Justice for Don Belton

Don Belton, a professor of English at Indiana University, was tragically killed by an assailant who, many in his local queer community are concerned, may seek to use a variant of the notorious “gay panic” defense. They are also concerned that “Hateful, racist, and homophobic remarks have been circulating on messaging boards under articles about Don’s murder.” So in addition to mourning this sad event — which has unfairly ended the life of a man who had already greatly contributed to black and queer literature and culture — organizers of Justice for Don Belton are urging militancy as the story unfolds in the local and national media, and as prosecutors prepare possible charges against Michael Griffin.

By Tav

Free radical, philosophical dilletante, music completist.

3 replies on “Justice for Don Belton”

I would describe the activism to educate the police, prosecutors and community about the so-called “gay panic” defense, plus the raising awareness about homophobic and racist internet responses to this murder as militancy. I was thinking of Douglas Crimp’s famous essay, “Mourning and Militancy” about the need for both in the wake of the AIDS crisis.

A Coffee Shop Friend

Caroline at Café Green Bean would tell me with such enthusiasm that I had to meet Don, I began genuinely wondering about the man I seem to just keep missing.

When we finally met, I understood the reasons for Caroline’s enthusiasm. First there was his infectious signature smile as many have noted. Then his special way of diving directly into conversations as if we have known each other all our lives, erased of all pretenses. I knew I encountered a spirit who insisted on being free.

I began telling him about James Baldwin’s days in Istanbul in the 60 ties, he told me about Ottoman slavery system. Neither of us knew that the other had studied those subjects. I had no idea how influential James Baldwin was in his life at the time; he didn’t know that I have studied Ottoman literature and history. I was quite impressed to meet an American who knew the existence of the Ottoman Empire, let alone the intricacy of the slavery system which was different than that of the Americas and the West.

Our brand new friendship was tested soon after at our next random meeting; I was at the coffee shop with my dog Zorba, who thinks everyone simply like him. Don stood way back and said he is afraid of dogs, and began critiquing the pet culture among white-wealthy. I tied my dog further in the back away from him. I told him how the German Shepherds in apartheid South Africa were trained to keep blacks out of the white sections. Trying to convey that I sympathized with where he was coming from. Luckily Zorba redeemed himself by singing his heart out to a Nat King Kole song; upon hearing it Don went and pet him said that he was an exception. I felt relieved and thought oh good, “exception” is a good step in the right direction for both of us.

After that we had a few stimulating conversations about topics varying from art, literature, film, gender, mortgage payments, organic food, and so on. There were moments were he would become passionate about a given topic and a point of view; but his passion stemmed from compassion, not aggression, and that was something beautiful see. And there was love; we talked about love, I told him a little about the joy and perils of love in the Western world for a Middle Eastern woman, he told me a little about the joy and perils of love for a black man anywhere.

It was also beautiful to see such a diverse group of people at his Memorial Service at The Unitarian Church. There were people there I knew as colleagues, mentors, professors, friends, ex friends, soon to be friends, acquaintances, strangers, all came together under the same roof to say good bye and to celebrate. I was just a coffee shop friend; and as each one spoke, I learned a something new about Don and about life in general. His brother’s story about twelve hour road trip that was suppose to take six yet how enjoyable it turned out to be, the lesson being “when things go wrong, don’t go with it”. His friend from Hawaii urged us to make a difference. His own words dare us to love. The church was his classroom. This was his last lecture. Don taught us even in death as in life, as he left.

Seems like, each person that Don touched, he showed that like our spirits, love knows no race, no gender, no national or cultural boundaries, no time and no space. What he wrote holds true, love helps us “take our masks off”, love makes us free, in life as in death. Love is eternal.

Now as I sit here at my makeshift alter looking at his smiling face, I can’t help but smile back. I hold a pink crane, one of the thousand folded by friends. I think of taking it to The Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, Museum I urged him to visit. I will place it at the Lost and Found section, with all the other loves gone wrong now, but will be right someday.

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