This week marks 50 years since Kitty Genovese was raped and stabbed to death near her NYC apartment. The murder has become an infamous example of the bystander effect, as the many witnesses did nothing to stop or report the crime.
A lesser known fact is that Kitty was romantically involved with a woman, Mary Ann Zielonko, with whom she lived. According to Queerty, a new book ("Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America") suggests that people were hesitant to get involved or investigate thoroughly because Kitty was a lesbian.
Queerty wrote, "The public attitude toward lesbians in the mid-’60s wasn’t exactly friendly, so it’s tempting to wonder if that played a role in the neighbors’ refusal to call police. Maybe they were suspicious of the two women sharing an apartment together, and didn’t want to get involved in what might’ve looked like a romantic spat. It wasn’t a romantic spat, of course. Genovese was randomly targeted by Winston Moseley, who simply liked to kill. After his capture he confessed to two other murders."
While the exact number of bystanders has been debated, the fact remains that no one intervened. 50 years later, we need to collectively ask if, as a society, we are doing enough for LGBT people who experience violence? It does not appear that Kitty was attacked for being a lesbian, but her community's response and history's erasure of her LGBT identity speak to the problematic ways in which society can easily dismiss marginalized peoples, even in their hour of greatest need.
Last week, long time couple Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson lost their lives in a grisly murder in Texas and their bodies were left by a dumpster. Locals and community organizers have been rallying in order to seek answers, justice, and closure and an arrest was recently made—Britney's father is believed to be responsible for the young women's death, according to the Sheriff of Galveston County.
But where is the national outcry? Why is the mainstream media choosing to ignore the tragic stories of two black lesbian women? Why are not more resources available for LGBT people who suffer from interpersonal violence, though they are at the highest risk for it? With people of color accounting for 73% of all anti-LGBT homicide victims, violence in the community—and the public's willingness to ignore it--is an issue that requires attention to intersecting factors and identities.
50 years later, the bystander effect may still be in full force.