Even in a city like D.C., with a sizable gay community and plenty of places to meet other gay people, there were lots of guys online for various reasons. Mine was that I was way too painfully shy to meet other guys in public venues. The idea of walking up to an attractive stranger and talking to him caused me to lose my ability to speak english.
But at least I lived in a city where there were lots of other gay men, and where they were relatively easy to find.
What if I didn’t?
Athens, GA — where I went to school is much smaller than D.C. and while there was a gay community there (that grew more visible and vocal while I was there) it was still a pretty conservative place. There was one gay bar in town when I started school there — “Club Rendezvous,” way out on the outskirts of town, where I guess it was hope the bar would be far enough out of town to avoid a lot of harassment. Still, I was told that local and students sometimes enjoyed driving by and throwing rocks, etc., at the cars in the (dirt-and-gravel) parking lot.
That place closed during my freshman year, and for most of the time I was in college, Athens didn’t have a gay bar. There were straight clubs that had “gay nights,” usually during the middle of the week, when they made the least money and knew the community would turn out, because there weren’t many other safe spaces we could go to and meet others. So, I spent many a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday night out with a good bit of the rest of the community. It wasn’t until about a year before I left town and moved to D.C. that another gay bar — Boneshakersopened up, and (finally!) it was located downtown.
Now, apparently, it’s gone too.
“Boneshakers really did fill a place when it came out — a place for people to be there, know each other and not worry,” said Hatton, the managing editor of the “Georgia Review” and founder of GLOBES, Gay, Lesbian Or Bisexual Employees and Supporters.
However, the bar’s doors closed for the last time on a different Athens than the one that witnessed its opening 12 years ago.
Boneshakers’ original co-owner, Greg Martin, said with several bars to a street block today, it is difficult for current students to imagine Athens with only the handful of downtown hotspots available back in 1993.
During the ’90s, Boneshakers defied expectations and surpassed the average five-year club lifespan. While traveling through Europe and Canada, Martin said he met people familiar with the club.
Since that time, the last owner, Mark Bell, said there has been a change in attitudes towards homosexuality, which contributed to the bar no longer being profitable.
“Sometimes I began to feel I was in the public service business by staying open because people weren’t coming,” Bell said.
But behind the dwindling support that doomed Boneshakers — which Bell reopened Thursday as Kultur Lounge, hosting a gay night on Saturdays — Bell said there was a sign of progress for the community.
But, according to some of the people interviewed for the article, Athens hasn’t necessarily progressed that much. Even Bailey said, “The climate of Athens is very progressive, but when you take into account the students, it is much more closed-minded.” So, perhaps there’s still a need for safe “gay space,” where members of the community can meet for whatever purposes, in search of friendship or future partners, and without fear.
Now, there’s the internet, and I’m sure that it’s well used by the Athen’s gay community. Back in the stone age, when I went to school there, we relied instead on a gay BBS. Before computers, we developed other ways of finding each other, recognizing each other, and sharing information to help others not only find each other but avoid danger.
There was always danger. Before it was the danger of police raids like those conducted in the 1950s. Today the danger is somewhat different. As stories like Michael Sandy’s and Sean Ethan Owen’s underscore, the people we may meet online are sometimes looking to do us harm, because — even now — we can be easy marks if we’re closeted or isolated in small towns where opportunities to meet other gays are still few and far between.
Sometimes, as in Sandy’s case or the story of Glenn Kopitske’s murder, it turns out that attacker met online is conflicted about his own homosexuality. In fact, we may well be bashed by guy who’s struggling with his sexuality and his homophobia all at once.
Anyone, gay or not, who takes home or goes home with a stranger is taking a certain risk, and making themselves vulnerable to harm. But I think where gay men are concerned, there’s an added danger of finding ourselves ourselves dealing with a someone who has specifically sought a gay man to rob or harm. Or we may find ourselves with a man who seemed interested at first, but who turns out to be so conflicted by or ashamed of his own same-sex desires that afterwards the shame and disgust he feels towards himself turns into panic and maybe even rage against the man who now knows his secret. And there’s only one way for his secret to stay in that room.
In those cases, the killer’s sexuality usually comes out after the murder, before or during trial, perhaps even as a means of avoiding hate crimes charges. “I’m gay,” the logic goes, “so I can’t be a gay basher.” At least, that was the case with one of Michael Sandy’s attackers.
Fortunato, apparently, was more than familiar with its location and the primary activity that took place there. Perhaps he’d been there before, perhaps not so much looking for robbery victims as cruising for sex. And perhaps he did lure gay men to hotels to rob them, and did rob them, but after having sex with them. And perhaps he merely neglected to tell his his friends the last part. And maybe he decided that was for the best as he watched his friends — his friends savagely beat Michael Sandy and drive him to his death. If his friends would do that to Sandy, a gay man, what might they do to him? He might ask himself that, but he probably didn’t ask himslf why he chose them over the men he robbed and the one he lured to his death, and who lay dying even as Fortunato joked with his friends over news accounts of the attack.
