away from downtown or not having enough trendy cafes or nightlife. I can't speak for Wyoming, but I have spent enough time in College Point to know that, prior to the attack, it was no more or less likely to have had one like it occur on its streets than any other neighborhood I know of--including Jackson Heights.

Unlike Jackson Heights, where three young men beat transgender woman Leslie Mora as she left a club in June, College Point has never been known as an LGBT enclave. Much of it is industrial; the rest of the neighborhood consists mostly of small houses occupied by their working- and middle-class owners and their families. Narrow streets wind between those houses and some old churches; all of those streets follow or end at the shore of Flushing Bay.

Another difference between Jackson Heights and College Point is that the latter neighborhood is very much like it was twenty or even forty years ago. Most of the residents are white, mainly of Irish, German and Italian ancestry. There are more Hispanics and Asians than in years past; still, one is struck by the absence of people of color, particularly blacks, when walking along College Point Boulevard or any other thoroughfare in the neighborhood.

Some would expect narrow-mindedness, if not outright hatred, in such a place. Certainly, one can find it there, as one could find it anywhere inhabited by humans. On the other hand, the neighborhood's constance means that many people there grew up and work with, and even married, each other. Given that, according to whichever researchers you believe, anywhere from one out of every twenty to one out of every five human beings is not heterosexual, just about everyone knows someone who is. The thing is, in a place like College Point (which, in the aspect I'm about to describe, is much like the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bensonhurst and Borough Park were when I was growing up in them), people not only know that you're gay; they've seen you grow up gay. So, even the most conservative people come to realize that, yes, some people are indeed "that way," and that some of those people are in fact their children, neighbors and friends.

Of course, not everyone embraces their "difference." Again, as in almost any other community that comes to mind, there are families who exile their gay children and others who harass and terrorize them. But many other residents understand something that most of them never articulate, mainly because they never have to: That their gay children, siblings, aunts, uncles, classmates and co-workers are a part of their community and that an attack on any of them is a "black mark" on the neighborhood. In other words, if their gay children, siblings or neighbors are attacked, it means that the neighborhood isn't "safe." To blue-collar and middle-class people, who are nearly all of College Point's population, that is no small consideration, as, for most of them, the homes in which they live are, along with their cars (The nearest subway station is about three miles away.), are the sum total of their wealth. If the neighborhood goes "bad," they lose and have nowhere else to go--at least not locally, anyway.

And, if they lose their neighborhood, they lose not only their investment, but their entire way of life and sense of who they are. Even if crime rates don't go up and property values don't go down, they still feel that an attack against one of their own is a reflection of some failure or inadequacy on their, or the neighborhood's, part. In other words, such an attack shatters their sense of security, which many of them cite as one of their neighborhood's assets.

If that's the reason why some people were marching, well, that's as good as any. And, in the end, those people are as important as earnest activists for calling attention to our need to feel secure in our persons and the right to be the persons that we are, whatever that may mean.

One of my history profs said that all effective revolutions begin with the middle class. Of course! The rich have no reason to revolt (If they want lower taxes, they find havens rather than take to the streets.) and the poor, who often have reason to, can't--for all sorts of reasons--mount as effective a movement as those who have a bit more time and money. Those in the middle are the ones who have everything invested and nowhere else to go. When they see no recourse through the very institutions they have used to gain whatever they have, then no one else has that recourse, either.

And, it seems that at least some people in College Point know what is at stake, at least for them, with Jack Price's beating.


EdMcGon said...

Well said. I have nothing to add. *thumbs up*

Justine Nicholas Valinotti said...

Thanks, Ed. How are you?

EdMcGon said...

Doing better. I think I'm finally over my sinus infection. Now I'm just trying to catch up on all the work I've put off when I was sick.

flash said...

Very well said what do i say now..
hats off...!

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Justine Nicholas Valinotti said...

Thank you, flash!

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Belkis said...

Justine... How are you? i just read it. Wow, you are the right one to write about the topic. Hope all could open their minds and their hearts, and accept that everyone has the right to be and belong to, and to live accepted in a safe environment. Keep writing, you are the best!!!