Reflections of a Friend and Advocate

The hope of closure five long years after Eddie Garzon’s murder

Your first reaction after hanging up is to freeze. You sit there in silence, not knowing just what to feel, and then you begin to tremble as you suddenly realize that you are simply elated. You pick up the phone again and call his family just to make sure that they also have heard the news: A man has just been arraigned in their son’s murder, a crime that has gone unresolved for five long, painful years.

In August of 2001, the gay community in Queens was rocked by the news that a man had been beaten up and left to die on the streets of Jackson Heights after spending time with friends at a couple of gay bars. Although I had known Eddie personally, we had lost touch so it took me a couple of days that August to confirm my worst fear: the “Edgardo Garzon” in the news was the same Eddie that I used to know from his involvement with the Colombian Lesbian and Gay Association.

In 1996, members of COLEGA wanted to make a strong show at the Pride Marches in Queens and Manhattan. Eddie had been recommended to the organization for the skills he showed building sets for shows at local bars and in producing elaborate costumes and floats. For the next two years, Eddie became part of the group, helping COLEGA win an award for best contingent at Queens Pride in 1997 by dressing up a Jeep to look like the head of a fruit vendor from the beaches of Cartagena. (Don’t ask—it looked amazing.)

That same year, for Pride in Manhattan, he came up with a yet more elaborate set-up that involved dressing up the same car to look like a black horse carrying huge coffee sacks that read “100% Colombian Coffee/100% Colombian Gays.” Dancers from the Colombian folk dance group Estampas Negras wore coffee-cup costumes that Eddie had sown by hand and danced their way down Fifth Avenue in the sweltering heat. (Yes, Eddie was also a dancer with the troupe.) To Eddie’s dismay, the huge coffee pot that was supposed to emit vapor didn’t—too hot a day for dry ice—and some dancers got lost along the way but, man, we rocked!

Was Eddie out? Well, he certainly wasn’t a public personality, but it didn’t bother him if people knew. He had an incredible smile and his charisma drew people to him, including Marlene Forero, a straight woman who met him through Estampas Negras and quickly became one of his best friends. Marlene and Eddie became inseparable, dancing away the night or watching drag beauty pageants along with his other friends. Some of Marlene’s friends initially questioned why she was hanging out with so many gay guys but they came to realize how much fun they were missing out and joined them. Marlene’s house remains a gathering place for an assortment of gay men, mostly from Colombia, who have found family in her.

This is the side of Eddie I came to know. In the years since we’d lost touch, he also become the owner of the Manayre bar and restaurant, which has since closed its doors.

And then the horrible news of his attack.

For five years some of us have kept him in our hearts. A blown-up photo that his family gave me to carry at a candle-light vigil that we organized in Queens that September is on top of my desk as I write. Every year, Leonor and Armando Garzon, his parents, organize a memorial mass and leave flowers and candles on the sidewalk spot where their son fell.

In the days after the attack, Leonor expressed discomfort that the news media seemed so interested that her son was gay. Some even said that the family was homophobic. But I saw a family who had come to New York to find their son and brother in a coma, with little knowledge of English and faced by a barrage of questions from the press and the community. For some members of the family that was the first they knew that Eddie was gay. In my eyes, they have only shown strength, valor, and love for Eddie and welcomed and thanked the support they have gotten from the gay community.

In 2002, members of COLEGA marched dressed like angels with paper wings that would have made Eddie proud. We carried huge signs demanding justice for him. At the last minute, the Garzons appeared, each holding a photo of Eddie in their hands, and silently took the lead, with a crowd of angels behind them. People on the sidewalk at first fell silent and then gasped, some of them bringing their hands to their mouth and sobbing. People seemed to recognize Eddie and to know what had happened to him. Since then, the Garzons have spoken to media to keep their son’s memory alive.

So when I picked up the phone on the evening of June 29 and spoke to Armando, I was glad that he already knew that a man had been arrested that evening. I think he was just as shocked as I was and still figuring out how he felt. A day later, he told a reporter from El Diario La Prensa, of the man in custody, “I’m not sure how I’ll react when I see him. I hope that God forgives him.”

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, LGNY, the predecessor to Gay City News, ran a front and back cover, one with a picture of Father Mychal Judge, the fallen gay Fire Department chaplain, the other with an image of candles placed next to Eddie’s picture at the vigil following his death. Gay City News must be thanked for raising and sustaining public awareness of this crime. There are also a few detectives from the NYPD who probably did more than any of us in making sure that the case wouldn’t go cold. The New York City Anti-Violence Project, some of our political and community leaders, and members of the gay community in Queens also deserve thanks.

The family faces a difficult time ahead. A man must still go to trial and his guilt or innocence be established. That process might raise difficult issues and bring back painful memories. But it might provide resolution and closure if some of the key remaining questions are answered: What exactly was it that led the police to arrest this man and will John L. McGhee indeed be proven to be the killer? Was Eddie’s murder a hate crime? Were there others involved?

For now though, for the first time in five years, there is reason to hope that those answers will come.

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