Mark Carson was shot in the face because he’s gay.
His alleged killer, 33-year-old Elliot Morales, is said to have confronted Carson, 32, and a companion, in New York’s Greenwich Village earlier this month, yelling antigay slurs. When Carson walked away, Morales reportedly followed and shot him.
In pondering this tragedy, it is worthwhile to consider where it happened, and when.
The “where” is just a few blocks from the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar where a 1969 police raid led to a violent uprising. It is regarded as the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement.
The “when” is now, in the post-Jason Collins era.
He is, you will recall, the 34-year-old NBA journeyman who made history a few weeks ago when he became the first active player in one of the big four professional sports to come out as gay. While most of us were applauding, a few of us elected to treat the event with a collective shrug, sought to minimize it by pretending it was unimportant.
“Who cares?” wrote conservative blogger Crystal Wright.
“I do not care about Mr. Collins’ sexuality,” wrote columnist Armstrong Williams.
Why does this matter?
Here’s the thing: As gay rights have become more approved and inevitable, it becomes less socially acceptable to oppose them as loudly and brazenly as some of us once did. As recently as 2001, for example, Williams was arguing that gay couples were unfit to adopt.
Such arguments largely lost, he and others like him turn now to this new pose of ostentatious indifference that says in effect, “Fine.”
It is an argument with the unfortunate advantage of seeming to make sense, even as it paints gay people as overly provocative and needlessly demonstrative. Don’t put your sexual orientation in my face, it says, and I won’t put mine in yours. Keep your sex life private. Don’t ask, don’t tell.
But the flaw in the argument is obvious: straight people announce their sexuality all day every day. It happens when they canoodle in the park, walk hand in hand through the mall, place loved ones’ pictures on the desk. These are small joys, and we don’t think of them as announcements of sexuality, but they are.
If you are gay, you don’t do such things. Or, you do them strategically, thoughtfully, picking and choosing where and when it is safe to canoodle, hold hands, set out the pictures ... be. Because you realize the reaction may not just be derision, but violence. Even death.
So the decision to seize these small joys demands courage. This is what is provided when a Jason Collins announces himself.
Sometimes, when you step out on the ice, it helps to know someone else has already tested it. If you are going to demand the right to be, if you are going to accept the risk that doing so entails, it’s good to know that at least you’re not alone.
Why does this matter? they ask.
Well, in 2013, in America’s biggest city, within steps of a gay rights landmark, it seems you can still be shot in the face for no other reason than you are gay.