JUSTICE FOR JIMMY -
In the fall of 1990, I was a grad student in New York City. We’ve all been there: you have one or more people with whom you’re friendly – you kind of “follow” each other from class to class, semester to semester – but not friends of the “let’s hang out and have a beer” or the “I’ll remember your name five years from now” kind. It is one of those friends who is the subject of the following brief story.
One day, I was walking to class and saw said friend across the street talking with a guy. As I got closer, they embraced, kissed and my friend walked into the building to which I was headed. He beat me to the lecture room and was already sitting in his/our usual spot. I said hi, sat down and started getting out my notebook, etc., when I heard him ask, “Why are you sitting there?”
I jumped out of my seat and said, frustrated, “Oh crap. What did I sit in? Gum? Ink? It was ink, wasn’t it? Damn it!” as I did the “dog looking at his butt” chase trying to see the back of my pants. “No. You didn’t sit in anything,” I heard him say softly, “I know you saw me outside.” I stopped, looked at him and replied, slowly and with incredulity in my voice, “Yeah? AAAannnd?” He smiled. I sat down. We started chatting about our respective days leading up to the lecture. The professor started. We never talked about it again. We sat next to each other in other classes.
I really wish I could remember his name.
In January of that same year, months before I learned that the subject of my story was gay, a borough or so away in Staten Island, a gay man was butchered and tossed in the Arthur Kill. That man was Jimmy Zappalorti. Eight years later, another gay man, Matthew Shepard, would be beaten, tortured and left to die on a barbed-wire fence in Wyoming. In between, how many other gay men and women were victims of abuse? Since then, how many other gay men and women have been murdered? Abused. Murdered. Why? Because they were/are gay.
Here we are in 2014 and same-sex marriage rights are slowly being won – 19 states and counting. But what did it take to get to this point, which can only be considered a start? How many Stonewall Inns, Zappalortis and Shepards? How many companies, organizations and politicians, who will go unnamed, who stood and continue to stand against LGBT equality and rights? Gay hate crimes against LGBT New Yorkers rose from 2012-2013 – in May 2013, in the city that rallied around Jimmy Zappalorti’s death, a gay couple was brutally beaten in broad daylight outside of Madison Square Garden for…wait for it…holding hands.
In 1990, Jimmy Zappalorti was murdered because he was gay. In 1990, a man thought that I would no longer be his friend because I saw him kiss his partner. In 2014, 31 states still ban same-sex marriage.
Enough. No more Jimmys. No more Matthews. No more inequality – for ANYone. At the protest that followed his murder – held outside of Gracie Mansion, the New York mayor’s residence – people chanted, “Justice for Jimmy!” Yes. Justice. Perhaps it’s time that we don’t simply speak, but MEAN, the word when we say “…liberty and justice for all.”
Justice for Jimmy.
Justice for all.