Christmas Eve beating highlights cultural concerns for the LGBT community in the New Year
Levon 'Kenny' Shaw is your typical 30-year old black man; a God fearing, hip-hop loving, inner-city searcher of truth and self-worth within a society that has alienated them from their history; yet, still has a considerable amount of pride in the man that he has become. The Harlem, N.Y. native, who like many Charm City transients have proudly ended up calling Baltimore City their home; is an 80's child to a loving mother Sheila and the big brother to two beautiful sisters – thus becoming the quintessential protector of an all-female household.
Yet on Christmas Eve 2012, weeks after the historic passage of Maryland's same sex marriage law and days prior to its implementation, the 6”2' proudly gay man was attacked by those of his own race based on what could only be perceived as intolerable hate amongst the African American community towards 'his kind'. “It certainly wasn't how I expected to celebrate Christmas,” said Shaw, who had just turned thirty two weeks prior.
Shaw, who had been living in his Oliver neighborhood for about 7-months – and has been an East Baltimore resident for the entire 17-years he's been in Baltimore – took a stroll to the local liquor store that evening, to stock up on some last minute 'Christmas treats'. Upon leaving the local establishment, frequented by many in the neighborhood, Shaw was 'sucker punched' from behind and beaten to a pulp by five young black youth who had previously been heard using gay slurs and epithets towards Shaw. The unsuspecting young man endured a 10-minute beating, at the hands of those obviously trying to 'prove their manhood', that would have made Mike Tyson cringe with pain.
Posting his badly bruised and swollen face on the social media site Instagram hours after the attack, Shaw witnessed an increased level of internet activism of repostings and criticisms of the attack on other social sites like Facebook and Twitter. And while none of the suspects have been arrested as of yet, the newly appointed Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and his department have taken immediate steps to protect Shaw and apprehend the subjects.
“Please know he [Commissioner Batts] is very aware of this incident, and also very concerned about this savage beating...and although we cannot share details of the investigation, we can tell you that at this time our detectives have since met with Mr. Shaw and our job now is to actively pursue some very strong leads and bring the perpetrators of this beating to justice,” says Judy Pal, the Chief of Staff for Commissioner Batts, in response to Scott's multiple emails regarding this case.
Please know that the Police Commissioner and the Baltimore Police Department take each of these crimes very seriously and we assure you, that no victim will ever be “swept under the rug” under Commissioner Batts' command. He has plans to restore many of the Baltimore Police Department liaison programs including a specific liaison officer for our gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender (GBLT) community.
In addition, we are working to ensure every lead, including cameras and victim assistance, are following through on this and every malicious crime against the good citizens of Baltimore.
And through it all, Shaw remains vigilant in his quest for justice; and not only in his case, but also in the numerous cases of hate crimes like his that go unreported, or overlooked, by insensitive police and society, on an almost daily basis. “This type of thing happens so frequently that I have to be a voice for others who may be too timid or scared to come forward,” says a very emboldened young man, who says this certainly was not the first time he has endured beatings because he was gay.
“I use to get robbed all the time, since I was 16-years old, and so have others who have continuously just looked past the continued level of violence towards us as a part of an unspoken consequence for being gay I guess? But it shouldn't be that way, as we are all children of God despite our sexual preference.”
And apparently his confidant in all this, Kinji Scott, agrees wholeheartedly; as he has helped Shaw pursue a level of justice in this case that most don't believe Shaw would have witnessed from a historically unfriendly police department, governmental system and society that seem to silently frown upon their lifestyle.
“What people have to realize is that this thing goes on all the time in neighborhoods like Oliver, Penn North, Park Heights and other inner-city, forgotten neighborhoods of blacks who have a learned way of thinking that is inherently negative towards gays – especially black gays,” says Scott, a gay rights advocate who himself struggled with his sexuality until he 'came out' about two years ago, later finding out he was HIV positive.
“We have to begin to seriously have open dialogues, in the black communities especially, about homosexuality, HIV and AIDS and the level of violence being perpetrated against those who have chosen a certain lifetime that may be contrary to that of the masses, but are still your brothers and sisters in the struggle,” Scott continues, as he believes the stigma of 'being a fag' continues to keep the conversation suppressed - especially in male dominated locations like barbershops, sports lounges and even in the churches.
“They will briefly touch on it when discussing gay marriage, but getting married wasn't even most gay's priority. As you can see, even after the marriage ceremony, we have deep societal issues we need to address; and it needs to start with Kenny and continue throughout the halls of justice.”
And that is why Kinji and Kenny have planned a rally against the atrocities being perpetrated against gays that are going unpunished and overlooked on Saturday, January 5th at 12P, in the same community that Kenny was attacked.
“We have to show these young punks that we're not scared, but also let them know that it's okay to be scared of what they don't know, about us and our lifestyle, without resorting to such violent actions only to prove their 'manhood' to their homies,” says Scott, who believes that the issues faced by him, Shaw and other blacks in the inner-city are vastly different from those faced by other black gays in more affluent neighborhoods like Mt. Vernon.
“It's a completely different scenario, like apples and oranges, and many of these officials and activists don't understand what a 'down the hill' or 'around the way' brother or sister has to endure in urban environments that have yet to accept our lifestyle no matter how many bills you pass or marriage ceremonies you perform.”
Marching from the corner of Gay and Chester Streets down to the site of the attack on Hoffman and Milton St., the LGBT community, along with confirmed guests such as the Mayor's Office, Police Commissioner Batts and other community and elected leaders; will show that their fight doesn't start, nor stop, with the passage of Gay Marriage.
“The sad part is that it's the African American community, mostly between 18-25 years old, and your own family that many gays suffer the most abuse and violence from,” says Shaw. “I was raised around male cousins who said to me early on that 'we know your going to be gay, but just don't be no fag'. That is the reality most of us have to live with on a daily basis, and I want to let them know that they are not alone, and that it's not right! It's about time we take a unified stance against this hatred and violence bred from the ignorance of some!”
*If you would like to join/assist in the planning & implementation of Saturday's Rally, or have questions in relation to it, please call Kinji Scott at 410 967 6262. "We especially would like to hear from more individuals who have also been victims of these hate crimes and the families of those who lost loved ones from brutal hate crimes!"
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