As the FBI investigates the murder of a young, gay, black man for a possible civil rights violation, friends of the victim are trying to start a broader conversation about race in Kansas City’s gay community.
Dionte Greene, 22, was found shot to death in his still-running car near the intersection of 69th Street and Bellefontaine Avenue in Kansas City, Mo., early Halloween morning.
People who knew Greene remember him as a loving son, devoted father and a caring friend. They say he was the last person they expected to be in trouble.
“Maybe it was someone that you knew that always got in trouble or did something,” says Korea Kelly, a 36-year-old black transgender woman who was friends with Greene. “But not this one. Not him. This baby, no. It just doesn’t make sense at all.”
Greene's friends say on the night he died, he was meeting a man he'd met on a hook up app – a man who did not identify as gay. They believe this man killed Greene because he was gay, and they'd like to see hate crime charges brought when an arrest is finally made in the case. But there’s been little of the public outcry alleged hate crimes typically generate.
“Another black man dies. Another black man is found dead in a car,” says Randall Jenson of the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project.
Jenson didn’t know Greene, but he knows many people active in the black LGBT community who did. When he learned the details of the Greene case, it seemed clear – this was a hate crime. He expected outrage, and he's certain Greene's death would have generated it had he been a 22-year-old white man.
A difficult subject
“It would have been a very different sort of thing if, say, in the now famous, politically-important Matthew Shepard killing if we didn’t have that iconic photograph of such an innocent, attractive, young, blonde college boy,” says University of Missouri-Kansas City professor Tom Poe, who has served on hate crimes task forces before.
Poe, in his 60s, is white and gay. And he's one of the few people willing to go on the record for this story.
“I think there can be a danger in saying, ‘I can’t speak for a minority community,’” he says. “It does not absolve me of the responsibility to talk about these issues.”
Poe says he’s not sure how to get the broader LGBT community in Kansas City to pay attention to what happened to Greene. KCUR reached out to more than a dozen local LGBT organizations looking for reaction, but they all said they either didn’t know Greene or that they didn’t feel qualified to speak on the issue of race relations.
Lessons from history
The Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America take up about 40 shelves at the Miller Nichols Library on the UMKC campus. But black, gay Kansas Citians only appear in a handful of photographs.
“The only evidence we’ve been able to gather for GLAMA is a collection of party pictures, largely, that were taken primarily throughout the 1960s,” says curator Stuart Hinds.
Hinds flips through a photo album of reproduction prints.
“Gosh,” he says, “(these are) the only images of African-Americans in the entire archive.”
And that, says Hinds, is very telling.
“It’s just very challenging to develop the trust with members of that community to convince them to turn their materials over to a majority institution,” says Hinds.
Two different communities
Rashaan Gilmore teaches HIV prevention through Project I Am. Most of his clients are black and Hispanic men. He’s not surprised the Greene case is getting so little traction.
“Go out to a club. Go to Sidekicks, or Buddies, or Missy B's, and just observe,” says Gilmore.
What you won’t see, he says, are people of different races interacting in areas carved out as safe spaces for the Kansas City LGBT community.
“There is no whole gay community in Kansas City,” says Gilmore. “It does not exist. It is a myth, it is a misnomer. There is the black gay community. There is the white gay community. With very little exception, and very few opportunities, do those two ever combine.”
Even, it seems, when there’s an active hate crime investigation.
Dionte Greene’s murder remains unsolved. The Kansas City Police Department and the FBI continue to investigate to determine not just who killed Greene, but why.