17 November 2012

For Lou Rispoli, RIP

Far too many people are killed simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, for crossing paths with the wrong person or people.  Any murder is tragic; any seemingly out-of-the-blue slaying on the street should provoke grief and outrage.

Whenever the victim is gay, lesbian or transgendered--or seems to be--we cannot help but to believe that--or, at least, wonder whether--the killing is a hate crime.  And when said victim is a well-known activist, it's hard not to feel that the killing was an assassination and, perhaps, part of an attempt at genocide.

And so it is with the murder of Lou Rispoli.  Details of the crime are sketchy, but it seems fairly certain that two stick-wielding young men beat him while another kept watch in a nearby car.  Rispoli was killed around 2:15 am on 20 October, on 43rd Avenue near 42nd Street in Sunnyside, Queens.

It's not much more than a mile from where I live.  In fact, I've passed that spot dozens, if not hundreds, of times.  It's a quiet, almost quaint, neighborhood of prewar apartment buildings and row houses that abuts Sunnyside Gardens.  Like much of Queens, it is very diverse, with old Irish immigrants and their children, Italians and their children who came a bit later and more recent immigrants from India, Bangladesh, the Philippines and several South American countries.  And, like a few other Queens neighborhoods--notably neighboring Woodside and Jackson Heights--it has a population, if not community, of gay male couples (Rispoli, in fact, had lived with his husband, whom he married just last year, for more than three decades.) that lives under a sort of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.  

The good news is that in such neighborhoods, one's identity or orientation is almost never questioned, at least openly.  Most people tolerate, if not accept, their LGBT neighbors.  The bad news is, of course, that the revelation of a gay, lesbian or trans person's identity leaves him or her very vulnerable to haters, or simply to aimless young (mostly male) people.

Somehow I suspect Rispoli's attackers are from the latter group.  Whoever they are, they have left a man without the partner with whom he's spent most of his adult life, and two daughters without one of the people who raised them.  And from many other people they have taken a friend and ally--and robbed everyone of his humanity, which I sensed very strongly in the brief encounters I had with him.  That is what everyone recalled when they marched  and held a candlelight vigil in his memory this afternoon and evening.

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