| Mark Carson, the 32-year-old gay man shot and killed
by a homophobe early Saturday morning in New York
He was standing on street corner when I came into view. Tipsy and moving in that weirdly delicate slow motion way that drunk people often do, he began yelling the moment I appeared.
It was about seven on Saturday evening and I had been doing laundry a block away in my New York City neighborhood.
“Black man! Hey black man!” he shouted.
I was wearing 501s and a black t-shirt, and he was staring at me, so I suppose this was the handiest insult he could think of in his diminished state.
About 25, powerfully built and around six feet tall, he looked like he worked with his hands for a living. I imagine he had just gotten paid too. He appeared to be having a little trouble standing upright.
I stopped to see if he was speaking to me. I looked across the street and he stared back.
There was the faintest hint of a smile on his face. That smile that said, here’s how I expect this little dance will go: I will insult you and you will take it. I am powerful and you are not. God, country and tradition stand behind me, and it’s very obvious that you have always been completely on your own. (It’s the first lesson you learn as a gay man -- bullies bring backup).
But here’s the thing. I grew up gay in Co. Donegal in the eighties. That took some doing.
One of the unintended benefits of the experience is that there is not a man or woman alive who I am afraid of now. I probably should be, but I’m really not.
So I crossed the street and stood in front of him. He looked amazed by this development. In fact he must have thought I was barking mad because he immediately started walking away, so I walked beside him.
“Where are you from?” I demanded, my anger bringing out my Donegal accent.
This was my neighborhood. I could see he was a new face. The people in my neighborhood do not behave like this.
“Brooklyn,” he answered. “You Irish?”
I said I was Irish. The smile was gone now.
“Why are shouting at people?” I asked him. “Why were you shouting at me?”
It was good question, but he didn’t appear able to answer it. Instead he just raised his eyebrows.
“Oh hey Irish, put it there bro,” he said and offered me a fist bump.
I did not fist bump him. Suddenly he looked confused and contemptuous and a bit lost. I could tell he wasn’t Irish.
“So you’re in the USA now man,” he said. “Yeah! Go USA!”
Go where, I wondered. I must have looked at him like a bug under a microscope then, because his expression hardened.
I wondered how much longer it would take before he unleashed the f---ot bomb. I wondered who this big moving mass of muscle and misanthropy standing in front of me was? What the hell was his problem?
Not half a block from where we were standing, on the very same street, a man who had lived there happily with his partner of 32 years was attacked after dark by two young men last October.
The news reports said that one of his assailants hit him so hard on the head with a blunt object that people who heard the sound thought they’d heard a gun shot. I often shiver and see his ghost when I step out for a pint of milk.
“He will not survive, and this will be a homicide,” our local councilman said at the press conference for the man the next day, fighting back tears.
“To see him in his hospital bedroom is to see a level of violence and depravity that you could not imagine exists. And whoever did this has got to be taken off the streets.”
Eight months later, no one has been charged with the crime. The men who killed him are still on our streets.
I hear a lot of talk about how equal rights are inevitable now for gay people. State after state and nation after nation are enacting new marriage laws.
A new day of tolerance and acceptance is dawning, they say. The Supreme Court is about to offer its opinion on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The world is changing.
Tell that to the Gang of Eight Senators who threw gays under the bus yesterday, refusing to acknowledge their families for immigration purposes.
That kind of veiled contempt sends a message the public hears. Just this month in New York City, in the heart of the gay village, two gay couples were hospitalized with broken bones in separate attacks by marauding gangs (it’s always gangs who attack -- it’s never a one on one battle). Attacks on gays rose by 70 percent in 2013. This is progress?
Then last weekend a 32-year-old man named Mark Carson was shot dead at point blank range on East 4th Street by an unhinged shooter who repeatedly yelled homophobic slurs at him. They were two blocks from the famous Stonewall Inn.
I don’t know what happens inside a man to turn him into a budding psychopath looking for a moving target on a city street. I don’t know what deep private unease they are attempting to express in such a public manner. I don’t actually care now either.
I’ve been going to gay bars for 20 years and I have never seen a fight erupt, ever. So it turns out that gay people were never the problem.
The problem is the few dangerous men who stand on our street corners, waiting. No mater how the Supreme Court rules next month they’ll still be on our streets.
Be careful out there.