Just Another Statistic?

Last June, San Francisco firefighters discovered the body of Freddy Canul-Arguello, 23, burned beyond recognition alongside a trash bin. The gay man had moved from Mexico with his brother Ivan about four years ago after learning of the city’s gay-friendly reputation. He was by all accounts a happy man who loved life and often performed in drag at local venues.

According to a recent report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 70% of anti-LGBT murder victims in 2010 were people of color. The study documented 27 anti-LGBT- motivated killings in 2010, the second highest annual total in the past decade.

Morgan Bassichis, the organizing director at San Francisco’s Community United Against Violence, notes that those in this group are affected by layers of discrimination. “If you are both LGBT and a person of color,” says Bassichis, “that means you are less likely to have a job, a place to live, or health care, which means you’re more likely to be homeless, incarcerated, and sick. All this means that LGBT people of color’s lives are cut short, either by violence or poverty.”

In the case of Canul-Arguello, the attorney for suspect David M. Diaz says the young man’s death was not a hate crime but a “terrible accident.” Public defender Alex Lilien told reporters the death was due to “some form of erotic asphyxiation” during consensual sex gone awry. Prosecutors have charged Diaz with second-degree murder, arson, and willful mutilation of a corpse, and he has pleaded not guilty.

Regardless of the outcome of Diaz’s trial, Bassichis wants to put an end to this wave of violence, something that’s more than just a terrible statistic. “The first step in ending the violent death of so many LGBT people of color is to put their issues at the center of the LGBT agenda: affordable housing, health care, employment, public benefits, and education,” he says. “When people have a safety net, they are less vulnerable to violence, plain and simple.”