Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Can I get a witness?

It was very cold and windy last night in the Pit at UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus. Despite the weather, anywhere from 300-500 people gathered to show solidarity for the UNC student who was beaten unconscious by six or seven unknown assailants on the corner of one of the busiest street corners in downtown Chapel Hill. Granted, the attack occurred at 2 A.M., but there were people who were about and who saw the event. They have not come forward with their stories. Those who did see and who did speak out were unable to offer any further evidence about what happened.

The gathering last night was somber and respectful. Speakers from UNC, the Town of Chapel Hill, Amnesty International, Equality PAC NC and other area Universities were on hand to show resolve to see the end of violence against people who are merely perceived to be gay and to demand that North Carolina law be amended to enumerate the groups of people who need protection from hate crimes. We have all been urged to write our representatives individually, at all levels of government, to ask them to stand up for honor and justice and to hold them accountable for stiffening the laws about hate crime attacks. I would go a step further. I would urge you to write President Bush himself, to point out how his rhetoric against the GLBTQ community is translating into violence. We need to hold him accountable as well, especially since he has taken his war against GLBTQ citizens to the pulpits of America.

After the gathering, there was a candlelight march from the Pit to the corner of Franklin and Columbia Streets where the attack occurred. We gathered in a large huddle of freezing bodies around that site and held a moment of silence. During that moment, I thought of the young man who was beaten, but equally thought of the solidarity of all those who were present to help us bring about change. Among them were my nephew and his girlfriend, two loving individuals and fair-minded people. They took the time to spend with me, to show that they are with me and all others who stand up against acts of cowardice and violence.

I also looked around me and imagined how an attack such as this could have happened in such a busy place. Right by the entrance to Top of the Hill Restaurant, the area is well-lighted. I had imagined earlier that the attack might have occurred at the other end of the downtown strip of Franklin Street where the campus begins and where an act of violence such as this could be hidden in the shadows. No…these people feel sufficiently justified in attacking gay people that they will now do it right in sight of the whole world.

Some people suggested that this attack was not aimed at one individual, but that it was intended to frighten the whole of our GLBTQ community. In all honesty, I don’t think this is the case. I suspect that a bunch of young men who are more afraid of their own sexual ambiguities and who were well lubricated with alcohol just turned their self-hatred on someone they conveniently found. I will repeat a lesson that I learned recently from a man I respect greatly: "Don’t be scared!" No matter what you do, stand up to the bullies. Just as a dog will smell fear, so will the bullies of this world. Be defiant.

If you know anything at all about this attack, go to the Police. Don't compromise your honor to hide a coward from the consequences of his actions. I know, it is easy for me to sit in my chair and type this, but would be different if I were on the cold street, alone, being chased down by six or seven guys who were screaming the word "faggot" at me. Well, would it be? I was on Franklin Street last Saturday night myself. This could easily have been me. Or any of my friends. Or my nephew. Or his girlfriend. When I think of that, I get angry and when I get angry, I find resolve. Bias crimes have to stop. Let the voices of reason be heard!

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