Amid Rash of Suicides of Youths Who Suffered Anti-Gay Bullying, N.Y. Gang of 'Ultra-Macho' Thugs Go on Homophobic Rampage in Bronx Borough, Brutally Beating and Sodomizing Gay Teenager With Baseball Bat and Forcing His Partner to Burn Him With Cigarettes; While Officials Condemn Attacks, 'Boss' Paladino Condemns Gays
(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Tuesday, October 12, 2010)
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By SKEETER SANDERS
NEW YORK -- Monday, October 11, was not only Columbus Day in the United States and Thanksgiving Day in Canada.
It was also National Coming Out Day, an internationally observed civil awareness day for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people (LGBTs) to let their families, friends and colleagues know who they are -- commonly referred to as "coming out of the closet" -- and to talk about what it means to be LGBT in a heterosexual-dominated world.
The day is observed by members of the LGBT communities and their supporters on October 11 every year (Today, October 12, in the United Kingdom). But this year, National Coming Out Day has been overshadowed by the recent deaths of at least six teenagers who were driven to suicide after they were relentlessly bullied for being gay or for being perceived as gay.
The suicides include the highly publicized death of Tyler Clementi, 18, a first-year Rutgers University student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after learning that a sexual encounter he had with another male student in his dorm room was secretly broadcast live on the Internet.
Adding to the pall is news of an "ultra-macho" New York City street gang, driven by an extreme hatred of gays, going on a homophobic rampage in the Bronx borough on Friday, brutally beating and sodomizing a 17-year-old gay youth with a baseball bat and forcing his teen-aged partner to burn him with cigarettes.
The gang attacked and sodomized a second teenager with the handle of a toilet plunger, then beat up and robbed an adult male before they were apprehended by police. The fourth victim turned out to be the older brother of one of the youths who were attacked, police said.
GANG MEMBERS REPORTEDLY LAUGHED, BRAGGED ABOUT ATTACKS WHILE IN JAIL
The suspects showed no remorse while they were locked up over the weekend, the New York Daily News reported Monday. In fact, the suspects considered it amusing that they were being branded "degenerate monsters" by the New York media, according to a cellmate at the Bronx House of Detention.
"They thought it was funny -- one of them was laughing," the cellmate told the Daily News.
The witness, who was identified only by his first name, Danny, was in jail on an unrelated charge of marijuana possession. "He was saying 'I'll take five years.' They were all joking around like it was funny," he said. "They had no fear."
The rampage was swiftly condemned by city officials. "These suspects employed terrible, wolf-pack odds of nine against one, odds which revealed them as predators whose crimes were as cowardly as they were despicable," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told reporters. "This was not part of an initiation. This was a reaction to the fact that [the victims] had engaged in homosexual activity."
"These attacks are appalling and are even more despicable because the victims were clearly targeted in acts of hate simply because they are gay," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said. Mayor Michael Bloomberg branded the rampage "an act of pure evil."
The rampage occurred less than a week after police arrested two suspects for allegedly pummeling a gay man inside the landmark Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village -- the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement -- and a third suspect in connection with the beating of three other gay men in Manhattan's heavily gay Chelsea district.
WHILE OTHER POLITICIANS CONDEMN ATTACKS, 'BOSS' PALADINO CONDEMNS GAYS
But as the latest round of homophobic violence was roundly condemned by public officials, one New York politician chose instead to condemn gays.
Tea Party-backed Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino -- who made nationwide headlines September 30 with his Tony Soprano-like confrontation with a reporter in which he threatened, "I'll take you out, buddy!" -- went on the attack against gays, telling a Hasidic Jewish congregation in Brooklyn that children should not be "brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option. It isn't."
Paladino made clear his opposition to same-gender marriage, telling congregants at another Brooklyn synagogue, "I oppose the homosexual agenda, whether they call it marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships. Marriage is between a man and a woman!"
In a slam at Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, Paladino added, "Tell your people that I am the religious-values candidate and my opponent is the ultra-liberal, socialist social extremist that he is!"
RUTGERS STUDENT'S SUICIDE RESULT OF ANTI-GAY 'CYBER-BULLYING?'
The rash of violent anti-gay assaults in New York and elsewhere comes against the backdrop of a disturbing increase in suicides among teenagers who have been the targets of relentless bullying because they were gay or were perceived to be gay.
