Monday, May 31, 2010

Fire Island 2010, part three

Written on the Long Island Railroad between Babylon and Hicksville between 2 and 2:30 p.m.

Image truly matters on Fire Island. Who you wear, where you work out, who lives in your house, which neighborhood in the city you live and even what time you arrive at Tea (and with whom) are among the common questions and observations one will hear on the boards and walks. And while the fact I manage the Fire Island News affords me some notoriety (or fill in the blank) on the beach, the attention I received over the Memorial Day weekend because of my weight loss remains nothing short of fascinating.

Literally dozens of people in the Fire Island Pines, Cherry Grove and even Ocean Beach noted my "transformation" and even "half of me disappeared during the off-season"--queue the sound bites about pescaderianism, exercise, less alcohol consumption and the tailor here in Bushwick who has financially benefited from my many visits over the last few months. A chuckle and a humble thank you almost always followed these compliments, but one friend in the Grove offered a particularly poignant reminder as we chatted around 1 a.m. on Saturday: Remember the people who flirted with you before you lost weight.

To a fun, happy and healthy 2010!

Ocean Beach politics on full display.

Dawn breaks over Ocean Beach and Seaview on Sunday, May 30.

Approaching Watch Hill on Thursday, May 27.

Hanging out by the pool in the Pines on Sunday, May 30.

Low Tea in the Pines on Sunday, May 30.

Waiting for the 8:50 p.m. ferry to Sayville in Cherry Grove on Sunday, May 30.

Twilight from the Cherry Grove dock on Sunday, May 30.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Coming out , a personal reflection

From earlier this morning...

It’s shortly after 6 a.m. in Ocean Beach. The birds are chirping. Dawn has broken over the beach, and I am sitting in the porch of our cottage here on Surf Road eating Greek yogurt with blackberries and blueberries, drinking black coffee and listening to NPR. Just another Thursday morning, except for the fact today marks nine years since I came out of the closet.

May 27, 2001, remains one of the most defining days of my life, but I honestly forgot about it until I was about halfway across the bay on the ferry to Ocean Beach last night. Deadlines, my super’s funeral on Tuesday and buying groceries and packing for Fire Island all contributed to this initial oversight. Is this progress?

On that rainy Sunday morning in the laundromat in Bristol, New Hampshire, I had no idea I would eventually live in New York City, make the majority of my livelihood through LGBT media and even manage a newspaper on Fire Island. As a 28-year-old gay man, my sexual orientation is simply a part of what defines me as a person. Paradoxically, however, the bulk of my reportage revolves around sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Is this progress?

Personal and even professional progress comes to those who find the courage to acknowledge who they are, but I am reminded almost every day this act of liberation often comes with risk. Jorge Steven López Mercado’s brutal murder last November in Puerto Rico, bloggers in the Middle East, Uganda and other countries who risk their freedom and potentially more to report on LGBT issues in their homelands and even local DJs who still think it is funny to make anti-gay jokes on the radio are among the myriad of things that remind me of the need to publicly acknowledge who you are. I remain tremendously fortunate and grateful to the people in my life who accept me as a gay man, but progress will only take place when everyone who is brave enough to acknowledge who they are receive the love, respect and most importantly acceptance they deserve.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Cubans mark International Day Against Homophobia

Multiple deadlines largely kept me away from the blog over the past week, but one thing I would like to highlight are the Cubans who took to the streets of Havana and other cities to mark the annual International Day Against Homophobia.

Mariela Castro, director of Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual de Cuba (CENESEX) and daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro marched with hundreds of others through the capital on Saturday, May 15. She spoke about IDAHO with the Associated Press.

"We have made progress, but we need to make more progress," said Castro.

Gay Cuban blogger Pedro Luis Castro has posted several pictures of his countrymen commemorating IDAHO on his blog Fotos desde Cuba.

Transgender woman in Santa Clara.

Gay Cubans in Havana.

Gay Cubans in Havana.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Oil reportedly enters powerful Gulf current

The tar balls that washed up onto one of Key West's beaches earlier this week did not come from the Deepwater Horizon, but reports the oil from the massive spill has entered the Loop Current are certainly troubling.

From the Key West Citizen.

Boy in Bushwick posted pictures on Monday of the Dry Tortugas and other areas that the oil could potentially affect. A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said yesterday American officials have had "working level discussions with the Cuban government to keep them informed" about the oil's location in the Gulf of Mexico. The crude that has reportedly entered the current could potentially reach the Florida Keys and Cuba's northern coast in about a week.

Let's hope this catastrophe does not expand any further.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Oil spill could reach the Florida Keys

A Miami Herald headline earlier today spoke for itself: Concerns grow that Gulf oil spill could reach Florida Keys.

