I am a lesbian who grew up in Levittown, PA, and moved to Philadelphia several years before gay artist Anthony Milano, 26, was brutally murdered in 1987. The case was the first known anti-gay hate crime murder trial in this country, ten years before the murder of Matthew Shephard, the gay college student who was murdered near Laramie, Wyoming.
Governor Corbett (PA) signed the death warrant for one of the murderers, Richard Laird, scheduled to die by lethal injection on May 12th. A stay of execution has since been granted. Laird was convicted twice and given two death sentences. A second man was also convicted of the slashing murder but a federal judge set aside his death sentence.
I came out soon after leaving Levittown. I still remember the look on my mother's face when she handed me the local newspaper article about Anthony's murder. "Now I understand why you had to move away," she said. Moving away was something I probably would have done regardless of my sexual orientation. But I remained a dutiful daughter. When my mother was diagnosed with fourth-stage cancer in 1995 I returned to help my father care for her.
In Tea Leaves, my just-published memoir (Bella Books), I focus on my relationship with my mother (who had a wicked sense of humor) and not on growing up gay in the 1970s in Levittown. But I do write about the fact that I was bullied. In elementary school, I was the taller than everyone and I was a bookworm, an only child with no older brothers to defend me. All made me fair game for "getting picked on" -- including getting beat up and pushed down the steep hill behind my elementary school by a pack of boys who were having some fun.
I didn't know Anthony personally -- but his murder had a profound effect on me. Years later, I met a man who went to art school with Anthony and a friend's father who came to this country from Italy knew Anthony's father, also an Italian immigrant.
Vito Milano, now 83 and still working as a barber, was quoted in the local newspaper , saying that he has thought about the murder of his son every day and that he believes that both men deserve to die.
My philosophy of nonviolence had deepened over the years. But I do hope that Anthony's father lives long enough to see the day when American justice is served.
Janet Mason is the author of Tea Leaves: a memoir of mother and daughters published by Bella Books. She lives in Philadelphia and is a freelance writer.