It’s amazing how much can change in 12 years.
The Pew Research Center released survey results earlier this month that reported 51 percent of Americans favor legal same sex marriage and 42 percent oppose. In 2001, 57 percent opposed gay marriage and only 35 percent favored.
It’s also amazing what can change in five days. In that time, Columbus’ LGBT and allies community started a movement in pink.
It all started when reports of three separate attacks on gay men in one week started flooding into public consciousness — and social media — two Mondays ago.
Along with the outrage came misinformation, hurt and fear. All of it had Andrew Levitt’s head spinning.
“I think when you are in a situation like that, everyone feels really helpless and I don’t think they know what to do,” Levitt said of the feeling the community experienced after the attack. “There were a lot of fingers being pointed all these different directions on Facebook that made me very uncomfortable.”
He certainly didn’t know what to do or say even though he knew he had to, wanted to. Levitt is also known as popular Columbus drag queen Nina West and is friends with one of the victims; more intimately than that, Levitt himself had once been a victim of a hate crime while he was in college.
“When people are attacked because of who they are I feel the need to do something. People could really easily get lost in their emotions of being a victim and get lost in the process of healing,” Levitt said. “You can really be altered for the rest of your life and really trying to figure out how to cope with that and feel safe in environments you already felt safe in, even your own home.”
Levitt anticipated that members of the LGBT community wanted to do something to show their support of victims of hate crimes, to reclaim the city’s status as gay-friendly. He heard that the staff of Axis nightclub, which is owned by the company for which one of the victims worked, was wearing pink on Friday, June 14, to honor that the victim close to them had been wearing pink the night of his attack. Nina West/ Levitt started a Facebook event calling his friends to do the same.
Levitt didn’t anticipate what would happen next.
Several minutes after Levitt posted “On Fridays We Wear Pink” on Facebook, Whit’s Frozen Custard commented that it would sell pink custard at its Short North store. Columbus Food League offered to sell pink food. T-shirt company Skreened announced it would hand out free pink shirts to people who wanted to participate but didn’t own pink. Countless other local businesses stepped in to offer something similar.
A Chicago man (and friend of Levitt’s) put up a website by Thursday (wearpinkfriday.com), and 4,000 Facebook event invites turned into 8,000 turned into 12,000 turned into 20,000 turned into 42,000.
The first person to post a photo of himself wearing pink was a man in South Korea. They came pouring in after that, including a photo of a brother of one of the victims, Christopher Kratavil, wearing a pink scarf while dressed in his army uniform. He is serving in Afghanistan.
More than 30 entertainers and a sergeant from the Columbus Police Department took the stage at Axis that night for an event to cap off the day. The place was packed with pink, and the evening raised $11,346 for the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization. The goal was $4,000.
David Conley was there. Conley, one of the three recent victims, said he was attacked by three men with a two-by-four piece of wood just blocks from his home in Olde Towne East.
“I lived in this bubble and thought no one could touch me. Obviously [the attacks were] an awareness thing for everybody. This stuff is still happening, it’s not from the ‘80s or ‘70s. Everyone needs to be aware of it,” Conley said. “I want to thank the community for their support and the Columbus police for their rapid response. The community needs to stay strong as a whole. Don’t give up on what we believe is right.”
Extra security precautions are being taken for this weekend’s Pride festival, said Karla Rothan, executive director of Stonewall Columbus, although much of that is due to the bombings at the Boston Marathon earlier this year. The Division of Fire will be present during the parade and the festival for the first time this year, for example, and the staff has ramped up its communications system, switching from a four-watt channel radio to a 40-watt.
Levitt said he has no idea what to do with Pink Friday now. Maybe June 14 should be it. The beauty of last Friday, he said, was how organically it happened, how genuine it all seemed.
“Throughout last week my jaw just kept hitting the ground,” he said. “In this really grassroots way our community was really being heard in a way we never had been before.”
Photos by Meghan Ralston and Tim Johnson