On October 3-4, 2010, 10 members of the Latin King Goonies found one of their recruits, a 17 year-
old wannabe, leaving the home of “La Reina [the queen].” They decided to torture him to find out if he was a “fag.” After finding out that their potential recruit had in fact had sexual relations with “La Reina,” who is 30 years old and known to be gay in this Bronx’s neighborhood, the gang decided to attack the “La Reina” and another 17 year old that had sex with “La Reina.” According to several news sources, some community members knew what went down at 1910 Osborne Place the next day, but no one (not even the victims) went to police. What caused this silence on both the victims’ and the community’s part and what’s up with the investigative reporting by the media?
According to the New York Post article, the community knew about the torture and was reluctant to come forward. Jaymaire Mendez explains the reason for the lag time “We don’t talk to cops. We don’t like them.” The victims’ (and the community’s) distrust is informed by things witnessed, experienced or shared regarding the police actions in the Bronx(and the city at large). In the Bronx, we need only think of Amadou Diallo and how he was gunned down by plain clothed police officers, who were later acquitted of their crime. In terms of a hate crime committed by those who protect and serve we need only think of Abner Louima, a Haitian man, who was violently beaten, and sodomized by police officers in a police precinct. Even when dealing with people of color, not as wrongfully murdered or beaten would-be perpetrators of crime, but as victims in need of assistance, there is still a cause for concern, because their plights are often rendered invisible by inadequate media coverage.
There is a general lack of equal media attention, investigative reporting and concern about the lived experiences of people of color, particularly black and Latino youth.
As a result, it comes as no surprise when we see this same trend play out for Black and Latino LGBTQ youth and adults. This lack of concern is made manifest in how much media attention black and Latino LGBTQ hate crimes receive; a pervasive indifference for the context in which some Black and Latino LGBTQ youth live (e.g., like the victims in the Bronx and Steven Parrish); and the blatant efforts made by some to downplay, erase or disregard the difficulties that some black and Latino LGBTQ face within their racial and ethnic communities as well as the racial biases experienced outside of them (e.g., with the police and the larger LGBTQ community).
It has been proven that there is bias in coverage particularly in terms of which victims become remembered (i.e., their stories get more media hits and are written up in more papers) as the trigger for societal response. Within a seven months period after their attack, Professor Kim Pearson found 659 stories in major newspapers regarding the murder of Matthew Shepard, compared to only 21 articles about Sakia Gunn’s murder.
Continually we see this play out at the expense of black and brown youths’ lives and how it has the potential to skew attention (and resources) towards those who are the least vulnerable within a marginal community, particularly the LGBTQ community. Here is a short list of Black and Latino LGBTQ people who have been victims of hate crimes: Julio Rivera (29 years old, murdered, July 1990); Bella Evangelista( 25 years old, murdered, August 2003); Emonie Spaulding (26 years old, murdered, August 2003); Dwan Prince (27 year olds, beaten, June 2005); Tiffany Berry (21 years old, murdered, Feb 2006); Duanna Johnson (43 years old, beaten, Feb 2008); Ebony Whitaker( 20 years old, murdered, July 2008) . Yet for these transgender persons, women and men of color their stories remain often buried in reports and numbers used to prove political points that gain privileged gay folks more political capital to push an agenda, and where their stories are not buried is in the minds of millions of Americans.
More dangerous (at least to me) is the haphazard way in which stories involving black and Latino LGBTQ are used as footnotes or padding to prop-up a gay agenda that doesn’t often directly benefit them. At the same time, their stories are isolated in a way that downplays the tragedies occurring in their respective racial and ethnic communities. Instead of speaking on similarly situated youths like Steven Parrish, 18, who was murdered by his fellow gang members for being gay, both the print and television media have repeatedly attenuated the context of the 1910 Osborne Place torture, isolated the story from relevant similar stories, and then linked the torture story to that of a white youth taking his own life as a way to talk about the impact of bullying and suicide.
In this New York Times’ article and NPR audio clip, the author of the article and the speakers in the clip erase the significance of race and ethnicity. In an attempt to align this torture with Tyler’s suicide, bullying in school, and other issues, the media misses the lived-experience of some LGBTQ youth of color. The story is that the police weren’t trusted by this working class Latino community (nor by the victims) in the Bronx; the story is one of gang culture and the premium place on heterosexuality; the story is how a recruit of a Latino gang was experimenting with homosexuality. I’ve read only one article start to address the consequences that these teens face trying to navigate their lives through both the lens of race and sexuality. Granted that may be a lot for a journalist to do in an article, but at the very least, take the time to look at similarly situated stories.
By doing a thorough job of investigative reporting on stories like 1910 Osborne Place torture, the different media outlets could provide a better look at the dynamics and magnitude of the peril that some black and Latino LGBTQ people face within their racial communities as well as the racial bias experienced outside of it (e.g., with the police and the larger LGBTQ community). Still the media, however imperfect, must bring visibility and awareness to the harsh realities that some Black and Latino LGBTQ people endure in trying to find their place within ethnic, racial, and LGBTQ communities. Their stories cannot just undergird the push of the LGBTQ communities’ agenda to move forward, but it must serve also as a call to action for these people’s racial and ethnic communities. The stories of the transgender persons, bisexual people, lesbian women and gay men of color have to occupy a visible place in both communities.