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When Is a Hate Crime Not a Hate Crime?

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He was 15 or 16 when he explored his first Internet chat room, he says. “I was hidden behind the screen name. I knew that unless I chose to give people a picture, they wouldn’t know me. And I also got to choose who I was talking to. So I felt safe.” He moved on to cybersex, then phone sex with local guys, and finally, at 17, the real thing. “I decided I’d look for an older man,” he says, “someone who would be discreet and who wouldn’t have any of the same friends I have. Probably closeted. And who lived close, because I didn’t have a car.” His name, he says, was Mitch. By the time he was 19, he’d see Mitch at least once a month, and Mitch would fix him up with other men.

He says he was still testing the waters, dabbling in going public, the night Michael Sandy was killed. I ask him the same question Nicolazzi asked: Why on earth come out to these kids, whom he’d only just met, who were hardly stand-up guys? Because, he says, they were disposable to him—a good test case. “Either I’d learn I cannot be friends with these people because they don’t accept me,” he says, “or it would turn out they do understand.”

Whatever his motives were that night, does he accept any responsibility at all for any part of what happened? He considers his answer before speaking.

“Gary started walking towards the lot. I still stayed on the beach, and I saw them at the car”—fighting. “And I said, That’s it, I don’t want anything to do with them anymore.” He walked home, he says. He says he now knows that he abandoned Michael Sandy.

“I still in my mind couldn’t imagine anything really horrible happening out of this. I really regret for Mike’s family and all his friends that something had to just happen like that. I feel guilty that I intended for one thing to happen, but I intended it with definitely the wrong group of friends. That’s something I’ll never be able to get past.”

Then I ask him point-blank if he’s gay. He’s caught off-guard by the question.

“I’m gay, yeah—I mean, bisexual,” he says. “I don’t know. Gay? Probably. You know, it’s—but it’s—it’s still hard for me. I’ve still yet to come to terms with being me.”


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