Community Reponds to Hate Crimes With March

It's been more than a month since brutal anti-gay attacks took place in the Bronx. In early October, authorities arrested eleven members of the gang Latin King Goonies for beating and sodomizing three men for being gay. Seven suspects have been indicted. Many in the gay community have mobilized to fight what they call a general anti-gay climate in the borough. A march and rally is planned for Saturday.

Organizers expect at least a couple of hundred people to attend, including members of the LGBT community and concerned residents. But the parade is just one of ways the community has responsed to what some have called the most heinous anti-gay hate crimes the city has ever seen.

A month ago, the first planning meeting was held at the Bronx Community Pride Center. Organizers, clergy and concerned residents said they simply had had enough and they gathered to see what their response should be.

They formed three different committees focused on trying to deal with what they perceive is the lack of overall acceptance.

One of the captains of the march is Ephraim Cruz, who said what they are fighting against is another sign that it's not ok to be out and gay in the borough, especially for young people.

"The message from these recent incidents we've had in the Bronx is it makes them recede in their confidence to be themselves," said Cruz.

Cruz says he's not gay but got involved because he said he felt he had to speak out against some of the bigotry he sees around him.

One of the committees is focusing on building gay-straight alliances in the schools to combat bullying. So far, six schools have scheduled meetings with principals and guidance counselors.

The third group is setting up town hall meetings with community residents. The first one will be held on the evening of December 9 from 6 p.m to 9 p.m., just blocks away from the Morris Heights section where the attacks happened. The group hopes the dialogue will be the first of many and will start to get at some of the deep-seated fears some claim stem from prevalent conservative cultural and religious beliefs in the borough.

According to organizer Reverend Carmen Hernandez, Saturday's march is about more than being tolerant. It's about going out in large numbers in the middle of the day and demanding acceptance.

"This is our community. I've been raised all my life in the Bronx and this is my chance to tell the Bronx that we are citizens like anybody else and that the LGBT community are not going anywhere. They’re going to live there and are going to take the community back and fight for our rights."

Seven suspects have been indicted in the alleged hate crime that triggered this response, on charges including sexual abuse, unlawful imprisonment and assault.

Those suspects -- six have been held at Rikers Island and one made bail -- will be arranged next Tuesday. A spokesman for the Bronx District Attorney says they'll be charged with new counts in the crime, but he won't divulge what they are until after the arrangement.

The march kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday on 181 Street outside the Bronx Community College. It ends at the steps of the Bronx County Courthouse on the Grand Concourse.