Equality's Brutal Backlash: The Murder of Mark Carson and the Rise in Violence Against Gays

A few months ago, I wrote about how my partner and I were called "disgusting" by a man on the street as we shared a quick goodbye kiss in the middle of the afternoon in the very gay Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea. That has turned out to be less an aberration than a symptom of far more horrific things to come. We've seen reports of violent attack after violent attack in New York against gays in recent weeks, and now, this past weekend, we've experienced the brutal killing of 32-year-old Mark Carson in an alleged anti-gay shooting in Greenwich Village.

"You want to die tonight?" the alleged gunman reportedly said after repeatedly calling Carson and a male companion "faggots" while they were walking down the street, before fatally shooting Carson in the face.

This killing has kept me up the past two nights. It's sickening and enraging. And perhaps the shock I'm seeing expressed about it, particularly among younger LGBT people, underscores that many of us have been living with a false sense of security, intoxicated by the wins on marriage equality in the states and in the federal courts. It's way too easy to grow complacent, fed by the desire to have the fight done with as well as by the seductive message of some in the media who've simplistically declared victory for the LGBT rights movement.

Victory is very far off, however, if we can't walk the streets of even the most LGBT-friendly cities holding hands or expressing ourselves without fear of being taunted and violently assaulted. And for hundreds of thousands living in less tolerant places all across the country, openness has never been a reality. Until it is, we're nowhere near victory.

We may be seeing solid majorities in national polls supporting anti-discrimination laws for gay and transgender people, and even majorities supporting marriage equality. But the minorities are still substantial. And they are getting more desperate. For years, those who are anti-gay have been emboldened by the often hateful declarations of homophobic religious leaders and by the attacks by groups like the National Organization for Marriage, which have demeaned gays. After decades of struggle, we're finally beating them back in the courts, in legislatures and even at the ballot box. And perhaps the frustration and anger by those who oppose us is now further empowering the thugs who take their hate and rage to the streets.

It shouldn't come as a surprise then that in New York City, in a state that passed marriage equality in 2011, hate crimes against LGBT people so far in 2013 are almost double what were at this point in 2012. And 2012 itself was a notable year nationally, with outbreak of anti-LGBT violence in some of the country's most gay-friendly cities, like New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta. 2011 saw the highest number of anti-LGBT murders ever reported, with transgender people the hardest-hit victims. At least 13 transgender Americans were reported to have been murdered in 2012 alone.

We sometimes forget that getting laws passed and getting court rulings declared is, comparatively, the easy part -- as monumentally difficult as that has been and continues to be. One reason we in fact get the laws passed, in addition to protecting ourselves, is to change attitudes for future generations. But that part doesn't happen overnight and surely not without a backlash, which can sometimes be violent, as it has been in just about every other movement for equality. The hate is still out there and the haters are getting more desperate. Our worst enemies right now are complacency and the seductive message that we've "arrived."