Could he laugh even then? Could he be gay or — more specifically, a latent homosexual who has sex with men — and still gay bash? Sure. If Larry Craig could legislate against gays, in between trips to the men’s room, and if Mark Foley could take his hands of his Blackberry long enough to do the same, and if Ted Haggard could preach against and advocate against gays in between massage appointments, and Roy Cohn crusade against homosexuals in between dates with P-Town hustlers, then Anthony Fortunato could be a self-loathing, latent homosexual, and a not-so-latent gay basher.
In truth Fortunato’s story sounds to much like so many of the stories I’ve researched and written up for the LGBT Hate Crimes Project, concerning gay men who were murdered by men who either lured them — like Richie Phillips or went home with them willingly — like Jason Gage or Glenn Kopitske — and who became overcome with “uncontrollable rage” after allegedly unwelcome advances are made.
In each case, there’s an argument to be made that that not all advances were unwanted. Kopitke’s killer claims to have murdered him after a consensual encounter and, like Fortunato, his lawyer “outed” him in court as an attempt to explain his actions. In each case, there’s an argument to be made that the attacks originated from internalized rage and shame projected onto external victims.
In the murders of Jason Gage and Glenn Kopitske, the facts strongly suggest that whatever happened behind closed doors — where only the killer and the victim know what happened—was consensual. The uncontrollable rage that resulted in their murders was triggered by shame and anger on the part of their killers, over their own desires, or that others might find out, and their manhood would be threatened as a result. In some of the cases involving transgender victims, I find myself wondering how much the killers knew and to what degree the murders were driven by shame, guilt, anger, and the threatened manhood of the killers.
Fortunato may not have been on the parkway when Michael Sandy was being beaten, but he made sure that Sandy was there for whatever took place. And he may be belatedly gay now, whereas before he was conveniently not gay while having sex with men, perhaps robbing them, and luring at least one to his death. For that he deserves neither pity nor sympathy. Many of us know all to well what’s it’s like to struggle with self-loathing and self-acceptance when it comes to our sexuality, but struggling with either isn’t an excuse for taking someone else down with you.
All of this came to mind when I read about Michael Goucher’s murder. Goucher, a 21-year-old Army veteran in Pennsylvania, has been suggested as the first anti-gay hate crime victim of 2009. Whether it’s accurate that he’s the first or not is anyone’s guess. But another question likely to arise if whether his murder is a hate crime or not.
As the case has unfolded court documents have revealed that Goucher and one of his alleged attackers had sexual relations in January, after meeting in a chatroom. An affidavit states that the other of Goucher’s alleged attackers said that his alleged accomplice is embarrassed about being gay, and didn’t want other people to know.
“Embarrassment” can run all the way to rage, under the right circumstances, especially fueled by the deep shame — and self-hatred — too many of us are still taught to have about sexual orientation. Both can be overcome, under the right circumstances, too. But most small towns in American don’t provide those circumstances.
For those reasons and others, I’m keeping what happened to Michael Goucher in the hate crimes column for now, given that it was likely driven by the larger homophobia of the society we all live in, channelled though it was through his alleged killers.
Michael Goucher (1988 – February 3, 2009) a gay man and U.S. army veteran from Stroudsburg, PA, was murdered by Shawn Freemore and Ian Seagraves on March 3, 2009.
Goucher, 21, was out to his family.1) He was raised in and attended school in Stroudsburg, PA, until 9th grade, when he transferred to East Stroudburg High Schol – South. Prior to high school, Goucher toured with the Singing Boys of Pennsylvania. His hobbies included rollerskating, and playing piano and drums. Goucher was a drum major in his high school marching band.2)
Goucher joined the Army in 2006, after graduating high school. He was stationed in Alaska for two years3), where he worked as a convoy driver and mechanic.4) While on leave from the military, he volunteered with the East Stroubdburg Crimewatch. After completing his service, he worked as a custodian at Stroudburg High School5), and wanted to become a police officer. In November 2008 Goucher began attending Zion United Church of Christ, where he joined the music program.6)
Goucher was last seen on February 3, 2009. He was reported missing on February 6.7) Goucher’s roommates later told police that Goucher left around midnight on February 3, saying that he was going to visit a friend.8)
Seagraves and Freemore
Freemore, 19, Lived in Upper Rockledge Estates near Cresco9), where Seagraves, 17, lived. Both Goucher and Freemore went to East Stroudsburg High School and graduated two years apart.10) Freemore has a criminal record for burglary, shoplifting and drug paraphernalia possession.11)Both Freemore and are members of the Juggalos, according to their MySpace pages. Freemore’s MySpace name is “Skippy” and Seagraves is “Throwtstabba.”12) Both pages have since been deleted.13)
Juggalo is a name given to fans of Psychopathic Records recording group, Insane Clown Posse. Juggalos see themselves as sharing a common philosophy derived from the Dark Carnival mythology featured in six Insane Clown Posse albums.14)
During the investigation, police learned that Goucher was supposed to meet with Freemore on the night he disappeared. Freemore waived his right to an attorney and agreed to talk with police. He then agreed to ride with the police to areas relevant to their investigation.15)
Freemore initially told police police that he and Goucher met in a chatroom and agreed to have sex.16) Freemore later admitted that he and Goucher met earlier, in January, and had a sexual encounter. He said they met again around 12:30 a.m. on February 4th, and he got in to Goucher’ car. 17) According to court documents, Freemore said he changed his mind at the last minute. He refused Goucher’s advances and got out of the car.
