Kelly Sans Culotte

Gay Mundo

Erasing Sakia
Who's to blame?
By Kelly Cogswell and Ana Simo

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JUNE 6, 2003. There are some fundamental errors in the way most journalists reported the brutal May 11 murder of Sakia Gunn, who would have turned sixteen just a few days ago. According to most accounts, Gunn and a group of her friends were propositioned by a couple of men in Newark, New Jersey. When the girls turned them down, explaining they were gay, the men attacked them. Gunn fought back, and one of the men, Richard McCullough, stabbed her.

The implication is that if the girls had politely said, "No thank you, not tonight, sweethearts," and then skeedaddled, the disappointed men would have left them alone.

In fact, it's far more likely that the men only propositioned Gunn and her friends because they knew the girls were dykes, and a sexual advance would provoke some kind of exchange. Judging by photos and TV footage, the girls couldn't pass as straight even if they'd wanted to. And, as McCullough's mother said, trying to prove he is no homophobe, the man is well acquainted with lesbians, since the grandmother who helped raise him actually was a lesbian.

The point is that the cause and effect nature of the reporting implies Gunn was killed in part for some inflammatory thing she said or did, when in fact she was a target before she opened her mouth. McCullough went through the charade looking for an excuse to inflict harm.

Another failure of the coverage, at least in the gay press, is the tendency to blame only white racism for the general invisibility of Sakia Gunn's murder. After all, the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a young, white, gay man in Wyoming, led to massive protests and vigils nationwide, spurred on federal hate crimes legislation (that has since stalled), and energized LGBT student movements like the Gay Straight Alliance. Sakia Gunn, on the other hand, was black, and so are her girlfriends and her alleged killer and his pal.

Newark activists could only get 100 people to Tuesday's march protesting the lack of response to Gunn's murder, and only The Star-Ledger carried a small story the next day reporting on it.

The problem here is that while white racism contributes significantly to Gunn's erasure from the media, and to the modest turnout at the protest, it doesn't do much to explain the apathy of Newark's black mayor, Sharpe James, and his powerful black Democratic machine. Only homophobia explains why James' post-funeral pledge to meet with Gunn's family and local gay activists about setting up a gay and lesbian counseling center for teens is always sometime in the future.

Only homophobia explains why new antigay behavior at Gunn's school, the West Side High School, has passed without comment or indignation from Mayor James. Why isn't he furious that students have been prohibited from organizing a memorial for Gunn? Why does he permit students to face suspension for wearing rainbow colors that identify them as gay, as if queers were a gang inciting violence instead of the victims of it? Why does he allow the principal of Westside High School, Ferdinand Williams, to make homophobic slurs against Gunn?

And where are the professionally outraged activists like Al Sharpton who always appear en masse to hold politicos accountable when young black people are cut down by hate and no one is doing anything? After all, he didn't let white censorship and racism stand in the way of protesting the murder of Amadou Diallo in New York, or Timothy Thomas hundreds of miles away in Cincinnati.

The reason why Sakia Gunn was killed, and why her murder has faded from the headlines, is that both whites and blacks wish young black queers would disappear. Until things change, they will, thanks to violence, and AIDS, and hate.

From the Web

Gay City News: Newark Schools Drop the Ball
Star-Ledger: Gay rights advocates want James to honor pledge

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