Reports continue to indicate some of the millions of gallons of oil that have leaked into the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon rig caught fire and sunk on April 20 have entered the loop current. The Miami Herald reported the oil could potentially reach the Dry Tortugas, the Marquesas Keys and Cuba's northern coast.

The [Key West] Citizen has a link on its Web site that updates readers on the status of the spill, but the mere thought some of the oil could potentially impact the Florida Keys -- and it's particularly fragile ecosystems -- is certainly frightening. Here are some pictures of the Dry Tortugas and the area around the Marquesas Keys I took during an Oct. 2008 trip.

Looking west from Key West en route to the Dry Tortugas National Park.

Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas.

Approaching Fort Jefferson on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas.

Fort Jefferson.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Fire Island 2010, Part Two

Severe mold allergies proved particularly problematic in Ocean Beach on Friday night, but beautiful May weather, a great night at Tea in the Fire Island Pines and even some time laying in the sun while writing a possible story all contributed to a wonderful second weekend on the beach. As always, pictures are far more effective than words, and here are a few from the last two days.

Setting sun from an Ocean Beach-bound ferry on Friday, May 14.

Sunset over the Ocean Beach marina on Friday, May 14.

Dawn begins to break over Ocean Beach on Saturday, May 15.

Beach in Cherry Grove on Saturday, May 15.

Twilight from between Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines on Saturday, May 15.

Twilight from between Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines on Saturday, May 15.

Twilight from between Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines on Saturday, May 15.

Twilight from the end of Bayview Walk in Cherry Grove on Saturday, May 15.

Twilight from Bayview Walk in Cherry Grove on Saturday, May 15.

Sayville and surrounding towns from Cherry's deck in Cherry Grove on Saturday, May 15.

Friday, May 14, 2010

More than winning a verdict

As I look forward to another weekend on Fire Island, I would be completely remiss to not acknowledge a Puerto Rican family continues to grieve the loss of their beloved son.

Juan José Martínez Matos confessed on Wednesday he stabbed Jorge Steven López Mercado to death before he decapitated, dismembered and partially burned the gay teenager's body on Nov. 13, 2009. Judge Miriam Camila Jusino immediately sentenced him to 99 years in prison, but López's mother, Myriam Mercado, told reporters outside the Caguas courtroom Martínez's confession was bittersweet for her and her family.

"We are able to find a bit of peace in this aspect, but it's not going to return Steven to us," said an emotional Mercado as her husband, Jorge López, activist Pedro Julio Serrano and prosecutor Yaritza Carrasquillo stood by her side. "But at least there is justice in Puerto Rico."

Back here in Brooklyn, José Sucuzhañay's family continues to seek justice after one jury acquitted Hakim Scott of hate crimes charges and a judge declared a mistrial after a second panel could not render a verdict against Keith Phoenix. Prosecutors are scheduled to retry Phoenix on June 15, but both the Sucuzhañay and López cases clearly demonstrate the tragic and entirely unnecessary toll hate crimes can have on families and the communities in which they live and of which they are a part.

"This case dominates a lot of people in these communities and highlights the need to do so much more than to win a verdict," Ana María Archila, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, told me earlier this week.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Judge declares mistrial in Sucuzhañay case

After four days of deliberations, a Brooklyn judge declared a mistrial in the case of a man who allegedly beat José Sucuzhañay to death.

Prosecutors contend Keith Phoenix and Hakim Scott shouted anti-gay and anti-Latino slurs at Sucuzhañay and his brother as they beat him with a broken bottle and a baseball bat near the intersection of Bushwick Avenue and Kossuth Place on Dec. 7, 2008. A separate jury convicted Scott of manslaughter on Thursday, May 6, but acquitted him on the hate crime charge.

The New York Times reported Phoenix's retrial will begin on June 15, but Ana María Archila, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, summed it up best when she discussed the mistrial during an interview earlier today for a story on which I'm working for EDGE.

“This case dominates a lot of people in these communities and highlights the need to do so much more than to win a verdict,” she said.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Return to Fire Island

An interview with Cherry Grove's new postmaster, a cat that apparently likes to hang out on top of an upside-down rowboat near the Ocean Bay Park fire house and seemingly relentless gale force winds were all features of my first weekend on Fire Island this year. And all in all, I remain very optimistic this summer will be a good one on the beach.

Bicycles parked along Bay Walk in Ocean Beach

Looking out at the bay from Bay View Walk in Ocean Bay Park on May 8.

Apparatus from the Ocean Bay Park Fire Department parked in front of the fire house on May 8.

This cat apparently likes to hang out around the Ocean Bay Park firehouse.

Some interesting beach debris between Point O' Woods and the Sunken Forest.

