Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Philadelphia Phreedoms

Setting my novel Message of Love primarily in Philadelphia in the early 1980s became a complex decision. Such a city almost becomes a character in itself; outwardly friendly, yet complicated and a little dangerous.

Philadelphia City Hall
Of course, no city is perfect. They all have their unpleasant sides, and Philly has quite a few. My research about the era proved true. I wonder if I may have 'gone soft' by depicting historically accurate aspects of crime and anti-gay violence as being nearby, for the most part. How it effects the lives of Reid and Everett, the main characters, develops gradually, not with the violent impact of reality.

For example, last week a swastika was painted on the windows of a kosher shop in northeast Philly. In a similar hate crime, a synagogue endured the same cowardly graffiti hatred.

And on September 11, of all dates, a gay couple was assaulted and beaten by a gang of up to fifteen "clean-cut" white men and women in Center City.

Philly Mag reported that a security camera captured images of the alleged gang of white men and women.

Security camera still of the alleged gaybashing mob.
Pennsylvania as a state has its share of contemporary problems. LGBT people can be fired at their jobs for being gay, and there still remains no law on the books to prevent it.

Other antiquated laws can be used to the point of absurdity. Most of you folks may have heard about the teenager in Everett, Pennsylvania, (familiar name!) who may face years of prison for posting a selfie of himself faux-humping a church's small tacky statue of Jesus.

statue humper in Everett PA
But wait! It's gets stupider. The District Attorney going after the statue-humping teen is an adulterous porn addict. Along with making porny comments online, "Higgins also admitted to an extramarital affair, which he conducted out of his office. He admitted to having sex with a woman in his office at the courthouse after a Bedford County Republicans meeting. The woman eventually sued him for sexual harassment, but the charges were dropped."

The Keystone state's cities may be mostly civilized, but around it are, apparently, the fringes of Appalachia.

But there is hope, like Brian Sims. The openly gay representative has led the charge for many causes. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere.

What's interesting is that, in addition to being openly gay, Sims is, as this article states, "nonreligious." That's a polite term for a Humanist, or the slightly pejorative "atheist." I dislike that term because it insists on inserting theism into the word itself by comparison. 

PA Rep. Brian Sims
Anyway, Sims isn't about to start spouting scripture. He's too busy working. In a way, he reminds me of the possible adult (albeit able-bodied) version of my character Everett Forrester; a bright, smart openly gay man who refuses to compromise, and a person who seeks a higher ideal for justice.

On September 16, the hunt for the anti-gay gang drew closer, not only through police efforts, but gay people putting the pieces together. They found a photo of the alleged gang at a restaurant the night of the assault. The clothes and faces of several in that snapshot match those in the security camera.

Philly Mag caught up with the details, and hundreds of Philadelphians and others have shared the images. It's only a matter of time before the herd of thugs is caught. G Philly Mag's Facebook account shared the images. Even Rep. Sims shared the news, and caught flack from his constituents for his angry Facebook post: " I say we invite them back to the Gayborhood and see how round two with these cowardly, pieces of $&%^ goes!!!"

As someone who has been assaulted by homophobes several times, as someone who has witnessed attacks on others, and reported on it, I fully support Sims' anger. Even when these punks are caught, the local judicial system will inevitably fail us. Every time I and friends were gaybashed (mostly in New York in the 1990s), the police failed us.

Fortunately, the tech companies that are currently being blamed for many woes here in the Bay Area –Twitter and Facebook– may have helped the hunt for the antigay gang. Like a sort of electronic phone tree, La Viola the restaurant's Facebook page has inadvertently caught them after one after another concerned citizen shared the images. 

And in a relieving follow-up, it seems (according to JoeMyGod.blogspot.com) the perpetrators have lawyered up and called the police to make arrangements, not unlike the usual gang of privileged snots who commit such crimes, and only do the right thing when they get caught.
So, why did I not dramatize such a heinous crime, which could have happened to Reid, and Everett, a wheelchair-user? Because the outcome in those days would been inconclusive, horrible, and left my beloved characters permanently wounded. And that's not the story I wanted to write. It is a sort of romance, after all.

I won't be updating this post with developments, except for these: The attackers were part of a reunion dinner of a Bucks County Catholic high school, one of the attackers has been fired from his job as an assistant basketball coach, the gang of thugs is absurdly claiming "self-defense" (only after they got caught? Really!?!), while the victims, still understandably afraid to be identified, describe a much more brutal version of what the gang did.

Can gays find peace in this troubled city? Do my characters stay and find happiness? You'll have to read Message of Love to find out.

Meanwhile, in the real world, for LGBT seniors, there is a home. Often discriminated against at traditional senior residencies ("Where are your children? Your grandchildren? Your wife?"), a newly finished apartment building will provide low-income LGBT seniors with a safe space to live.  This Washington Post article frames it as a model for elder gays.

Can we find justice and safety by imagining such a future? Will these LGBT seniors be able to leave their new homes with any sense of safety from hordes of violent bro-holes? Will the city of Brotherly Love continue to rely on citizens working with the police to seek justice?

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