Thursday, March 28, 2013

Before Laramie

This coming October will mark the 15th anniversary of Matthew Shepard's beating at the hands of two troglodytes in Laramie, Wyoming. But this past December marked the 25th anniversary of the murder of my friend and high school classmate Anthony Milano at the hands of two monsters who have yet to pay for their crimes. 

That's Tony on the far-right of the top row, right next to Uncle P (in the white shirt and over-sized aviators) in a photo from our high school senior year in 1979. The future looked so bright for all of us. 

Tony was quiet and shy but very smart and creative and subversively funny. A talented graphic artist with a skewed sense of humor, we spent three years together (with the rest of the good folks in this photo) in our High School Humanities program, led by a teacher who would go on to be the most celebrated High School Theatre Teacher in the country (and the first adult to tell me it was okay to be gay), Lou Volpe

About a year or so after this photo was taken, Tony and I ran into each other in a gay bar in Philadelphia (where we were both too young to be, legally), though neither of us was yet willing to admit even to each other that we were gay. He offered to drive me home to my apartment in Northeast Philly (I had taken the train into Center City) and we parted without saying a word about where we'd met. It was a very different time. 

Over the years since then, we'd meet in various places and situations, never once mentioning that encounter. The last time I saw him, I was working a retail job while trying to establish an acting career. It was early December and I was just too busy to take time out to have a meaningful conversation with him. I promised I would keep in touch and brushed him off, too concerned with whatever it was I was doing to worry about hurting his feelings. A week later, Tony was dead and I was wracked with guilt at having dismissed him.

On December 14th, 1987, Tony stopped for a sandwich and a beer at a local bar, where he ran into Frank Chester and Richard Laird, who goaded him into ostensibly giving them a ride home. Chester and Laird were both relatively attractive men. Did Tony think he was going to have sex with one or both of them? Was he too afraid to refuse their request for a ride? Did they ply him with the promise of more alcohol or drugs? Did they intimate they were willing to have sex with him? We'll never know. What we do know is that they led him to remote, wooded area and murdered him in very cold blood. It's still not clear who did what, though it is certain that one of them held Tony down while the other one slashed his throat with a box-cutter (so brutally that flesh was found in the surrounding trees). They then set his car on fire and left him for dead. Chester and Laird were eventually found guilty and sentenced to death, though both of them remain alive and well in Bucks County Prison, filing appeal after appeal.

I remember attending Tony's viewing and seeing his obviously sedated parents; the undertaker's less-than-successful attempt at hiding the damage to his throat in his surprisingly open casket and the dozens of my weeping classmates. It was surreal, to say the least. Tony's mother never recovered and passed away a few years later. His father, a mild-mannered barber, passed away in 2012. His sister, Annamarie, is the last member of the family to survive. She rarely gives interviews or comments on the events surrounding her brother's death. Chester and Laird are still incarcerated, even though Laird was re-tried in 2007 with the same outcome. 

As a whole, the LGBT community has made great strides in the last 25 years. Just this week saw two  historic Equality issues argued before the Supreme Court. Still, I can't help but wonder what Tony might have accomplished in those years, had his life not been cut short by two ignorant, homophobic creeps. Worse still... There are plenty of ignorant, fearful and violent people who wouldn't hesitate to do the same thing to a naive young gay, lesbian or trans person, given the chance.

As children, we're told there are no such things as monsters. Sadly, as adults, we learn that's just not true. Personally, I am usually against the Death Sentence. In this case, I am happy to make an exception. 

Sorry if this post was a bummer but I think things need to be brought into perspective every now and then. As much as we may want to celebrate the eminent demise of DOMA and Prop 8, I think we need to take a moment to remember all that has led up to it. Hate crimes against LGBTQ people are still reported on a daily basis. So many young LGBTQ people are still rejected by their families, bullied by their peers and ostracized by the churches in which they grew up. Suicide among LGBTQ youth remains at an all-time high. It's up to all of us to stop the madness and embrace the idea that we are all human, no matter who or how we love.

More, anon.

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