Freemore then said that Goucher followed him out of the car, and he then stabbed Goucher in the neck. He said he then forced Gocher into a wooded area, where he stabbed Goucher several more times, and covered his body with snow. He said he went through Goucher’s pants, took his car keys and drove off in Goucher’s car.
Freemore drove Goucher’s car up Show Hill Road and into a private driveway. He said he threw away his pants and shirt in the woods and walked home.18)
During the ride with police, Goucher changed his story, saying that he and Seagraves planned to rob and kill Goucher.19) According to the criminal complaint, Freemore said he and Seagraves were “tripping on drugs” when they came up with the plan for Goucher’s murder, which was to “meet him, scare him and kill him.”
Freemore said that he had stabbed Goucher in the neck and stomach, and that Seagraves stabbed Goucher in the neck. To support his story, he told investigators that Seagraves had stolen a DVD of the movie //Eagle Eye//, and that police would find the DVD if they searched Seagreaves’ home.20)
Investigators obtained a search warrant for Seagraves’ home, where they found the stolen DVD along with with wood-handled knives similar to one found at the murder scene.21)
After his home was searched, Seagraves went to the Swiftwater police barracks, accompanied by his mother, and willingly spoke with police. He did not implicate himself in the murder, and told police that he’d never talked with or communicated with Goucher.22)
According the criminal complaint against him, Seagraves initially told police that Freemore was supposed to meet up with Goucher in January, but did not. He said Freemore sent a MySpace message and a text message to Goucher two weeks prior to the murder, to which Goucher did not respond. Seagraves said Freemore sent a text message to Goucher a week prior to the murder, and they agreed to meet for sex. When Goucher did not show, Seagraves said Freemore sent him several text messages to find out why. Seagraves also said Freemore was embarrassed about being gay, and did not want people to know.
Twenty minutes into the interview, Seagraves said he “has problems remembering things because he is bipolar and has to take time to think about things.” Police left the room, to give Seagraves and his mother an opportunity to speak privately.23)
Five minutes later, police continued the interview.24) Seagraves admitted to being in Goucher’s car, but said he found it abandoned. He said he went inside the car but did not attempt to move it by pushing it or driving it.25) At that point, Seagraves’ mother ended the interview, telling police that she and her son should talk to an attorney before going any further.
According to the criminal complaint, on the following day, police spoke to two anonymous individuals who said that Seagraves had admitted helping Freemore kill Goucher, and had changed his MySpace name to ThrOwtStabba. When asked why, Seagraves replied “because I did it.” When questioned about what he did and to whom, Seagraves said, “I can’t tell you or I’ll go to jail for the rest of my life,” and added, “dude they are never going to find the body we left no evidence.”
Goucher’s car was found on February 10, in Price Township, just off Snowhill Road.26) Evidence in the car led police to interview Freemore.27)
Goucher’s body was found on February 11, 2009, at around 1 p.m., in an area along Snowhill Road, near where his car had been found.28) A cleaver and a six-inch knife were found near the body. The handle of the knife was wrapped in duct tape. A further search of the area turned up a roll duct tape similar to the tape on the knife handle.29)
Freemore was arrested hours after Goucher’s body had been found. Freemore was charged with planning Goucher’s murder along with Seagraves.30)
According to the complaint against Seagraves, a knife similar to the one near Goucher’s body, with Seagraves’ fingerpring on it, was found under a bridge near the murder scene.31) Seagraves was arrested in February 18, 2009.32)
A hearing in the case was scheduled for March 5, 2009, but was continued because the judge was in talks to hold the hearing at the county courthouse, with more space and security personnel, as many people from the community, as well as the families of the victim and suspects, are expected to attend.33)