Author’s note: I published this essay in 2001 when I was invited to serve as Guest Editor of Experimental Forest, a regional literary journal. I called the edition Queer Health. Seems like the more things change the more they stay the same. Even worsen.
The killing field inches closer.
If you think this is a melodramatic overreaction by a big queen, kindly think again.
I fit no real gay “stereotype”. Most people of any sexual orientation fit no known human molds, but we’re nation of tinkerers. We like categories and lists. We deal best when everyone and everything is in its proper pigeonhole. Apparently, for many folks in rural Pennsylvania (that’s everything outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh or as James Carville remarked when first campaigning for now-deceased Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey: from Paoli to Penn Hills it’s like the State of Alabama without all the African Americans), queers don’t have a suitable pigeonhole – so they harm us.
The same violent scene plays out all over rural America.
In sleepy Snyder County, a man was perceived as “making a pass”. He was beaten into in a coma, where he remains. No mention of the “gay” aspect in our local daily.
In Schuylkill County, a chief of police found two teens, aged 18 and 19, in a remote area with some beer. That’s what kids in the northeast’s Anthracite Coal Region do – hit the strip mines and drink beer. He noticed a condom on the seat and warned the one lad, whom he knew, that he’d better tell his grandfather that he’s gay – or the police official would do so himself. (What a guy!) By morning, the kid was dead from a successful suicide. The Advocatefound space to run the story. Nothing locally.
In Emmaus, witnesses last year told police that a man shot and killed a teenage boy following jokes that the boy had a crush on a man. The local daily reported that 15-year-old Kevin, his sister Alicia, a mutual friend Michael, age 24, and three other teens were hanging out in a boardinghouse. Kevin accidentally spit on Michael. When Kevin tried to wipe the saliva off Gambler’s arm, Alicia joked, “Oh, what are you, gay, Kevin?” Although Michael laughed at the joke, he grabbed a .45-caliber handgun from underneath a pile of clothes and shot Kevin point-blank in the forehead. “Kevin wasn’t gay,” Chris, one of the teens in the room at the time, told the local newspaper.
In nearby Williamsport, a girl who eventually shot a friend was taunted with the label “lesbian”. Ah, come on. You know what a lesbian is – the biggest male fantasy of straight men is to have sex with two of them: lesbians are okay to play with, just don’t get caught in a civil rights march trying to establish that your biggest sexual fantasy needs civil rights too. Although the girl’s other troubles, no doubt, influenced her behavior over time – and violence is no solution to any difficulty – funny how this epithet pushed her over the edge. No real reporting on that aspect of the situation.
Violence is what prompted Harrisburg, PA’s Dan Miller to speak out at a public meeting some years ago. His employer, Don Demuth, Camp Hill, saw him speaking out on local television against violence towards gays in Harrisburg – and elsewhere – and fired him. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually agreed with his employer’s decision. His trails and tribulations became a cover story on The New Yorker magazine. Still, no civil rights for gay and lesbian, tax-paying Pennsylvanians. Taxation without representation. For the record, in the City of Harrisburg, as in many cities nationwide, it is illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Those aren’t “special rights”; they are simply the normal civilities afforded all other taxpayers.
Elizabethtown, PA’s school board embarrassed the region nationwide by banning positive portrayals of lesbians and gays. Their final policy is still homophobic, but now it recognizes single-parent families and provides for the disciplining of gay bashers. Being a single parent was too much for those professional Christers, so they wrote a policy about that “lifestyle”. Our being gay worked their nerves even more. Your tax dollars at work.
The PA Superior Court doesn’t like queers either. That body has ruled that gays and lesbians in the state have no standing to adopt their partners’ children. In a 6–3 decision, the court said the state’s adoption law does not include gays and lesbians under the definition of spouse.Since the state does not recognize same-sex marriages, the majority said, gay partners are not recognized as spouses under state law. Your tax dollars at work against you - again.
In a mean-spirited move, Governor Tom Ridge cajoled – he didn’t need much elbow grease – the PA General Assembly into legislatively overturning a “same-sex” benefits policy adopted by the City of Pittsburgh that had an impact on the University of Pittsburgh. The university argued in court that no PA city has the authority to enforce human rights laws broader than the state's, which does not include sexual orientation as a protected category. Taxation without representation. Our gay tax dollars at work against us.
Last year Migeul Washington, a 10-year-old PA boy was abducted by his grandfather. He accused the child’s caretakers of promoting a gay lifestyle, but was eventually returned to the couple when he was surrendered to authorities by relatives. His caretakers, uncle Paul, and his partner, Timothy, were cited in a formal letter by Miguel’s grandfather for having the boy “participate in ballet and gay art class” (whatever that is…) instead of baseball as his reason for removing the boy from their care.
Meanwhile, a jury didn't buy the story that a sexual overture made a young man with a violent history beat a gay invalid's head in with a hammer. A Bucks County, PA jury deadlocked on the question of life or death, so Robert Pezzeca was given a life sentence last March for the gruesome murder of a man he claimed had made a pass at him. Caught while driving his victim’s car, Pezzeca eventually confessed to police. The two met when Pezzeca answered the victim’s ad for a roommate to share expenses. The 21-year-old Pezzeca used a hammer to bash the victim, a 58-year-old disabled cancer patient, several times in the head - in two different rooms of the house - until he was dead. Pezzeca then used a hacksaw to dismember the body, leaving the torso in the bathtub while putting the legs and hands in trash cans.
Pezzeca's attorney argued that then victim’s alleged “pass” triggered "festering" feelings his client had from having been sexually molested at age 11 or 12. Although the prosecutor said that the victim was in fact gay, he successfully argued that Pezzeca's motives were robbery and anger at being evicted for having failed to pay his rent. The victim worked as a clothing store manager, retiring when his cancer worsened. He needed a roommate to make ends meet. The man groomed a spectacular garden, which a neighbor has tried to maintain in his memory.
In the nearby City of Brotherly Love, the national gay and lesbian advocacy group Human Rights Campaign last March awarded its highest honor, the Equality Award, to 16-year-old Michael Bisogno of Teaneck, New Jersey. After experiencing a homophobic attack outside his high school at age 14, Bisogno went on to become a highly visible national advocate against homophobia, who has appeared in national media and at last year's White House Conference on School Safety. Still, no federal or Pennsylvania civil rights. Taxation without representation.
One endeavor of the federal government, known as Healthy People 2010, due to the activism of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA), released in March the Healthy People 2010 Companion Document for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Health, a 500-page book about queer health needs and issues. What we cannot as taxpayers accomplish through “legislation”, we will have to accomplish through “regulation”. The document is posted on GLMA’s web site, www.glma.org.
As readers scour this issue of EF, I hope to have made the connection between “civil rights” and a feeling of health and well-being. In the long run, one cannot flourish without the other.