Race, Sexuality, Cyberactivism and the Legacy of Rashawn Brazell
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
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.