D.C. Gay Black Gang: Thugs? Or Victims?
A gay black "gang" of youths who banded together for protection against homophobic bullies has gotten a reputation for being dangerous troublemakers. But do they deserve it?
That’s the question a Washington Post columnist, Courtland Milloy, asked in a Sept. 27 article.
"Depending on whom you talk to, they’re just a bunch of mischievous gender benders and drama queens, vulnerable gay youths seeking safety in numbers," Milloy wrote of the band of youths, who call their group Check It. "Or, they’re one of the largest, more aggressive gangs in the city."
Milloy went to the source to find out, speaking with the group’s co-creator, Tayron Bennett, 21.
"I just got tired of people beating on me and calling me faggie," Bennett explained. "At first, I tried fighting bullies one-on-one, but they don’t fight fair; they fight two and three on one," Bennett added.
He and his pals decided to fight fire with fire. They "started carrying mace, knives, brass knuckles and stun guns, and if somebody messed with one of us then all of us would gang up on them," Bennett said.
The young man had helped to create the group while still in junior high school. He had been taunted and harassed by classmates, the article said. But Bennett’s education was cut short in high school, when a teacher joined in the harassment and the young man snapped, striking the teacher and getting himself expelled.
Whatever the group’s activities, Bennett has a penchant for getting into trouble, the article suggested. He was recently incarcerated following a public brawl. The charges were dropped, but he spent time behind bars that landed him in still more altercations.
The aggression that the article attributed to the young man may well be understandable given the homophobic environment in which Bennett and other young men like himself have grown up. Young men without proper role models can easily turn to violence and crime.
Milloy wrote that male role models would be useful for black gay youths, but the head of the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs, Jeffrey Richardson, said that adults don’t make the time or take the trouble to provide that mentorship.
"The challenge is identifying people in the community who can connect with these particular young people," Richardson told Milloy. "Some gay men wouldn’t want to volunteer as mentors just because they are gay. They say, ’Yes, I’m gay and I’m fine with that, but I’m not trying to define my whole life in those terms.’ "
The idea of gays fighting back has alarmed conservatives in the past. In 2007, Bill O’Reilly claimed on his Fox News program that well over one hundred "gay gangs" were menacing heterosexuals in the Washington, D.C. area.
The umbrage GLBT people took at the report’s tone and content was business as usual, except for one thing: The report offended a pro-firearms GLBT group called The Pink Pistols.
CQPolitics.com reported on, and The New York Times reprinted, the story, in which an O’Reilly report broadcast in June of 2007 claimed that 150 "gay gangs" were assaulting people in the Washington, D.C., area. O’Reilly’s source for the story was a Maryland security consultant, Rod Wheeler, who is also a former Washington, D.C. police officer, according to the CQ story.
Wheeler said on the show that some of the gay gangs toted 9 mm. Glocks, and referred to themselves as "the pink pistol packing group."
The report, with sensational and lurid claims of "young girls" being "raped" and "gay gangs" running wild in the nation’s capitol, were enough to get the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) to urge its membership to demand the O’Reilly honor his "no spin zone" motto and make an on-air retraction, or else present concrete facts for the claims made on air.
The Southern Poverty Law Center also became involved, rebutting the claims made on O’Reilly’s program in a meticulous, point-by-point fashion.
But it was a group of about 10,000 gay and lesbian gun-rights enthusiasts called the Pink Pistols who might have had the most impact. The group, which took "Armed Gays Don’t Get Bashed" as their motto, was a GLBT advocacy organization supporting what they view as their Second Amendment rights to bear arms.
The Pink Pistols were not happy at having the name of their organization dragged through the mud in what they saw as a sensationalistic and gratuitous manner.
Bloggers picked up on the story; calls and emails flooded O’Reilly’s show. In the end, O’Reilly took the highly unusual step (for him) of admitting that the story may have been exaggerated, although in an on-air interview with Rashad Robinson, a GLAAD spokesman, O’Reilly stuck to the general claim that, "It’s a valid story," saying that lesbian gangs had been reported as involved in violent attacks in several cities, including New York, Philadelphia, and Memphis.
However, "Is it out of control? No," said O’Reilly. "I’m not in fear of the lesbians beating me up tonight."
Gwen Patton, spokesperson for the Pink Pistols, said, "I think there was a great deal of sensationalizing and agenda-driving going on here. Perhaps Mr. Wheeler’s own personal feelings regarding the gay and lesbian community entered into it."
Besides, said Patton, the pistols used by the group are the same color as any other pistol; the reference to pink pistols was symbolic. "It’s pink as in the pink triangle," Patton specified.
Reporting on the column Milloy had written, Washington City Paper blogger Shani Hilton wrote in a Sept. 28 posting on the so-called black gay gang, which Hilton referred to in passing as a "velvet mafia,"
"Still, it’s too neat of a package that Milloy presents," Hilton opined of Milloy’s characterization that the city’s gay black youth want for responsible mentorship.
"In reality, there are a number of organizations in the city dedicated to supporting LGBTQ young people--including the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, the Wanda Alston House, Us Helping Us, and several national groups that operate out of D.C.," Hilton continued.