Thursday, September 01, 2005

Days of mourning - Part 4: Eddie Garzon passes on

When the Garzon family heard about my plans for a community vigil they requested that I meet with them to explain to them what I was planning to do. They were already weary of the media attention and feared that the vigil would in fact turn to be an angry and violent demonstration. I assured them that the intent was to bring attention to the crime, to express public and visible support for Eddie as well as them, and to allow the community and his friends to openly show rejection of the attack. By then Eddie’s sister and cousin had arrived and they were even more hesitant than his parents, since they felt that Leonor and Armando had been going through enough without having to worry about yet one more thing. Ultimately though, it was Armando, Eddie’s father, a stoic and strong man who seemed shaken to the core by the attack on his son, who said: “We understand that the community feels the need to do their own thing and, through the family will not support it or participate in it, we give you the go-ahead to do what you must.”

The only requests from the family were: 1) That no media should be contacted; 2) That the vigil not be turned into a political rally or showcase and 3) That it be respectful of Eddie and the family.

At the time, I understood that some of these requests as well as their fear that a vigil might turn into a violent protest, were informed by how they understood things in the United States through the prism of Colombian news broadcasts as well as how politics were carried out in Colombia. But, though I knew some of the requests would limit the attention that political involvement or media outreach could bring to the crime, I chose to promise the family that I would do my best to follow their requests. The last thing I wanted was to make that particular moment even more difficult for them.
The flyer was easy to design. Marlene provided the photo we used. Gathering signatures and sponsors for the vigil through my networks was also relatively easy. We made copies and went out to the gay bars in Jackson Heights and the LGBT Center in Manhattan. We also went from store-front to store-front asking coffee-shop and restaurant owners to please display the flyers. I was shocked by how willing they were to do so and by how much concern they expressed. My boyfriend and I posted it on the door of our apartment building, it was the first time that some of the families who lived on our floor found out that we were a gay couple. Even a conservative Colombian couple knocked on our door to ask more about the crime and to express their sorrow.
Most of the vigil sponsors signed up after I sent out an alert through a Latino LGBT related e-mail list-serv that I run. They included the Audre Lorde Project, the Brazilian Rainbow Group, the Empire State Pride Agenda, Colectivo Mexicano, Gay Men's Health Crisis’s Proyecto P.A.P.I., Gay Officers Action League (GOAL), Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the Hispanic AIDS Forum, House of Anjea, Latino Gay Men of New York, the Latino Commission on AIDS, Latitud 0°: Ecuadorian LGBT Movement, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, the National Latino/a Lesbian & Gay Oreganization (LLEGO), the NYC Gay & Lesbian AntiViolence Project (AVP), Oasis (Bucaramanga), Primer Movimiento Peruano, the Puerto Rican Initiative to Develop Empowerment (PRIDE), the Queens Pride House, the Queens Lesbian & Gay Pride Committee, Queens Lesbians & Gays United (QGLU), Queers for Racial and Economic Justice, SAGE/Queens and Verizon and S.i.S.T.A.H.

Unfortunately I also received a particular call from a local community organization leader who had seen one of the flyers who was angry that they were not originally listed and demanded an explanation. I tried to explain that I had based my outreach on the e-mail list and that I would be more than welcome to ad them as sponsors but he would have none of it. To quell the anger, they were added as sponsors as well.

And then, Eddie passed away on September 4, 2001.


The original prognosis after the attack was guarded but stable. But, over the weeks, it was obvious to some that Eddie’s health was taking a turn for the worst. Some said that the brain damage sustained during the attack and the follow-up operation was so extensive that it was never clear that he would regain full consciousness.
That's when the calls began. New York 1, Telemundo and Univision picked up on the story and ran clips of the flyers posted on shop windows along Roosevelt Avenue. Political candidate representatives started calling to ask if their candidate could participate in the vigil. Organizations wanted to know if they could bring their banners. Media wanted to know if they could talk to his parents since they were not picking up the phone (a cameraman from one of the Spanish language television stations actually camped outside Eddie’s apartment building refusing to leave until they spoke to him). Invariably I would tell organizations that they could bring the banners as long as they stood on the side; politicians that they could participate but that, at the family’s request, there would be no opportunities for them to speak; and media that I would pass along their messages to the Garzon family but that at the moment they wanted to be left alone to deal with funeral plans.

I met with the Garzons one more time. Understandably, they were in deep grief and worried about the fact that a vigil that had been planned to wish for Eddie’s prompt recovery now would be a vigil to mourn his death. In the conversation we had I even proposed canceling the vigil. But the family, still not willing to officially support it, told me to go ahead. They also gave me a photograph of Edgar, which was his mother’s favorite picture. I asked them if I could bring the picture with me to the vigil and I was given a go ahead with one condition: That I would not send it to the press. I did tell them that I had been getting calls from media and politicians and that avoiding having either during the vigil would be difficult. They just said that they trusted me to make sure that whatever happened would honor their son’s life.

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