Homophobic? Hang him high!
California, What's the Matter withGeneral
© Jack Cashill
While awaiting trial in the San Francisco City Jail for the murder of Juan Pifarre, a gay man and an Hispanic activist, Steven Nary lived a cramped and useless life. His working class parents could not offer much help. The whole “nightmare” overwhelmed them.
As to Andrew Cunanan, Maureen Orth reports, “The drugs and pornography he fed on kept his cruel and domineering sexual fantasies at a fever pitch.” That pitch was about to get more feverish still.
In April 1997, a year after the death of Pifarre, Cunanan began a killing spree across America that would soon enough make him a household world.
On May 4 1997, two events of note took place. In Chicago, Cunanan seized 72 year-old developer Lee Miglin in the garage of his Gold Coast home, bound him, wrapped his head in duct tape, and severed his throat with a bow saw. Miglin was the third murder victim in Cunanan’s spree.
In San Francisco, on May 4, members of the United Satanic Apache Front seized Steven Johnson Leyba, bound him, stripped him, carved a Satanic pentagram on his back, and had a woman member of the group urinate on his open wound.
In Chicago, after the Miglin killing, authorities stepped up their pursuit of Cunanan. In San Francisco, after the Leyba outrage, authorities stood and applauded.
You see, Leyba and his performance troupe were the featured attraction at a birthday bash for gay activist Jack Davis. In attendance were the city’s political elite, including Mayor Willie Brown, Sheriff Mike Hennessy, City Attorney Louise Renne, several members of the Board of Supervisors including its president, and District Attorney Terrence Hallinan, who was overseeing the impending trial of Steven Nary.
Although further descent may not seem possible, the evening headed downhill after the ritual bleeding of the “Reverend” Leyba, an ordained minister in Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan.
None of the major newspapers would print what happened next: a woman, dressed as Pocahontas and using a Jack Daniels bottle as a dildo, actually sodomized Leyba with the bottle in full view of the audience.
Leyba, who claims to be ¼ Apache, more than enough for victim status in San Francisco, described the ritual in question as “a literal metaphor for how alcohol was forced on my people.”
The San Francisco Chronicle reporters that covered the event did so under the assumption that they were supposed to be amused. They did not know any better. The paper’s initial reporting reflects as much.
“San Francisco 49ers campaign manager Jack Davis' birthday parties are legendary for their abandon,” read the lighthearted lead, “but none compared to the wild, Caligulan scene that went down at his politically packed, 50th-year bash Saturday night.”
Although the reporters conceded that some people were “disgusted” by the “bizarre” proceedings, they gave the last word to Davis himself. ''Most people said it was the best party they'd ever been to,” he enthused. “And it wasn't anything compared to the after-party at my house.''
Cunanan was shedding no glory on his state or his orientation either. As the world knows, he made his way south and east, killing an inconvenient security guard in New Jersey en route. Once in Miami, he shot and killed the famed designer Gianni Versace before eventually turning the gun on himself.
In San Francisco meanwhile, the Nary case slugged through the preliminaries with precious little attention being paid beyond the city. Lacking an external counterbalance, the postmodern local powers, led by the District Attorney, could define the “narrative” as they saw fit.
In their rewriting, Nary was a brutal, calculating killer, not unlike Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, the two “homophobic” desperados that killed helpless gay Wyoming University student, Matthew Shepard, in a fit of “gay panic.”
Although Hollywood would turn out at least three TV movies about the “crucifixion” of Shepard, two of which premiered in the week before Easter 2002, the homophobic story line did not match the Wyoming reality.
As the truth began to eke out of Laramie, that line grew more and more suspect. Best evidence now suggests that McKinney, the actual killer, had previously expressed no homophobic sentiments. One good reason why is that he was an active bisexual himself. Apparently, he and Shepard, who had a known drug problem, had done meth together a number of times.
On the night in question, McKinney went on a meth-fueled rampage. He pistol-whipped the vulnerable Shepard for drug money, drove into town to rob Shepard’s apartment, and then pistol whipped a stranger who got in his way, fracturing his skull in the process.
Matthew Shepard died just four weeks before the 1998 mid-term elections. For the next four weeks, much to their own surprise, the killers were presented to America as poster children for the religious right and one more reason not to vote Republican.
