Being a Black queer progressive often means pushing ahead shoulder to shoulder with people who may be better than conservatives, but not much. It means enduring subtle racism and microaggressions, and being gaslighted if you speak up about that. And sometimes it means being racially tokenized and sexually fetishized by the very people you rely on to advocate for you.
The conviction on Tuesday of 66-year-old Ed Buck marked the first time I have seen true justice for Black queer people leveled against another person within the progressive movement.
Buck, a white, gay donor to progressive causes and politicians now faces a potential life sentence after he was finally convicted of multiple crimes in connection with the deaths of two Black men who overdosed in his West Hollywood apartment where he’d brought them to “party and play.”
After Gemelle Moore died from a methamphetamine overdose in July 2017, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office found that the 26-year-old’s death was accidental. In July 2018, the district attorney declined to press charges.
Six months later, 55-year-old Timothy Dean, another gay Black man, died at Buck’s home, where his body was on a mattress littered with drug paraphernalia and sex toys, according to a coroner’s report.
Yet even as activists and journalists like Jasmyne Cannick kept a spotlight on Buck, the “malevolent” predator, as prosecutors finally called him, was only charged after a third Black man, a 37-year-old known only as Joe Doe, narrowly survived a September 2019 visit to his apartment where Buck gave him, too, a large dose of methamphetamine.
Buck was finally arrested that month, on state drug and battery charges for his treatment of Joe Doe. Federal charges related to the deaths of Moore and Dean quickly followed. Prosecutors said that Buck’s home was full of pictures of men in compromising positions, and that “It is only a matter of time before another one of these vulnerable young men dies of an overdose.”
His conviction on Tuesday happened to come down on the fourth anniversary of Moore’s death.
According to a wrongful death suit filed by Moore’s mother, Buck had solicited her son for sex and insisted on injecting him with crystal meth. In Moore’s last journal entry, he wrote, “If it didn’t hurt so bad, I’d kill myself, but I’ll let Ed Buck do it for now.”
The bombshell verdict felt like a watershed moment for Black queer progressives who have followed this case for years. When I first covered the initial calls for Buck to be charged, I received pushback from other liberals who felt that calling him out during the Trump era was a distraction from the larger issues at hand that could be weaponized against the LGBTQIA community. That reminded me of similar arguments made by members of the Black community when Bill Cosby and R. Kelly were accused of sexual abuse, and people calling for justice were told that their efforts could “tarnish the reputations” of such public figures.
But whatever happened to principle over politics, purpose over position? Four years of grassroots organizing, led by mostly Black and brown LGBTQIA people and our allies, revealed the lack of solidarity within the progressive world. Did Buck give lots of money to support Hillary Clinton and others who would have served our nation better than Republicans? Sure, but that doesn’t give him a free pass to exploit and prey on vulnerable Black men.
This verdict was an all-too-rare recognition that Black lives, even those of the queer and powerless, matter. Too often, sexual abuse of those who are both Black and queer does not receive nearly as much attention as the abuse of our white cis-het counterparts.
“Buck exerted power and control over his victims, typically targeting individuals who were destitute, homeless, or struggling with drug addiction,” the Department of Justice said Tuesday, after his conviction. “He exploited the wealth and power balance between them by offering his victims money to use drugs and to let Buck inject them with narcotics.”
I hope that prosecutors and reporters dedicate more time and attention to such crimes, and become aware of the ways that sexuality and race are both used to dismiss far too many victims. It’s a shame that two Black men had to die in a horrific and embarrassing manner for justice to finally be served. I’m left thinking about so many others who have not been believed, in life or in death, because their abuser was richer, whiter or, sadly, more “progressive.”
Progressives need to heighten our determination to call for more accountability, rather than silence.