Yesterday, citizens took to the streets of East Baltimore to begin the New Year standing up against an issue that remains an unspoken taboo amongst the African American communities that turn a blind eye to gay bashing – and the ensuing violence that leaves members of the LGBT community battered, bruised and silent based on fear of retribution.
Led by a gay Baptist preacher, along with LGBT leaders such as Michael Brewer and Carrie Evans, a recent victim of this intolerable violence gave a voice to those too timid to take a stand, and stood strong against the forces attempting to tear him down. Levon 'Kenny' Shaw, the 30-year old gay man who was attacked on Christmas Eve while walking home from a local convenience store; stood on the steps of the location that landed him in shock trauma only weeks prior, and voiced his opposition to such cowardly actions.
“I refuse to allow these individuals to run me out of the neighborhood I love, or make me hide exactly who I am,” said Shaw, still visibly shaken by the incident. “It's about time we took a unified stance against this level of hatred and violence bred from the ignorance of some!”
Shaw, a 6'2” lanky and humble young man who works as a local beautician, set off fireworks on social media when we posted a contrast picture of him before the incident and one after the attack that left him almost unrecognizable. Posting it on Instagram, Shaw saw local gay activists like Kinji Scott – who led yesterday's rally – and WEAA Host Anthony McCarthy repost the photo on Twitter and Facebook, while encouraging their vast network of people to stand up against such violence.
“I felt that we could no longer allow such violence to come from these young punks without taking a stand for this young brother, and opening up a much needed and long overdue dialogue about homosexuality in the black community,” says Scott, who recently 'came out' himself and has been a vocal leader on gays and HIV/AIDS awareness. “We have too many people dictating the terms of our existence, and I refuse to live in the shadows of our society based on fear.”
Shaw was reportedly attacked by five unidentified young men upon leaving a local convenience store on Christmas Eve. He had been the subject of verbal abuse by some of these same young men weeks prior based on his sexuality, and felt that was the reason he was attacked that night.
“I tend to stay to myself in my neighborhood, but I'm comfortable in who I am and while I don't flaunt my sexuality, I certainly don't hide it either,” Shaw told this Examiner in a one-on-one phone interview. And he shouldn't have to! “My son was attacked for being gay, for being brave enough to accept who he is as a man; and that has no place in our society and should be called out for what it is,” says Shaw's mother, Sheila Shaw.
Also joining the huge crowd of concerned Baltimore residents and community leaders was local NAACP President Tessa Hill-Aston, who helped Scott lead the march that started at Gay and Chester street and proceeded to the Milton Avenue convenience store where the attack occurred.
“Only chumps do this kind of cowardly thing, and we cannot tolerate such bullying in our communities,” said the newly re-elected Branch President. Standing side-by-side with newly appointed police commissioner Anthony Batts, Hill-Aston promised to continue working with authorities and the Shaw family to ensure an aggressive investigation and outcome.
In fact, lead detective in the case Officer More said that the investigation has been fruitful, and according to Sgt. Eric Kowalczyk 'the active investigation has produced good leads thanks in part to a cooperative community.' Commissioner Batts promised to form a LGBT advisory board to meet with him on a monthly basis, saying the department is on the side of all people.
“If there is more that I can do, more that we as a department can do, to assist in ensuring your safety, than I am here to serve you!” And it certainly looked that way yesterday, as there was more BCPD brass at yesterday's rally than the scrap yard down the street.
However, despite the hard-line stance against this level of violence in this East Baltimore neighborhood, a community by-stander witnessing the events wasn't moved by the tough talk. “As soon as they leave, someone else will get shot, stabbed or beat up,” says Ms. Brown, a 14-year resident of the Oliver community. “You can't even come out of your house around here without fear of becoming another victim of the violence that permeates this neighborhood.”
Yet Scott, a St. Louis native who has been an outspoken community activist since his arrival in Baltimore, says that this is just the beginning – not the end. “Today we begin to take our streets back, and while these drug dealers come out here on a daily basis to push dope, we'll be out here on a daily basis pushing hope! You think they making 'the block hot', wait til we get a hold of it, we gonna make it so hot that they won't have a choice but to change their ways!”
Councilman Carl Stokes, who represents the area where Shaw was attacked, said that our history shows that we've had to continue to have courage to be black, to be women and to now to be gay in America; and we have always prevailed! Joined by his West Baltimore colleague Councilman Nick Mosby, the two ensured the passage of a council resolution sponsored by Stokes, that would deal directly with the 'hate crimes' directed at the gay men and women of Baltimore.
Also joining Stokes and Mosby – the only Baltimore elected officials to show up for this effort – was Kevin Cleary, the Deputy Director of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods and the LGBT community liaison.
“We have to begin to recognize this level of hate, which unfortunately happens to often around our city and needs to stop, and address it for exactly what it is,” says Cleary, as he dragged himself out of bed with a terrible cold to help combat this horrific incident and continued violence.
Bilal Ali, a representative of the Islamic community in Baltimore, also lent his support and said that it is our community, in its entirety, that must begin responsibly addressing this level of violence. “I don't care what you call yourself, or what your religious or political views are; this type of hateful and spiteful violence cannot be tolerated by our city in its entirety.”
The National Black Justice Coalition representative said the DC group has brought Shaw's case to the attention of the U.S. Justice Department, and the Executive Director of Equality Maryland said that this incident shows that the LGBT community's woes don't end with the passage of Gay Marriage. “We have plenty of work to do on the ground level, and we are committed to eliminating this level of hateful violence in every dark corner and alley of this city, state and country,” said Ms. Evans.
“You are not a victim brother Kenny, you were victimized; yet, you stand here in triumph today conquering your attackers and bringing a voice to the voiceless of this city!” Michael Brewer, NBJC
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