In the highly publicized New Jersey case of Tyler Clementi's suicide, two other Rutgers University students, identified as Dharun Ravi -- a roommate of Clementi -- and Molly Wei, were charged with two counts each of invasion of privacy after allegedly placing a Web camera in Clementi's room on September 19 and broadcasting Clementi's sexual encounter live on the Internet without his or his partner's knowledge, according to a written statement by Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan.
Under New Jersey law, it is a crime to collect or view images depicting nudity or sexual contact involving another individual without that person's knowledge or consent, and to transmit or distribute such images. If convicted, Ravi and Wei could face up to five years in prison. Authorities are still investigating whether Ravi and Wei can be held accountable for Clementi's death.
A Twitter page allegedly operated by Ravi -- now offline -- contains tweets in which Ravi claims credit for broadcasting Clementi's sexual encounter on the Internet. "Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into Molly's room and turned on my Webcam," Ravi allegedly wrote. "I saw him making out with a dude. Yay!"
OTHER TEEN SUICIDES CAUSED BY ANTI-GAY BULLYING
Clementi's death is the sixth known suicide of a teenager in recent months as a result of being "outed" or having endured relentless anti-gay harassment or intimidation. Among the other deaths:
# Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old Tehachapi, California boy who hanged himself from a tree in his back yard after years of being bullied. He died in a local hospital September 28 after nine days on life support. Police investigators interviewed some of the young people who taunted Seth the day he hanged himself. "Several of the kids that we talked to broke down into tears," Police Chief Jeff Kermode said. "They had never expected an outcome such as this."
# Asher Brown, a 13-year-old Houston eighth-grader who shot himself in the head September 23 after enduring what his mother and stepfather say was constant harassment from four other students at his middle school. Asher, his family said, was "bullied to death" -- accused of being gay, some of his tormentors performed mock gay sex acts on him in his physical education class.
# Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old Greensburg, Indiana high school student, who hanged himself September 9 in a barn at his grandmother's home. Friends say that he had been tormented for years. "He was threatened to get beat up every day," a close friend and classmate of Billy said. "Sometimes in classes, kids would act like they were going to punch him and stuff and push him. Some people at school called him names," the classmate said, saying most of those names were anti-gay epithets.
# Zac Harrington, a 19-year-old Norman, Oklahoma man who killed himself October 4 after attending a City Council meeting in which he endured anti-gay invectives from opponents of a resolution recognizing October as LGBT History Month. The resolution passed by a 7 to 1 vote -- but not before Harrington heard opponents voice claims that gays would try to "infiltrate" the school system and flatly reject the notion that gay and lesbian couples had a civil and constitutional right to marry, while others invoked religious approbations against homosexuality.
CELEBRITIES SPEAK OUT, LAUNCH ANTI-BULLYING CAMPAIGN
The rash in teen suicides has prompted a slew of celebrities -- including Ellen DeGeneres, Dr. Phil McGraw, Kathy Griffin, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and others -- to speak out and launch a campaign to stop the bullying and further youth suicides.
Cooper, appearing on DeGeneres' talk show "Elllen," lashed out at the use of anti-gay slurs and epithets -- taking direct aim at actor Vince Vaughn's upcoming movie, "The Dilemma," in which Vaughn's character proclaims, "Ladies and gentleman, electric cars are gay."
"I just find those words, those terms -- we've got to do something to make those words unacceptable, 'cause those words are hurting kids," Cooper said. "Someone else I talked to recently said that the words people use and the things people say about other kids online, it enters into their internal dialogue. . . I think we need to really focus on what language we're using and how we're treating these kids."
For her part, Griffin -- who for the last several years has appeared with Cooper on CNN's New Year's Eve special -- is donating all proceeds of her December 16 comedy show in Los Angeles to The Trevor Project, an organization focused on suicide prevention among LGBT youth.
For some celebrities, including DeGeneres, gossip blogger Perez Hilton, "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy and advice columnist Dan Savage, the campaign is deeply personal: They have first-hand experience with having been bullied during their own youth for being gay.
Having once been a closeted gay teen in an all-boys high school, Hilton told ABC News that he's "wholeheartedly committed" to the cause. "What's really powerful is to admit and acknowledge that we've all been bullies," he said. "I've been a bully, I can still be a bully on my Website. The point is to not be a bully to the point where someone is going to want to kill themselves -- threatening violence, calling them homophobic names repeatedly."
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Copyright 2010, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.