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Hard Questions in Wake of Gay Teen's Killing

Aired June 13, 2003 - 20:34   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well when you're a teenager fitting in, seems like one of the hardest things in the world to do. I think we all remember that. And if you're a teen, and you're gay, and you're African-American, finding a place to feel safe, a place of belonging can literally be a life or death challenge.
Maria Hinojosa has the story of a young girl who found a place to fit in, but getting home from that place lost her her life.


MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN URBAN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Decked out, ready to go, smart-mouthed teens loaded with urban attitude. Out to party beneath the sparkle of a Friday night sky. They are gay, African-American, underage, looking for some place to fit in, which for them is not near their home in suburban New Jersey. So they travel to New York's Greenwich Village to hang out on a teeny riverfront pier.

VALENCIA BAILEY, WITNESS: When you go to the Village, it's like a different environment. It's a - it seems like - that - like the gay community as one, we don't play no nonsense. There's no beef there. It's just like another harming place where you can just go and you can just relax, but you ain't got to worry about like nobody fighting.

HINOJOSA: Fifteen-year-old Sakia Gunn felt safe there, but on her way home in a Newark bus stop, an adult man came on to her and her friends.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She declined, said she was gay. No, I don't want to talk to you.

HINOJOSA: Sakia's friends says he then insulted them, saying...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The friends you hanging with, you don't need to be hanging with them, because they some fags, they some punks, they some homo fags.

HINOJOSA: And then in what police labeled a hate crime, the attacker stabbed her next to an empty police post.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He messed up his shirt, and he pulls out a knife and runs up on Sakia, put it in the back of her neck.

HINOJOSA: Sakia bled to death as her friends sought help from a motorist. PATRICK MUSA, WITNESS: She was banging on a window, she was crying, she was distraught. Her face looked like that she just went through a situation and she needed help.

HINOJOSA: The alleged killer turned himself in days later.

UNIDENTIFIED: Sakia turns her face towards me, looks me in my face, take a deep breath in, lets it out, and then her eyes went to the back of her head. And her head became heavy in my hands.

HINOJOSA: And ever since, hundreds have poured into the streets of Newark, New Jersey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need a safe place in Newark, New Jersey. We want a safe haven.

HINOJOSA: Comparing Sakia Gunn to Matthew Shepherd, the white gay youth murdered in a hate crime in Wyoming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: when someone like Matthew Shepherd dies, the entire country rallies behind it, gets the cover of "The New York Times," "TIME": magazine. And when a young lesbian African-American woman is killed in a bias crime because of who she is, a lesbian, you don't see it written anywhere.

HINOJOSA: And insisting their community make it safe for these urban teens to be gay.

ANTHONY HALL, SAKIA'S COUSIN: There's a lot of young people, males and females, that are gay but have nowhere to go but New York.

HINOJOSA: Sakia's friends sometimes travel with parents to the safety of the city piers now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You feel at peace. You know, you feel like you belong. You don't have to worry about people harassing you over here because there are so many people like you here.

HINOJOSA: Sakia's own mother went there recently just to see.

LATONA GUNN, SAKIA'S MOTHER: Tonight it's like I'm in my daughter's shoes right now, seeing how much fun she had. I always was proud of her.

HINOJOSA: Proud of her child, a budding basketball star, an avid reader, who died one night while looking for a place to fit in.

Maria Hinojosa, CNN, New York.


COOPER: I'm joined now by Sakia Gunn's mother, Latona Gunn, also Sakia's cousin, Anthony Hall. And with them is Cathy Renna of GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Appreciate all of you being here. I'm sorry it's under these circumstances.

Latona, when you knew your daughter was gay, she came out to you a couple years ago, did you ever think anything like this could happen?

L. GUNN: I never, ever dreamed anything can happen like this. When my daughter first came to me and explained to me her preference, only thing I had to say to her was never to be afraid of who she was.

COOPER: And she wasn't?

L. GUNN: And she wasn't.

COOPER: Anthony, do you - you know, as I'm sure you've gone over in your mind what happened that night and the stories you've heard, do you wish for a moment that she didn't say she was gay to these people who attacked her?

ANTHONY HALL, SAKIA GUNN'S COUSIN: Well, she wouldn't be herself if she did that. You know, she was who she was. She was happy for who she was. And she was a kind person. And regardless if she was gay or not, she would let you know because that's who she was. And she was proud of who she was. And only God can judge her. No man or woman can judge her.

COOPER: I know, Latona, you're proud of her still.

L. GUNN: Yes, yes.

COOPER: What do you want to have happen? I mean, what do you want the result of all this tragedy to be? I mean, you're trying to get a safe place for kids in Newark, who are gay, to be able to congregate so they don't have to travel these distances? Is that right?

L. GUNN: Yes, well me going to New York the night when I went to see, I could see why my daughter had such a glow every time she would ask permission to go there. It was like the glow on her face was like she was going on a mini vacation. She was going to a place where she was accepted. Nobody judged her. The only thing was the distance. I believe there should be a place in Newark where these children can go and be safe and affected also.

COOPER: Cathy, you know, there are probably people who are listening who say, you know, I'm sure there are places like that. There's parks or any place. Why is it so hard to find a place to hang out?

CATHY RENNA, GLAAD: I think it's about creating a safe space. I mean, we mentioned Matthew Shepherd's murder. That happened almost five years ago. And yet, we continue to see dozens and dozens of murders, particularly of young people. And we also continue to be very challenged and trying to bring attention to these issues.

And it takes communities like the community in Newark, like Sakia's family and friends and activists who have said enough is enough. In our own hometowns, we need to find a place where young people can go and feel safe and be accepted and find resources and be able to be who they are.

COOPER: Latona, what's the thing you most want people to remember about your daughter and to know about her and her life?

L. GUNN: That she was not afraid to be who she is. And I want the world to know my daughter is going to make a difference, because she's still here within everyone's heart.

COOPER: All right. We appreciate you coming in. Anthony?

HALL: I never realized how many young -- I mean young gay people there were in Newark until this happened. And they have nowhere to go except New York.

COOPER: All right.

HALL: And it's not right. It's not fair. And something needs to be done about it, you know?

COOPER: All right.

HALL: And because of my cousin's death, we're going to make sure something gets done about it.

RENNA: There were thousands of -- thousands of children at her funeral. Many of them were gay kids. And it was just so sad to see the school not send anybody to counsel these kids through their grief or deal with these issues at all.

COOPER: All right, well I appreciate all of you coming in and talking to us. Thank you very much.

HALL: And we thanků

RENNA: Thank you.

HALL: ...also just mention, we want to thank everyone that participated in everything, our family. Our hearts go out to all the people that gave us all the support.

COOPER: All right.

HALL: And we really thank you and appreciate everything you guys done.

COOPER: All right, thank you very much.


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