Over the past week, Seattle’s Southside, Filipino and LGBT communities have gathered to mourn the loss of Danny Vega, an openly gay Filipino American man who died on November 27 from injuries received during a brutal attack in which he was beaten and robbed while taking a walk in his Rainier Valley neighborhood on November 15. He was 58 years old.
According to Seattle police, Vega’s attackers beat him unconscious and took his cell phone and keys. Vega was hospitalized with severe injuries to his kidneys, liver and brain. He fell into a coma and was later put on life-support until he passed away.
MSNBC reported that while police are not investigating the attack as a hate crime, Vega’s family believes he was targeted because he was openly gay. Others emphasize that the attack on Vega is one of at least nine similar robberies that have occurred in the neighborhood lately. In an interview with FOX news, Nhan Thai explained that exactly two months prior, he was attacked and robbed in the same neighborhood, around the same time of night. “Because Danny was an openly gay man, I am an openly gay man, I don’t know if that has anything to do with it when they picked us to attack,” Thai said. “That's why I think it`s important that other victims of these robberies need to come forward, so we can see where the common links are.”
Vega was born in the Philippines and immigrated to the United States in 1976. For over 20 years, he was the owner of Danny Vega’s Hair Design, a well-known hair salon catering to Seattle’s Filipino and other immigrant communities. According to The Seattle Times, in the days following Vega’s death, supporters gathered in his salon to cover the basin with candles, photos of Vega and statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Some also left flowers outside the salon in tribute.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn issued a statement honoring Danny’s life, stating, “Danny was well known for his service to the community. He was a regular volunteer at the Filipino Community Center, most recently helping with the 76th Anniversary of the Filipino Community in Seattle event on November 5. At his salon, he was known for his creative styles and his friendly manner. He was active in Seattle’s LGBT community, including his participation in the Miss FCS Gay and Miss Asian Gay pageants.”
Balitang America, a Filipino American news channel, covered Vega’s death, highlighting the fact that Vega was beloved and respected by his family and community in Seattle.
In the interview with Balitang America, Geoff Lagonoy, one of Vega’s customers, stated, “He’s cut my hair in high school and when I went to college, and he’s always been a part of our family. My brother also takes his son to get his hair cut [there too].”
Bebot De Guzman, a friend of Vega’s, added, “He represents the first generation of Filipino gays in Seattle.”
Tiare Fidow, who identifies as fa’afafine, a term definining third gendered Samoan people, is an outreach advocate at the Asian Pacific Islander Safety Center and vice president of UTOPIA (United Territorial of Pacific Islanders Alliance) Seattle, a local LGBT organization. In an interview with GLAAD, she stated, “Danny’s passing has left a great void. He was a queer role model for me. I met him thirty years ago, when I was in tenth grade. I was in an alternative high school at the time, because I had gotten into quite a few fights trying to stand up against bullying. I grew up in a church environment where there was no one I could relate to - this was back in the early 1980s, and there weren’t a lot of Pacific Islanders who were out at the time. So when I found out about Danny and heard that a lot of our community members were going to his beauty salon, I skipped class one day to go meet him for myself. And he was like a breath of fresh air, because he was the first person I’d ever met who was openly gay. I found a safe haven in Danny and his salon. I would often go there and just sit and laugh and feel inspired by how free and comfortable he was in his own skin. He let me know that even though I didn’t feel safe at home, I could grow up to have the space to feel comfortable in who I was and to be somebody in the world. I will always cherish his memory.”
In an interview with GLAAD, Kimchi Do, a long-time customer of Vega’s, shared, “Danny has been cutting my hair and my children’s hair for the past 14 years. He was a very, very nice person, incredibly giving. I would often give him a big tip, and he would tell me, ‘Kim, you gave me too much!’ and would force me to take some of it back. He loved to make people look good, because he loved to make people happy, help them believe in themselves. He was the type of person that could always bring a smile to your face no matter what type of mood you were in.”
“I want to know why his attackers came after him,” Do continued. “Why do they hate gay people so much that they would kill someone just for being who they are? Where was the love and trust and respect for him that he showed everyone around him? Danny and I talked a lot about our shared experiences of bullying...Danny didn’t deserve to die this way. No one does.”
In a statement by The Northwest Network, a Seattle-based organization working to prevent violence in LGBT communities, Executive Director Connie Burk said, “Seattle’s Southside, Filipina & LGBT communities have honored Danny’s life and his deep commitment to all his communities through an outpouring of love and a demand for real change. We are heart-broken for the Vega family and we are so sad for the terrible fact of violence in all our lives. Still, we are encouraged by the communities’ caring response. And, we know the way forward is to redouble our efforts to transform the legacies of state, institutional & family violence that shape the world around us.”
The Northwest Network partnered with the Asian Pacific Islander Safety Center, Chaya, and the Capacity Project to host a community gathering to discuss Vega’s murder on Sunday, December 4.
Vega’s life and death has been covered by a variety of media outlets, including The Seattle Times, MSNBC, and FOX News.
A viewing, rosary and eulogy was held on Wednesday and Thursday in Seattle. A funeral mass will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Edward Parish in Seattle, followed by interment and blessings at a nearby cemetery.
Seattle police are asking anyone who has information about this incident or who may know the identity of the suspects to call the Seattle Police Homicide and Assault Unit at 206-233-5000. Anonymous calls are welcome.
Vega is survived by eight siblings, five nieces, four nephews, and six grandnieces and grandnephews. GLAAD mourns his death and offers deep sympathies to his loved ones and all who loved him during this difficult time.