Beach plums in bloom near Sunken Forest on May 8.

Tea in the Fire Island Pines on May 8.

Point O' Woods oceanfront on May 9.

The remnants of the access to Point O' Woods' main beach on May 9.

Home sweet home on Surf Road in Ocean Beach.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sucuzhañay family, elected officials react to Hakim Scott verdict

As a Brooklyn jury continues to deliberate Keith Phoenix's fate, José Sucuzhañay's brother and other elected officials criticized Hakim Scott's acquittal on second degree murder as a hate crime during a press conference outside the court house on Friday, May 7.

From right; Diego Sucuzhañay, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and City Councilmember Daniel Dromm [D-Jackson Heights] speak at a press conference in downtown Brooklyn on May 7. [Photo courtesy of William Alatriste]

Members of the Sucuzhañay family join activists and elected officials in downtown Brooklyn on May 7. [Photo courtesy of William Alatriste]

A jury convicted Scott of manslaughter in connection with José Sucuzhañay's death on Dec. 7, 2008. He faces up to 25 years in prison, but the International Ecuadorian Alliance is among the groups that continue to urge their members to stand in solidarity with the Sucuzhañay family and to demand an end to hate crimes.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jury convicts Hakim Scott of manslaughter

A Brooklyn jury has convicted one of the two men accused of beating José Sucuzhañay to death, but the panel acquitted Hakim Scott of second degree murder as a hate crime.

Hakim Scott faces up to 25 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of manslaughter for beating Sucuzhañay to death with a baseball bat and broken bottles near the intersection of Bushwick Avenue and Kossuth Place on Dec. 7, 2008, but he would have faced a potential life sentence if the panel had found him guilty of the hate crime charges. Diego Sucuzhañay expressed disappointment at the verdict.

“His [Scott’s] initial motivation was hate, and that’s what motivated him to jump out of his car and attack him [my brother,]” he told Boy in Bushwick earlier tonight.

Diego Sucuzhañay also rejected defense attorneys’ claims Scott and Phoenix reacted in self-defense.

“There is no evidence my brothers provoked them at all,” he added. “They were just walking by.”

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, other elected officials and activists are scheduled to hold a press conference outside the courthouse tomorrow morning. She blasted the jury’s decision to acquit Scott on the hate crimes charge.

“It is incomprehensible to me that such violent acts of hate could receive a verdict of not guilty,” said Quinn in a statement. ”Hakim Scott viciously attacked José Sucuzhañay while calling him derogatory names and stood by and watched while his fellow attacker, Keith Phoenix, beat Jose with a baseball bat. José was attacked simply because of who he was and who these two criminals perceived him to be. His attack was motivated and fueled by pure hatred.”

A separate jury began to deliberate Phoenix’s fate today. Scott is scheduled to be sentenced on June 9.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sucuzhañay case goes to the jury

More than two weeks after the trial of the men who allegedly beat José Sucuzhañay to death began, a Brooklyn jury will now decide the fate of one of them.

The panel began to deliberate the fate of Hakim Scott earlier today; a second jury is expected to receive the case against Keith Phoenix tomorrow.

Prosecutors contend Scott and Phoenix shouted anti-gay and anti-Latino slurs at Sucuzhañay as they beat him with a baseball bat and broken bottles near the intersection of Bushwick Avenue and Kossuth Place on Dec. 7, 2008. Romel Sucuzhañay, who was walking arm and arm with his brother at the time of the attack, was among those who took the stand during the trial.

Both defendants face a possible life sentence if convicted.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Times Square car bomb coverage

As authorities continue to interrogate Faisal Shahzad in connection with the Times Square car bomb, the investigation remains the obvious top story here in New York. Here are some snapshots from WABC, WCBS and WNBC earlier today.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Times Square car bomb strengthens resolve against terrorism

The last thing I thought I would hear while watching late night television on my friend Kevin’s couch in Philadelphia was a car bomb had almost been detonated in Times Square, but this news is exactly what I heard early Sunday.

Someone placed two propane tanks, two gas containers, two clocks, gunpowder canister and fireworks found inside the SUV parked on West 45th Street around 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 1. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was still in the tuxedo he wore to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington, D.C., earlier in the evening as he and New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly briefed reporters around 2:15 a.m. on Sunday, May 2, but the mere prospect of a catastrophic explosion in the heart of Times Square nauseates me.

WABC reported earlier tonight the Federal Bureau of Investigation has identified a “person of interest” in the case. Throngs of tourists have once again returned to the Crossroads of the World. And while this attempted car bombing is an extremely sobering reminder of the scourge of (potential) terrorism, my father’s advice to not live in fear of those who seek to terrorize remains an all too important mantra for this New Yorker and others around the country.