Earlier this month, gay rights advocates and a few dozen Bronx residents and community leaders met in Morris Heights to discuss ways to combat hate and promote tolerance in the borough.
The town hall-style meeting was held on Dec. 9 at Davidson Community Center, a short walk from the vacant house on Osborne Place where several young men were were viciously beaten in early October. Police say they were assaulted because they were gay or perceived to be gay.
While condemning the attacks, the Bronx Community Pride Center, one of the non-profits behind the event, hopes some good can come of them; that the attacks can kick-start a borough-wide conversation and ultimately prevent future hate crimes.
At the meeting, Ephraim Cruz, co-founder of the political group Bronx for Change, said it was time to call out the politicians and religious leaders who spout hate speech about homosexuals.
"The hate speech is a precursor to the violence," Cruz said. "If young people see our politicians speaking ill about gays and no one checks this, it sends a message."
I don't think Cruz mentioned him by name, but he was clearly referring to Rev. Ruben Diaz, Sr., the outspoken state senator and gay marriage opponent who once compared homosexuality to bestiality. Cruz, it should be said, has a vested interest in seeing Diaz hurt politically; another of Bronx for Change's founders, Charlie Ramos, challenged Diaz in September's Democratic primary. Cruz has previously criticized the reverend's son, Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., for not standing up to his father on this issue.
Others at the meeting, while supporting the need to challenge bigotry, advocated a more conciliatory approach, saying it was important to engage those with opposing views, not shut them out.
|Dirk McCall (file photo by Alex Kratz)|
Added an audience member: “Personally, I hate it when people say ‘Let’s agree to disagree,” because that’s when the conversation is over."
McCall said the gay community should speak out when members of other often-victimized communities - Muslims or Mexicans, for example - come under attack. That way, you make friends and build coalitions. "Attacks against any of us are attacks against all of us, and we have to be very vocal [about them]," McCall said. (Last year, several immigrants were attacked in South Fordham by a group of men shouting anti-Mexican slurs. In the last few months, a number of Bangladeshi immigrants have been assaulted in Parkchester.)
Another panelist, Kyle Harmon of the Council for Unity, an organization which works with schools, said it was vital to reach out to youth and teach them about gay rights and the issues affecting the LGBTQ community. "Otherwise, we're going to be fighting the same adults we're fighting now," he said.
Kenny Agosto, a Bronx district leader and the only "out" politician in the borough, said local residents should speak up about issues affecting this community at precinct council and community board meetings. Others suggested people volunteer with a group such as the Bronx Community Pride Center.
The Dec. 9 meeting was co-sponsored by the Adolescent AIDS Project at Montefiore Medical Center, Boogie Down Pride, Brainpower, Community Board 5, Gay & Lesbian Dominican Empowerment, the Jewish Community Relations Council, NYC Anti Violence Project (AVP), and the NYC LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
Many of these groups are members of the Bronx United Against Hate Crimes action coalition, which was formed immediately after the October attacks.
Beginning in the new year, McCall said they plan to hold similar town hall meetings in other parts of the Bronx.