On May 29, near Woodlawn Cemetery, 18-year-old Randallstown High School student Steven Parrish was stabbed and stomped to death. His murder, according to a Baltimore County prosecutor, was committed by two other teens. Mr. Parrish was days away from graduation. He was stabbed more than 50 times.
As reported Aug. 19 in The Baltimore Sun, the three young men were allegedly members in a subset of the Bloods gang. Apparently the killers thought Mr. Parrish was gay, and that made them fear the gang's reputation would suffer.
Like a lot of folks around here, I'm pretty much inured to the daily crime reports, but the twist in this particular story gave me pause. Did Mr. Parrish embrace gang culture in an effort to sublimate his sexual identity? Did he think he could reconcile gang life with being closeted? Could coming to terms with himself have helped him break free of the gang?
I can imagine how some people might think of this case as no big deal, just unsavory gang business with no innocent bystanders killed.
I can also imagine how some people might even dismiss it on the grounds that anyone gay is asking for trouble. But that kind of thinking, in its extreme form, is exactly what leads to such horrific events as the killing of Mr. Parrish. Or the fatal shooting of a gay junior high school student in California by a 14-year-old classmate in February. Or the stabbing death last year of a 25-year old gay man in Central Florida by two young men in what police described as a hate crime.
It doesn't take much searching to uncover many reports like these. The perceived threat of homosexuality has long generated an intense hatred in people of every race, creed and nationality and in every walk of life - from servicemen to gang members, from churchgoers to church-invaders.
A hideous example of the latter was the man who went on a shooting rampage last month in a Tennessee church, killing two and wounding seven. Police said that the motive appeared to be the accused murderer's hatred of liberals and gays, and the church's welcoming of both.
Such incidents don't occur in a vacuum. Human beings don't come out of the womb despising homosexuality. As the song in South Pacific puts it: "You've got to be taught to hate and fear. ... It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear. ... You've got to be taught before it's too late, before you are 6 or 7 or 8, to hate all the people your relatives hate. You've got to be carefully taught."
Many of the "teachers" who pass along contempt of gays use the Bible as a study guide. They ignore any Levitical rules on diet or animal sacrifice they consider irrelevant today - and brush right past the instruction to execute anyone who curses his or her parents - but they never tire of quoting the condemnation of man lying with mankind. Of course, they avoid any discussion of the love between David and Jonathan ("passing the love of women"). They eagerly mention Sodom but don't notice how that city's destruction is subsequently referred to, even by Jesus, as a moral about inhospitality to strangers. And though they're quick to quote Paul, few have studied the original Greek text to consider textual nuances. What fundamentally drives anti-gay attitudes is the conviction that gay people choose to be gay. I've yet to meet a heterosexual person who can tell me the moment when he or she chose to be heterosexual; they just knew they were attracted to the opposite sex. Why is it so difficult to accept that gays go through exactly the same process?
Refusing to recognize that process leads to a hatred I can't fathom, any more than I could if right-handed thugs were targeting left-handed people who refused to change.
The killing of Steven Parrish offers a chilling reminder of how much we need new generations "to be carefully taught" that human sexuality is a complex thing, full of variables. And that no set of beliefs - whether based on religion or nothing more than peer pressure - should be able to turn sexual inclination into grounds for demonization, cruelty and even, in a wooded spot near a Baltimore cemetery, the crushing out of a young life.
Tim Smith is The Baltimore Sun's classical music critic. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.