The saying goes “history often repeats itself” but for those who are black and Queer, that history is often violent and unprotected.
A déjà vu moment for the LGBTQ community happened last week when reports surfaced of another black gay man dying in the home of wealthy Democratic donor Ed Buck. New and disturbingly fresh to some, the story isn’t only stranger than fiction but proves gay black men are fetishized in plain sight.
Let’s back up a bit. On July 27, 2017, police were called to the home of Buck in West Hollywood, Calif., where the body of 26-year-old Gemmel Moore was found unresponsive. The Los Angeles coroner’s office would initially rule Gemmel’s death an overdose of crystal methamphetamine—a growing problem within the LGBTQ community. However, there was an immediate outcry from the black queer community, as the narrative between Moore and Buck raised more questions than answers.
Today would’ve been Gemmel’s 28h birthday. Instead of celebrations and Instagram posts from friends, Gemmel’s legacy in the public sphere is that of a sex worker—a stirring attempt to discredit his worth while subtly blaming the victim for his own death. We have seen this occur many times when discussing the LGBTQ sex worker community. Transgender women are also painted as such in stories to devalue their worth. Far too often, sex workers endure victim blaming and shaming. A societal standard that contributes to the notion that sex workers are partly liable in their own deaths because of “risk” involved with the industry, intersected with mainstream views about sex work, not fitting standards or respectability.
Questions began to arise about why Buck, a 65-year-old white man, and social-political butterfly to Democratic party members like Hillary Clinton would have someone 39 years his junior in his home doing drugs. As more reporting by activist and journalist Jasmyne Cannick and others continued, a tale of privilege, wealth, and sexual exploitation became the new narrative of story many simply tried to bury.
Reports were coming out from other young black queer men who had dealings with Buck, many of them detailing his drugging of them with meth by needle—a technique called “pointing.” Entries from Gemmel’s journal were also published by Cannick, revealing just how much pain and madness he was subjected to, including Buck, reportedly getting the 26-year-old hooked on drugs for sexual pleasure.
It is not easy to live at the intersection of being Black and Queer. It’s a double marginalization where we often find ourselves devoid of allies. On one side we have our own community which like all others, deals with homophobia. That homophobia often times bleeds into social justice work around black queer people. People who feel race should come first and be the only concern.
Black queer people are often fighting for others who would never fight for them. We have been conditioned by white supremacy to fall prey to respectability politics that makes us see anything other than cishet as an attack against our own community.
Despite the painful evidence, media began doing what it does with most black victims—painting them as the deviant and the abuser as the one being victimized. Gemmel was painted as a drug-addicted sex worker, an attempt at dehumanizing his value.
The views of sex work in the United States intersected with Gemmel being from a marginalized community was a tactic that saw many blaming the victim, rather than the manipulative predatory Buck, who was being protected by his wealth, whiteness, and proximity to those in power.
Following the LA coroner’s report, social media outrage eventually forced the LA Sheriff’s department to give the full investigation into the matter that it deserved. Unfortunately, after several months of getting statements and going over the evidence, the LA prosecutor’s office refused to indict Buck, leaving the family and black LGBTQ community feeling hopeless that Gemmel would ever get justice.
However, last week news broke that a second black gay man by the name of Timothy Dean was found dead in the home of …Ed Buck. This time around, media coverage was immediate as multiple major outlets covered the story about the 55-year-old victim, a significant change from the first death. With circumstances surrounding the incident much like the first time, the story was hard to ignore with national coverage happening almost immediately. Responders arrived at Buck’s home to find Dean unresponsive by an apparent overdose.
Black queer people are often fighting for others who would never fight for them.
Immediately, Buck’s lawyers issued a statement removing him of all culpability and once again blaming the victim for his own death. “From what I know, it was an old friend who died of an accidental overdose, and unfortunately, we believe that the substance was ingested at some place other than the apartment,” said Seymour Amster, Buck’s attorney. “The person came over intoxicated.”
With this being the second occurrence of death at his home, investigators were more eager to look into the situation—as was the media who showed up to the home of Buck that evening looking for comment. What most were greeted by was outraged citizens, many of whom were from the black queer community that has remained steadfast since last year.
Dozens of activists and community members protested in front of the home of Buck following the second death. During the rally, several citizens spoke out including Cannick. She challenged several city council members who showed up to the rally about how disengaged and harmful they had been the first time this happened, and how their support now was questionable at best. This is an important sentiment in the story because much of Buck’s protection came in the form of those he donated too, on both a micro and macro level.
This is a challenge to all communities witnessing the atrocities that black queer people are facing in this country. Your silence has become complicity in our death.
When the first death occurred in his home in 2017, politicians refused to release statements about the situation. There were some rumblings from GOP members, but only because he was a donor to the Democratic Party, not because of who the victim was—partly why the buzz died down as media coverage went away.
For his political allies, there was too much at stake. With President Donald Trump creating more turmoil between the major political parties and the #MeToo movement surrounding the behaviors targeting those in Hollywood, there seemed to be limited space to care for black life–an aspect we’re used to these days.
On a micro level, these same city council members who accepted funds from Buck in the past were silent in the first death. Not wanting to ruffle feathers with the wealthy donor, choosing allegiance to secure funding over the life of Gemmel Moore. But now, the political climate has changed. In November of 2018, the Democratic Party took back the House of Representatives, all about removing any shielding Buck may have from the party. Once word broke of a second death, those who were silent are now issuing statements and sending money back that was donated by Buck.
Black lives, in general, are not protected in media nor community. White people are more concerned about preserving power and privilege then every affording us equity and justice. This sentiment bleeds into the white queer community, which has also helped to oppress black queer people.
Most recently, comedian Ellen DeGeneres spoke up on behalf of a community she did not belong to offer forgiveness to Kevin Hart for his comments about the gay community. However, when it is someone from her own community causing harm to black queer people, (ie: Buck) she like many other white queer people are nowhere to be found. It only adds to people who love to partake in our culture while turning a blind eye or aiding in our oppression.
This is a challenge to all communities witnessing the atrocities that black queer people are facing in this country. Your silence has become complicity in our death. It should not have taken for a second dead body to be found at the home of Ed Buck for people to join in solidarity with us. We have experienced this type of violence against our community for far too long with no justice in our plight.
Ed Buck is using his wealth, class, and power to manipulate black queer men who are vulnerable. Men who are sex workers or struggling to make a livable wage to sustain their own existence. Men who are already caught up in the meth epidemic and fall prey to sexual exploitation in return from drugs. How many more lives must be lost before a stop is put to this?
In the coming days, it will be more important than ever that media coverage does not let up and continues to press the LA Sheriff’s Office to not commit the same mistake twice. If black lives truly matter, then we must be more vocal and fervent in our fight when they fall among the most marginalized. This is a continuing story, one that we will not only cover but see through till the end—an end that looks like justice for Gemmel Moore, Timothy Dean, and the black queer lives that continue to go unprotected.
George M Johnson is a journalist and activist living in Brooklyn NY with features in over 40 publications including Vibe, Essence, VICE, and Buzzfeed. His debut YA memoir “All Boys Aren’t Blue” is scheduled to be released January 2020 through FSG.