After a Gay Man Is Set Ablaze, a Community Comes Together (UPDATE)

On Friday my last words regarding Stephen White, who friends refer to as Steve, was Godspeed. I, along with countless thousands across this nation and the world, hoped for a speedy recovery that would never come.

During a benefit being put on by The Q Lounge, an LGBT watering hole in the city of Greensboro, North Carolina, organizers learned that Steve had succumbed to complications from the brutal attack he endured a week before.

Found naked, beaten, robbed and set on fire, the gay Iraq War veteran spent the last week fighting for and ultimately losing his life.

The Associated Press reported:

An Army veteran beaten by a man he met at a bar died Saturday afternoon, nearly a week after being hospitalized with burns so bad that parts of both arms had to be amputated, police and his partner said.

The report continued:

Greensboro Police spokeswoman Susan Danielsen confirmed the death when contacted by The Associated Press. She said a 26-year-old man, Garry Joseph Gupton, has now been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the beating last Sunday. A Greensboro city employee, Gupton had initially been charged with aggravated assault with intent to kill, according to police.

White had been on a break with his long-term partner, with whom he lived, and on his last night of "freedom" before he resumed the monogamy they shared.

This past Tuesday reports regarding Steve seemed very grim. However, White's long-time partner, Alex Teal reported, on his Facebook that Steve was recovering after medical professionals were able to take him off the ventilator. However, just as the silent auction was starting at Greensboro's Q Lounge, news came that Steve had taken a turn for the worse.

The Greensboro Police Department has mentioned that from all the evidence they have, the brutal crime was not motivated by hate. I disagree. No matter the circumstance, it takes a lot of hate not only to beat a person within inches of his life, but to then set him on fire.

White, who served in the U.S. Army, along with the U.S. Customs Department and Federal Air Marshal Service, had sustained substantial injuries while guarding a U.S. Base for Blackwater Security in Iraq, according to Greensboro's WFMY News 2.

Even if the Greensboro Police Department is not considering this a hate crime, I am still left feeling there must be a level of internal hatred that would propel such a brutal series of events, leaving one man dead and another with first-degree murder charges.

The LGBT communities are repeatedly told by protesters, bigots and churches that they are going to hell. I submit that this repeated message and "othering" creates the kind of division in that pushes people to the brink and creates this kind of episode.

In this case the victims are all over the place. For those whose lives are taken long before their time and the people who are left to pick up the pieces, a whole community is scarred. The neocon religious rightists who are hell bent on defining anyone who is different from them as "unclean," lesser people under the eyes of their god and our nation's laws keep the embers of violence glowing that hurt the lives of real living and breathing humans. From random LGBT bashing to the violent and often underreported murders of transgender people of color -- how much violence will it take for the perpetrators to call it quits?

Most members of the LGBT community of the Piedmont Triad know one another, if not close, then in passing. There are only a few degrees of separation. Like any other community, when someone is bad news we are quick to notify the person with whom they are interacting.

None of the people who work at the Q Lounge ever remember seeing Steve's alleged assailant, Garry Gupton, 26, of Greensboro, before the fateful night he would take Steve's life. Still, the community would have likely accepted him as one of their own.

As Riki Dublin, a Greensboro restaurateur and friend of Steve's said in a telephone interview, when a new, unfamiliar face shows up in the bar, regulars are at first skeptical, but since the patrons are among some of the most marginalized in our society, they tend to open up and are accepting.

"We tend to watch out for our own," Dublin said. "However we are excited when someone new comes into our fold, we want to show them that they are accepted. Sometimes we do this to a fault."

Dublin continued, "And when we accept people into the community we do not expect them to harm us."

While the LGBT community of Greensboro tries to find some silver lining in such a tragedy, many are trying to hold onto the positives.

In less than a week Dublin and others who are regulars to Greensboro's Q Lounge said they raised over $15,000, which will be used to offset the overwhelming medical and funeral costs associated with the attack. According to Dublin, another $5,000 was raised by Greensboro's Club Chemistry and Limelight in Greenville, NC.

The outpouring support from the worldwide community warmed the hurting heart of Helee Matthews, a Veterinary Technician by day and security guard at the Q Lounge by night.

"All kinds of people showed up to show their support, mothers, fathers, people that did not know Steve came in to show support," Matthews said in a telephone interview. "I was going to go knocking door to door to let the community know what happened, but I did not have to do that."

While the close-knit LGBT community has been drawn together over such a senseless loss of life, many now wonder what comes next. Whatever it is, Dublin says, it needs to come quick.

"This is not about being gay, this is about the human condition," she says. "How one human being could do this to another without some degree of hate is unimaginable. Our solution has to be one of love, forgiveness and forward thinking."