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Hate Crimes in
Black and White

Hate Crimes in
Black and White

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It could have been you; it could have been me.

The death of 29-year-old New Yorker Michael Sandy, resulting from a beating by a group of white men who had intentionally lured him to a parking lot, was cold, calculated, and brutal. Chat messages between Sandy and the men were reportedly found on his home computer, and a printout from his computer showing directions to Plumb Beach, a popular cruising area in Brooklyn, was found in his car.

Sandy was robbed and beaten by three men. He managed to break free but was chased onto the Belt Parkway, where he was struck by a car and severely injured. He never regained consciousness and died on Friday, October 13, 2006--a day after turning 29--when his family removed him from the respirator that had kept him alive for five days after the attack.

It's been just over a year since the death of Michael Sandy, an interior designer for Ikea. The trial of the three men accused in his killing is coming to an end with a startling admission from one that he too is gay. But in the beginning, relatively little was said by gay groups and even less was said by black civil rights groups about Sandy's death. One national gay group said that Sandy's death was a local issue, so they were yielding its management to local organizations.

But tell me this: When Matthew Shepard was murdered, was his death viewed as a local issue? If my memory serves me correctly, the world stopped because white gays across the country made Shepard's death a nationwide issue for the media, politicians, and community groups.

Why didn't Sandy's death merit the same response?

In the spirit of all things being equal, if Michael Sandy had been heterosexual, would that have brought out black America's reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? If Sandy had been straight, would that have made it OK for the NAACP to get involved and for other black civil rights groups to take notice and speak out on hate crimes?

But this is The Advocate, not Ebony magazine, so chances are that the readers of this column are white and gay, not black and straight. So I'll continue with my first point. It's no secret that gay America suffers from denial when it comes to issues of race. Whether we admit it or not, gay groups react differently to hate crimes involving white victims versus those involving nonwhite victims. It's not an easy fact to swallow, but one look at the silence surrounding the death of Michael Sandy and the disparity is clear to see.

Unfortunately, chances are that we will continue to see hate crimes committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. But if all hate crimes are considered equally horrible, then our response has got to be the same across the board whether the victim is white, black, or brown.

And to my brothers and sisters reading this, it is our responsibility as same-gender-loving people to call attention to tragedies like the case of Michael Sandy. It was no mistake that the deaths of Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena went on to make international news--there was a community of folks to make sure of it. We owe it to the Michael Sandys of the world to hold not only straight blacks and gay whites accountable but ourselves as well. Michael Sandy could have been any one of us, and he was all of us.

I don't expect gay groups that know little to nothing about African-Americans to somehow take up issues relevant to their black LGBT constituents on their own. It would be nice, but it's not expected. However, I do expect black gays to educate those gay groups on issues relevant to the entire gay community--and hold them accountable.

Michael Sandy's death is just one example of a tragedy the gay majority slept through. He deserved better from all of us. No one hate crime is more important than another. While Matthew Shepard's death was unquestionably terrible, so was Sandy's.

Remember, it could have been you; it could have been me.

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