Of course, McKinney and Henderson were not products of Christian culture, but of its antithesis: a crude, soulless, fatherless, sexually libertine, drug-addled, pop culture. Those who controlled the narrative, however, could shape it as they saw fit.
When the defense tried to redefine the narrative in the Nary case, the local powers turned the very attempt against them. As one gay legal source observed, “Community activists expressed outrage at the defense tactics of trying to depict Pifarre, a well-known community activist and journalist, as a dangerous sexual predator.”
District Attorney Terrence Hallinan, feeling the heat from both the gay and the Hispanic communities, threw Nary into the fire. On a more personal level, the newly-elected DA had enjoyed Pifarre’s public support in his campaign for District Attorney.
In late century San Francisco, as Nary was about to learn, the truth mattered no more than it had in early century Selma or Scottsboro.
Pifarre was, in fact, a sexual predator with a history of violence. He had secured his permanent residency through a fraudulent marriage. He was shortchanging the city of San Jose on his working hours and on the health benefits for his “wife.” He used illegal drugs regularly, including cocaine. He was drunk often and was a mean drunk.
Pifarre had been arrested at least once for indecent exposure and on another occasion for battery stemming from a sexual molestation. He had a history of seducing young men, almost assuredly under false pretenses, and did not stop to ask for “proof.” He likely drugged them, and he had no compunction about raping them. And in San Francisco, he had juice enough to get away with it all.
Still, if Nary had been a female sailor under identical circumstances, this case would never have come to trial, not even in San Francisco. The feminist plate would have pushed harder in that sailor’s behalf than the Hispanic plate would have pushed against it.
Indeed, there was more public sympathy for a woman whose breasts had been fondled by an Assistant D.A. at the Jack Davis party than there was for Nary.
The prosecutors had hoped to stage the trial during Gay Pride week in June but settled for March 1999, conveniently just a week before the start of Russell Henderson’s trial in Laramie.
For Nary, the time was as inauspicious as the place. On one occasion during the trial, members of the audience stood up and faced the jury wearing large bright orange lapel tags saying "Recuerda [Remember] Juan," "Stop Homophobia," and "Stop Immigrant Bashing."
Judge Kevin Ryan, who would later gain notoriety after being fired as U.S. Attorney, ignored the demonstration. Later, these demonstrators lobbied the jurors as they went to and came from lunch.
John Farrell, the prosecutor, hammered the “homophobia” theme throughout the trial. Incredibly, he attacked Nary for his honest admission of feeling “disgusted” after coerced oral sex. In his summation, Farrell argued that the only kind of person “who feels bad about what they did”—meaning oral sex with another man--is the kind of “person who is homophobic.”
“Where is that rage coming from?” he asked the jury of Nary’s self-defense. “Where is the motive for all that: That word ‘faggot’ written on the board.” Farrell insinuated that the military’s presumed anti-gay ethos had reinforced Nary’s native bigotry, although there was no evidence at all that Nary ever used the word “faggot” or anything like it.
Farrell also placed a flourishing gay club scene just blocks from Nary’s Cathedral City High--when it was, in fact, miles away--to suggest that Nary may well have gay-bashed before.
Nary never had a chance. After a generation of propaganda, locals had convinced themselves that only a bigoted young man would find sex with another man something other than perfectly natural. By coming back with a guilty verdict, each juror could claim his or her rightful place in this town’s zone of decency--sensitive to immigrants and gays and hostile to a homophobic military. The temptation proved irresistible.
Without intending to, the daily journal Gay Today showed just how the tectonic deck was stacked against “hustler” and “crazed assailant” Steven Nary and his “racist” handful of supporters.
“The 2nd-degree jury verdict for Nary is really a heartening victory,” read its editorial, “especially during this week when the bogus concept of ‘Gay Panic’ is being tested again in Laramie, at the most visible anti-gay murder trial since Dan White got away with the murder of Harvey Milk by admitting to being a Twinkie junkie.”Under the California Penal Code, an individual convicted of second degree murder “subjectively knows, based on everything, that the conduct that he or she is about to engage in has a high probability of death to another human being.” As I write, Steven Nary is serving the 12 th year of a 16-year-to-life sentence.
This is the 5th, and final, installment of Cashill's 5-part series from What's the Matter with California? . Previous installments are listed below:Part 1, "Targeted in San Fran: Young, virginal male"
Cashill’s newest book, What’s the Matter with California, is available in bookstores - or you can order your autographed copy online .
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