In what appears to be another anti-gay hate crime, an elderly man was stabbed to death in broad daylight Monday under an elevated train station in Jackson Heights, Queens — the latest in an outbreak of anti-LGBT hate crimes the city has seen in recent months, including the beating death of a transgender woman, Islan Nettles, Aug. 23 and a gay man, Mark Carson, who was fatally shot May 18 just blocks away from the historic Stonewall Inn.
Authorities say the 22-year-old alleged assailant in the attack could face potential hate crimes charges, pending their investigation. Meanwhile, advocates at the New York City Anti-Violence Project say the murder adds to what they call a “disturbing trend” of anti-LGBT attacks in New York City.
The violence, particularly the recent murders, has left anti-violence advocates such as Sharon Stapel, executive director of AVP, questioning what could be the cause as LGBTs celebrate landmark victories in marriage equality and federal advances in recent years like the removal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning out service members.
“We rarely see more than one anti-LGBT homicide in New York City each year,” Stapel said. “And this year we have seen three now with this most recent incident. That is what we are really trying to figure out — what is this all about?”
On Monday, Ever Orozco, 69, was stabbed in the chest and throat as he paid for parking under the 90th Street-Elmhurst Avenue 7 train station and died at a nearby hospital. The suspect in the stabbing, Steven Torres, 22, was apprehended by police six blocks away and has been charged with second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon, according to police.
Torres reportedly told investigators Orozco was making sexual advances prior to the attack. However, DNAinfo New York later reported that Orozco had just dropped off his wife of 16 years, a former MTA worker, at a nearby doctor’s office when the incident occurred. In many initial reports, it was speculated that Orozco was an out gay man, but according to Stapel, he was likely perceived to be LGBT by his attacker.
A hate crimes charge has not been added by the Queens District Attorney, Richard A. Brown, according to his spokeswoman, Meris Campbell.
“There isn’t enough evidence to explain a hate crimes charge,” Campbell told BuzzFeed. “If the evidence proves itself, then the charges could later be upgraded, but at this time, there are no hate crime charges.”
Torres has also been charged with the stabbing of a second man in an attack Sept. 12 at 9 Stanton Street near Bowery. Torres believed the victim to, a 47-year-old man, had also made sexual advances on him and allegedly stabbed the victim in the arm, authorities said. The man survived the injuries.
Orozco’s murder also comes just weeks before the 15th anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard, which sparked national and international attention around hate crimes, and in particular, hate crimes legislation led by Shepard’s mother, Judy. After years of stalling under President George W. Bush’s conservative administration, the Matthew Shepard Act — an expansion of the federal definition of a hate crime to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or disability — was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama on Oct. 28, 2009.
As LGBT rights continue to progress at a rapid rate 15 years later, the LGBT experience is increasingly different, but anti-LGBT bias and hate still exists. When asked how such murders could happen in a city and state where LGBT people are celebrated, elected to political office and where marriage equality is legal, Stapel told BuzzFeed the problem comes down to a culture in which anti-LGBT violence and bias is still present, if not acceptable in some places across the country.
“When we look at the culture that we live in and how much of it is biased against LGBT people, I think that we can’t be surprised when people act on that bias in a violent way,” Stapel said. “And if we’re going to end the violence that LGBT people experience, we will have to start looking at where that violence comes from and really start to look at our laws and policies and start to change the way in which we see that vitriolic speech as hate speech and violence in and of itself.”
Recent hate crimes span far beyond New York. On Aug. 31, a gay man was attacked and beaten after he left a Cleveland gay bar. In June, a lesbian couple was brutally beaten and robbed on Chicago’s West Side. Last February, a lesbian mother was beaten unconscious while watching her son at playground in Mesquite, Texas. All of the attacks have been labeled or investigated as hate crimes by local authorities.
In addition, LGBT people across the country still face inequality, Stapel said, not just in regards to marriage rights, but also in the way of housing, employment, adoption and immigration. In 29 states, there are no laws that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and in 33 states that do so based on gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Thirteen states allow same-sex couples to marry.
“The victories that we see, while incredibly important and very meaningful to LGBT people in this country, do not actually represent full equality,” she said. “People can still be fired for being gay in certain states. People can be kicked out of their housing for being transgender in certain states in this country. So, marriage victories are great and “don’t ask, don’t tell” and all of this progress is fantastic but it doesn’t mean that we have achieved full equality. So that inequality still exists.”
However, one area where Stapel has seen a dramatic improvement in regards to anti-LGBT crimes is in media coverage, saying the media has helped expand and continue the conversation around the issue.
“One of the things that is most important to me is that the fact that there’s such increased media attention to the violence that LGBT people experience every day is both a terribly sad thing because we are covering violence that is impacting peoples’ lives in a really real way,” she said. “But it’s also a good thing because we’re finally having this conversation on a national level about the kinds of violence LGBT people experience.”
With that, Stapel contends attention to the issue is crucial because solving the problem is going to take more than a political response by community leaders and more than the work of LGBT rights and anti-violence advocates, telling BuzzFeed, “Community leaders, politicians, religious leaders and other community leaders who have the ability to persuade a large audience need to take a vocal and visible stand against LGBT bias-related violence.”
New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio reacted to the news on Twitter:
“This is not a problem that LGBT people are going to solve on our own,” Stapel added. “We need our allies to be strong and visible and vocal with us. We need everyone to stand up and say that it is not OK to beat somebody up or to kill someone because of who they are, or who you think they are.”