Jewish LGBT leaders are joining the chorus of condemnation around the West Village murder of a gay man over the weekend by a convicted felon who spouted homophobic slurs before pulling the trigger on his 32-year-old victim.
Just steps from the historic Stonewall Inn, widely considered the birthplace of the modern gay-rights movement, Elliott Morales shot Mark Carson in the face after harassing Carson and a friend on Sixth Avenue near West Eighth Street.
“We’re located in the Village, so it’s not just a gay issue for us,” Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, longtime spiritual leader of LGBTQ synagogue Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, told the Forward in an interview. “It’s our backyard.” Kleinbaum drew a connection between Carson’s murder and violence against Jews. “I have tried through the years of being rabbi at CBST to strengthen people to not be destroyed in the face of the kind of hate that exists in the world toward us, both as Jews and as gay people,” she said.
A longtime advocate against gun violence, Kleinbaum said the shooting is also symptomatic of much larger social problems.
“This [incident] is not a huge surprise to me, with the hatred in the world and tremendous gun violence in our country. I am outraged that guns are still so readily available. While we have strict gun laws here, other states do not,” she said.
“That this homophobe got a gun is what the real problem is. We should redouble our efforts to focus on sensible gun laws in this country. We should not become vicitims, even when violence is directed at us as gay people or as Jews.”
For Jessica Stern, executive director of the New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Carson’s murder reflects still-daunting challenges in overcoming deep-seated homophobia.
“Mark Carson’s tragic death for simply being gay underscores just how long it takes to change deeply entrenched prejudice,” she told the Forward in an e-mail. “It also underscores how invaluable are LGBT activists and allies who do the work every day of changing hearts, minds, legislation and laws to extend equality and protection to all.”
That the killing occurred in a neighborhood long considered a safe haven for gay people underscores the need for education, Stern said. “It is telling that even here in New York City, where anti-discrimination laws exist at both city and state levels, that this unacceptable violence continues.
“This is yet another reminder that laws are not enough. The solution is not complicated but is urgently needed: public outreach; education in schools; cultural competency for law enforcement; and the voices of leaders of every faith, political party and persuasion to adamantly condemn all forms of discrimination. In every corner of the world, change takes time but we cannot afford to waste another moment and lose another member of our community to hate. “
But Jayson Littman, the entrepreneur and promoter behind New York’s popular He’Bro parties for gay Jews, sounded a defiant note. “Crimes like these are intended to scare and silence LGBT people, but our community will not go back to the days of living our lives in fear,” he told the Forward in an e-mail.
“While we all need to be particularly vigilant about safety, we have come too far to let violence silence an entire movement. The LGBT community is a very united community, one that supports each other and really comes together in times of trouble.”
Littman was also shaken by the violation of what he considered a mostly safe space. “I’m mindful of any public displays of affection in many areas on Manhattan, but I would never have thought the West Village to be one of those areas,” he said.
Ultimately, said Rabbi Kleinbaum, Mark Carson’s murder may have the opposite effect of what his killer intended.
“Our response to violence and hatred in the world is more love, making sure we’re seen and heard, being as visible as we possibly can be, and not to go into hiding as a result,” she said. “We’re proud of who we are and what we’ve accomplished and won’t let this violence terrorize us.”