On March 27, 2017, Andrew (Drew) Nesbitt was murdered in his home after a night out celebrating his birthday.
During the weeks of October 2 and 9, a trial was held to bring a case against Darrick Anderson, the man who caused his death. On Friday night, October 6, Mr. Anderson was found guilty of first degree intentional homicide. On Wednesday, October 11 (also National Coming Out Day), the final phase of the trial was completed to determine if Mr. Anderson was mentally responsible at the time of Drew’s homicide. The jury came back to deliver the news that Mr. Anderson is indeed responsible and will proceed to prison.
As an advocate and friend, I sat with Drew’s family for six of the eight days of trial. We viewed evidence and listened to a case that brought out graphic and brutal details about the last night of Drew’s life. Day in and day out for eight agonizing days, Drew’s family remained quiet in the midst of the most heart-wrenching details of this case out of respect for the jury because they did not want to distract the jury or cause bias. Drew’s family showed remarkable courage and strength through it all. Drew’s family included family of birth, chosen family, dearest of friends, and a partner. All were there as family and were united and bonded together forever because of a unifying love for Drew.
The verdict that has been handed down is one the will help this family start to move on. However, nobody feels “good” after this trial because the life of a loved one was taken from us and another life will spend decades, perhaps the rest of his life, in prison. Justice for Drew involved making sure the person who killed him is held responsible and that he is not out in the community causing more harm. And now we move on to healing for Drew.
So, where does this leave healing? Some of the healing is found in our memories of Drew and in the work to put an end to violence.
Before leaving that final bar on the night of his death, Drew requested Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” for his birthday. Drew loved to dance and laugh. Let us continue to laugh and dance to honor Drew’s memory. I have played “Crazy in Love” several times in the last few days.
We cannot spend our time second guessing about what could have been done differently on Drew’s final night, but perhaps we can focus on how to help prevent this tragedy from happening to others.
Drew’s death was caused by someone from within the LGBTQ community. We also know that if LGBTQ individuals can learn love and acceptance of themselves early in life, we can prevent more violence within our communities from others who identify as LGBTQ.
Because Drew was targeted after a night out and for a possible hook-up, it is important that we help spread the word about safety when we are going out, hooking up, or just moving about in our communities.
Please consider these tips for yourself or for anyone you love who may be at risk for violence. And always remember that even if you follow all these tips or don’t follow any tips and violence still happens to you, it is never your fault.
· Trust your gut. If you feel threatened or unsafe, trust your instincts and remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible.
· Leave a trail. Let someone you trust know your fabulous plans, including if you hook up with someone, where you’re going and how long. If you decide to leave a note, make sure this trusted person knows where you’ve left it.
· Take a buddy. When heading to and leaving your destination or waiting for transportation.
· Look alert. If you don’t have a travel buddy, stay alert, look alert, and stick near other people when walking or waiting for transportation.
· Watch your drink. Or buy your own, just make sure the only person mixing it is the bartender.
· Know your limits. If you’re planning on using substances, including alcohol, decide how much and try to stick to it.
· Be aware of surroundings. Locate 24-hour establishments to seek help if you feel unsafe. Move toward amore public space if you feel unsafe.
Asserting Your Boundaries
· Your boundaries are beautiful. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. “No” is a complete sentence!
· Use words. Alert bystanders and frighten (not anger) an assailant.
· Be direct. Be assertive in your communication.
· Use body language. Show that you are serious, including eye contact.
· Make a safety plan and let someone else know. Tell at least one person about your plans, such as who you’ll be with, a way to get in touch with the person/people that you are meeting, meeting place, and what you plan to do. Plan in advance what will happen if you feel unsafe, such as where they will meet you and whether you want police called.
· Use your tech. Text yourself or friends about where you’ll be or where you are, the handle the person or persons use on the website or phone app. Include a picture of the person, and save messages when using websites and phone apps.
· Meet in public. Meeting in public allows for greater options for safety. If possible, bring friends with you, as they can watch your back and give you their impressions. If the person doesn’t look like the picture, ask them about it. If they don’t have an answer you feel comfortable with, leave.
· Know your limits. If you’re going to use substances, including alcohol, consider deciding ahead of time when and how much you will use.
· Practice safer sex. If you think you may have sex, make it safer sex—bring safer sex supplies and use them. Diverse & Resilient has free safer sex supplies available at our table and can help you safety plan around how to ask your sex partner to engage in safer sex.
· Incidents of hook-up violence can happen in public spaces such as bars, sex/play parties, etc. Let friends, other patrons, or bar/nightclub staff know if you leave temporarily and when you intend to return. When you are outside, scan the street for establishments (such as a restaurant or car service) where you can go to seek help if you feel unsafe. Don’t leave any drinks or your belongings unattended. Discuss your interests and boundaries for sex, including BDSM before engaging.
· Trust your instincts. If you feel threatened or unsafe at any point, if at all possible exit the situation.
· You can say no. No matter who initiates or how far you’ve gone, you can stop for any reason.
Getting support if violence does occur
· It’s not your fault. Nobody has the right to violate your boundaries or commit violence against you, no matter where it happens or how you met.
· Document the incident. Take photos of any injuries; keep records of emails, texts, calls.
· Consider medical attention or counseling after an incident. Violence can have many physical and emotional impacts.
· Call an LGBTQ Anti-Violence Program. The Room to Be Safe Anti-Violence Program and National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs are here to support LGBTQI and HIV-affected survivors of all forms of violence, including hook-up, dating, sexual, intimate partner, hate, and police violence. If you have witnessed or experience violence: Contact Kathy Flores through Diverse & Resilient’s Room to Be Safe Anti-Violence Program: roomtobesafe.org or call/text 414-856-LGBT (5428) (resource line, not a hotline) or the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs 24-Hour English/Spanish Hotline at 212-714-1141.
· Take care of yourself. Use the help of supportive friends, partners, and family.
These tips are suggestions for staying safer. If you experience violence, it is not your fault. The Room to Be Safe Anti-Violence Program and other members of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) brought these tips to you.
Kathy Flores is the statewide coordinator addressing Intimate Partner and Community Violence with Diverse & Resilient. She also founded the Fox Valley LGBTQ Anti-Violence project.