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Volume 5, Number 2, Spring 2007 Gwendolyn Beetham and Jessica Valenti, Guest Editors
Blogging Feminism:
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Race, Sexuality, Cyberactivism and the Legacy of Rashawn Brazell

Marie Varghese

The small cutouts of Valentine's Day hearts made from red construction paper were still pasted on the door of the clerk's office in Jersey City on February 19, 2007. Inside, about thirty witnesses, including a number of gay rights activists and local residents, watched in anticipation as one of the first couples in the state of New Jersey applied for a civil union. The two men standing before the clerks seemed slightly self-conscious in front of the camera crew filming their every move, every passing comment, and every smile. Meanwhile, I was painfully aware that most of the people in the room were white, and I wondered where all the black and brown faces of Jersey City were that night.

I held flyers in my hand with the words "Rashawn Brazell Memorial Scholarship" emblazoned on the front. Part of my assignment at this historic gathering was to distribute these flyers in hopes that onlookers would recognize the connections between the day-to-day violence experienced by communities of color and the push towards formal legal equality made by the mainstream gay marriage movement. As I handed a flyer to a reporter from a major media outlet in the New York-New Jersey area, I quickly informed her of the murder of Rashawn Brazell and the purpose of the scholarship. The experience felt more like delivering an uncomfortable 30-second sound bite than an elegy for his beautiful life and tragic death.

"Rashawn was a black gay teen who disappeared from his Bushwick home on Valentine's Day 2005; days later, his dismembered body parts were found in trash bags by an MTA worker in the New York City subway. A number of activists came together in response to the unthinkable tragedy, and now an annual college scholarship is offered in his honor. This month is the two-year anniversary of Rashawn's death. Here is some more information," I said, handing her the flyer.

"Are there any upcoming events being coordinated for the two-year anniversary?" asked the reporter.

I thought for a second. "I can put you in touch with Larry Lyons, one of the cofounders of the scholarship if you are looking to interview someone."

The reporter nodded her head eagerly and began to take down Larry's information. As she did so I wondered if Rashawn's story struck a chord with her: Would she really do a story about the scholarship? A few seconds later, I became painfully aware of her true motives as she closed her notepad and replied, "This is great! The network has been pestering me to do a story for Black History Month." In that moment, Rashawn, whose life had been cut tragically short, was being dismembered and discarded all over again.

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