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In Kansas City's Racially Divided LGBT Community, Few Mourn Black Murder Victim

courtesy of Coshelle Greene

Dionte Greene's friends remember a sweet kid, a devoted son, a loving father – memories they're struggling to rectify with the 22-year-old's shooting death on Oct. 31.

Greene was found in his still-running car near the intersection of 69th and Bellefontaine in Kansas City, Mo., early Halloween morning. His killer hasn't been identified. And his friends believe he was targeted because he was gay.

"Maybe it was someone that you knew that always got in trouble or did something," says Korea Kelly, a 36-year-old black transwoman who was acting as mentor to Greene. "You would have been like, 'Oh, they always got in trouble.' But not this one. Not him. This baby, no. It just doesn't make sense at all."

Kelly and others close to Greene are grieving. But they're frustrated, too. They say his murder isn't being investigated as a hate crime.

And outside their tight-knit circle of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender friends, no one seems to care.

'Another black man is found dead in a car'

Randall Jenson didn't know Greene, but he knew something was wrong on Halloween when leaders of the black LGBT community were conspicuously absent from an event he was organizing.

Jenson soon learned they were reacting to Greene's murder hours earlier. Greene's friends told Jenson the young man was planning to meet someone he'd met online – a man seeking sex with other men, but who did not identify as gay.

To them, it seemed clear that this individual had a hand in Greene's death, that the 22-year-old was killed because he was gay. Jenson, the youth and outreach coordinator for LGBT advocacy group the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project, expected outrage.

It never came.

"Another black man dies," says Jenson, who is biracial. "Another black man is found dead in a car."

'He didn't fit into the traditional masculine stereotype'

Korea Kelly is a tall woman with big curls, hoop earrings. She's got a big personality, too – she says Greene was drawn to her when they met about a year ago while learning about HIV prevention at a Project I Am workshop.

She began helping Greene learn to perform so he could compete in pageants.

Credit courtesy of Coshelle Greene
Dionte Greene, 22, had deep ties to the black LGBT community in Kansas City.

"Female impersonation, male impersonation, male entertainers, period – it's a way for us to let out," says Kelly. "It's a way to put whatever we're going through in an art form."

But within the black community where Greene grew up, that expression isn't always accepted.

"A lot of folks feel he was specifically targeted because of his sexuality and maybe his gender expression," says  Jenson. "Really, he didn't fit into the traditional masculine stereotype of being a black man."

Star Palmer, a 34-year-old black lesbian who was also close to Greene, says religion can make it harder for blacks to accept LGBT individuals.

"A lot of people are Bible thumpers. I grew up in a Christian home. We were Baptist," says Palmer, who came out when she was 15. "I was shunned out by my church. I was shunned out by my parents."

'You don't have to hang a sign up and say it literally'

Rashaan Gilmore works with Project I Am, the HIV prevention program that connected Greene with Kelly. 

"I don't think that black people are more intolerant than white people or anybody else," Gilmore said.

He says the problem isn't how the black LGBT community fits into the larger Kansas City black community. It's how the black LGBT community fits into the mainstream gay rights movement.

Gilmore rattles off the names of Kansas City gay bars as examples.

Credit courtesy of Coshelle Greene
Members of the Kansas City black LGBT community say the murder of Dionte Greene, 22, must trigger a larger conversation about race relations within the broader gay community.

"Go to Sidekicks, or Buddies, or Missy B's, and just observe," says Gilmore. "There will be a handful of black guys who are there because they prefer to date white men."

But Gilmore says there are few other opportunities for Kansas City's white gay community to interact with the black gay community.

"These places and spaces are supposed to be safe for all acronyms of the LGBT community," says Palmer, who's trying to bridge the gap with an entertainment company that promotes black gay performers. "We're not welcome at certain places. You don't have to hang a sign and say it literally. We feel it."

Even doing advocacy work, Jenson says he often gets the sense that people of color aren't welcome from more mainstream LGBT groups.

He says when he calls to book event space, he's asked questions such as, "Are they too loud? Are they too rowdy? Are they professional enough?"

"These are all coded language for you're too much," says Jenson. "It means you're too black."

And it makes LGBT people of color vulnerable.

"We look at trauma and where people feel safe," says Jenson of his work with the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project. "There definitely is a huge issue of safety. Violence starts with the looks people are given. Violence starts when someone feels like they no longer have access to a community center. Or a bar."

'We have a lot to do just in terms of perception'

The Kansas City Police Department did not return calls Friday requesting comment on Greene's case.

And among Greene's friends, there's a lot of speculation about what happened the night he died. Generally, they believe he was meeting a closeted gay man, someone who wasn't out and uncomfortable with his own sexuality.

"That still doesn't mean he had the right to be hurt or killed," says Jenson. "Everybody has a right to make a choice on what they want to do and who they want to pursue. I try to live in a no-judgment zone on that."

But on this point, they all agree: Greene's murder is a tipping point. The nation is already grappling with race relations after the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y.

"Kansas City needs an intervention," says Gilmore. "It is not ready for that conversation, but it is time for that conversation. We have a lot to do just in terms of perception among the majority community of what they feel about black people, period."

It means, he says, convincing the Kansas City LGBT community black lives – such as Dionte Greene's – matter.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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