LGBT community reacts to violence in Virginia

LGBT community reacts to violence in Virginia

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LGBT individuals and groups held and attended vigils and rallied last weekend after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., ended in violent riots, three deaths and dozens injured.

Early Saturday, hundreds of demonstrators —including alt-right members and white supremacists — protested the city’s plan to remove a statue memorializing Civil War confederate Robert E. Lee. That afternoon, a car drove into a group of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather D. Heyer. Police are holding 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. on a second-degree murder charge for her death. Virginia State Police Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M. M. Bates also died in a helicopter crash outside of the city limits as they tried to arrive on scene. 

A number of vigils sprang up the next day, including one in Thomas Paine Plaza, which Malcolm Kenyatta, the co-chair of the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, attended.

Kenyatta told PGN he feared more deaths would occur under President Donald Trump’s leadership. 

“We really need to recognize the severity of what happened,” Kenyatta said. “Somebody died. Somebody was murdered and the president of the United States is complicit in that death. This is the natural progression of hate and that is important for us to remember. Whether it’s a microaggression, whether it’s a policy that isn’t inclusive, whether it’s an organizational leadership structure that doesn’t actually represent the population — those are small little blocks that build up into this culture of hate and the president has condoned it with his words and actions, but also with his inaction.” 

City Director of LGBT Affairs Amber Hikes was also in attendance at the vigil at Thomas Paine Plaza. In an email to PGN, Hikes said the scenes she viewed of Charlotte were similar to those she saw while growing up in Georgia. Hikes said she was in high school as the Georgia State Assembly debated the possible removal of the Confederate flag from the Georgia state flag and the response was “essentially, the eruption of a race riot.”

Hikes noted the role allies can play moving forward.

“This is a moment for allies to truly take accountability and demonstrate not just solidarity, but resistance to this kind of violence and hatred,” she said. “It is truly impossible for people of color and Jewish people to change this. These conversations have to be had by those with the privilege to meet our attackers where they are. It is a moment for proactive solidarity and true advocacy by allies on behalf of those living in fear of this prevailing vitriol. We need our allies now more than ever.”

In order for white people to defend people of color, “you have to know us,” said Adanjesus Marin, who is gay and Latino. Marin, who participated in the vigil at Thomas Paine Plaza and at a rally in Allentown, serves as director of Make the Road Pennsylvania, an advocacy organization for low-income and working-class Latinx immigrants in Berks and Lehigh counties. 

“I think that right now, when we’re facing a fascist danger, there is no space for neutrality,” Marin said. “To be neutral when there are those who are parading around calling for our mass deaths, calling for genocide, calling for mass oppression, to be neutral is really to give them free ground.” 

The Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center of Lehigh Valley was among the organizations that hosted Sunday’s rally in Allentown. 

Adrian Shanker, the organization’s founder and executive director, noted the rise in violence against historically marginalized communities since the presidential election. Trump’s policies, such as the Muslim ban and announced intent to ban transgender people from serving in the military, have contributed to a dangerous rhetoric, he added.

“These violent policies that are racist, homophobic and transphobic have certainly contributed to a narrative in this country,” Shanker said. “America has always had issues with white supremacy. The real issue is that the election helped to embolden people.” 

POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild) also hosted a march and rally for Charlottesville Wednesday evening and consulting agency Three to Midnight Think Tank aims to line every block of Broad Street at Philadelphia Stands Against Racism noon-1 p.m. Aug. 19.

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