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News ::
THOUSANDS MARCH IN NEWARK, N.J.: MOURN SLAIN BLACK LESBIAN TEENAGER (english)
09 Jun 2003
THOUSANDS MARCH IN NEWARK, N.J.: MOURN SLAIN BLACK LESBIAN TEENAGER

By Leslie Feinberg
-------------------------
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the June 23, 2003
issue of Workers World newspaper
-------------------------

THOUSANDS MARCH IN NEWARK, N.J.: MOURN SLAIN BLACK LESBIAN TEENAGER

By Leslie Feinberg

On May 16 a crowd of some 2,500 people united with the family of Sakia
Gunn at the funeral for the 15-year-old Black butch lesbian. She had
been stabbed to death in Newark, N.J., five days earlier.

The turnout was unprecedented: predominately Black, largely high school
students, mostly lesbians.

The day before, hundreds of youths had marched with Gunn's family to the
steps of Newark's City Hall to express their anger at the killing.
Throughout the week, hundreds of high school students and others turned
out for vigils at community-built memorials outside Gunn's West Side
High School and the site where she was killed.

Sakia Gunn was killed at a Newark bus stop on May 11. She was on her way
home from New York's Greenwich Village with four friends. According to
the other women, two men got out of a car, made sexual advances and
physically attacked the teenagers. The women fought back. Gunn was
stabbed in the chest. She died a short time later at a local hospital.

Richard McCullough turned himself in to the prosecutor's office five
days later, after reports that the police considered him a suspect in
the stabbing. He was arraigned May 16 in Superior Court on murder,
weapons and bias charges. His lawyer entered a not-guilty plea.

McCullough's mother expressed her deep condolences to Sakia Gunn's
family. She argued, however, that she does not believe her son is anti-
gay. She said his grandmother, who helped raise him, was a lesbian.
(Newark Star-Ledger, May 17)

A June 3 protest rally on the steps of Newark City Hall was set after
members of the Newark Pride Alliance explained that they had been unable
to secure a meeting with Mayor Sharpe James to deal with issues of
community safety. They also reported official insensitivity in response
to Gunn's murder.

The Pride Alliance, formed after Gunn's death to support lesbian, gay,
trans and bisexual youth, is putting forward five demands:

--Grief counseling for Gunn's fellow West Side High School students.

--Support for gay and straight alliance high school clubs to educate
parents, school administrators and other students about the LGTB
community.

--Development of and support for a Newark LGTB community center--a safe
space to get together.

--Posting of at least two police officers on round-the-clock patrol on
the Penn Station-Broad Street Corridor where Gunn was killed.

--That city legislators take responsibility to improve the quality of
life for their LGTB constituency "that they have neglected and ignored
for so long."

--That the school board be held responsible for the lack of compassion
and concern exhibited by the principal of West Side High School, and
allow for an independent investigation into allegations made by the
students.

West Side students report that the principal made anti-lesbian
statements about Sakia Gunn after her death, according to Laquetta C.
Nelson, founder of the New Jersey Stonewall Democrats.

COURAGE AND PRIDE

On the afternoon before Gunn's funeral, several hundred people--mostly
teenaged Black lesbians and gays--marched from the site where she was
killed to City Hall. Police lined the street.

Toni Gunn, Sakia's mother, told the crowd, "My daughter did not die in
vain. She will be remembered."

Sakia Gunn's uncle, Anthony Hall, led the chant, "No justice, no peace."
Protesters also sang "We Shall Overcome"--the anthem of the African
American civil rights struggle waged in the United States long before
many of the young demonstrators were born.

The outpouring of Black youths flooded the streets and parking lot
around Perry's Funeral Home on May 16. Many wore t-shirts emblazoned
with Gunn's photo or rainbows--symbol of the modern LGTB freedom
movement.

A number of the teenagers outside the funeral home were from West Side
High, waiting to say goodbye to the friend they knew as "T," who aspired
to be a Women's National Basketball Association player and an architect.

Many in the crowd spoke proudly of the way Gunn lived her life--and
affirmed their own pride as well.

Inside, Sakia Gunn lay dressed in a white sweat suit. A rainbow symbol--
the assertion of her sexuality and of LGTB pride--lay just above her
head.

Her parents, LaTona Gunn and Gerald Gadson, sat together among what was
described as literally hundreds of relatives.

Her mother said of the sheer numbers who came in solidarity, "All this
love, that's what's keeping me strong. I love my daughter so much. I'm
so proud of her."

Gadson said he was also emotionally moved by the support for his
daughter, with whom he was reunited last year.

Sakia Gunn's grandmother, Selma Gunn, is in cardiac intensive care. She
suffered a heart attack after hearing the news of the stabbing. She said
of the lesbian granddaughter she raised: "I knew about her and I
accepted her. I loved her. And she loved me."

City officials, including the mayor, were reportedly caught off guard by
the response. "They weren't prepared for how many people showed up,"
observed Gary Paul Wright, director of Newark's African American Office
of Gay Concerns. "It wasn't until gay activists cornered the mayor as he
went into the funeral that he realized the depth of feeling the murder
had caused."

The mayor did not attend the May 15 vigil on the steps of City Hall. And
his office had made plans for only several hundred mourners the next
day. But as the crowd of thousands marched from the funeral parlor to
neaby Essex County College, the mayor joined in.

- END -

(Copyright Workers World Service: Everyone is permitted to copy and
distribute verbatim copies of this document, but changing it is not
allowed. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY,
NY 10011; via e-mail: ww (at) wwpublish.com. Subscribe wwnews-
on (at) wwpublish.com. Unsubscribe wwnews-off (at) wwpublish.com. Support the
voice of resistance http://www.workers.org/orders/donate.php)
See also:
www.workers.org
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