And I said hey wait a minute. I wanted to defend the place.
He mentioned some good people there, including Don Belton, who he said died but was murdered. We were sitting at a conference table, and the facts would have been too heavy for the moment.
The murderer was convicted, but he got a compromise sentence: fifty years. Eligible for parole in twenty years. If he gets out in twenty, it’s the same time as voluntary manslaughter. His sentence was reduced in appeals court in 2012 from fifty to forty-five years. According to a news report from A B C-13 (W T H R), the court cited “pervasive evidence that the homicide was in response to a sexual assault.”
The killer, a white man, said Don, a black man, raped him, but Indiana law only recognized rape of the opposite sex at the time. Nonetheless, the relatively light sentence communicates sympathy with a gay panic defense.
Don was stabbed twenty-one times. He lived next door to my best friend.
On New Year’s Eve 2009, we stood a vigil on the courthouse square. I thought I was getting frostbite.
The comments on Indiana University’s student paper, Indiana Daily Student (IDS ), and the blog Justice for Don Belton imply that knowing and liking someone has relevance to a murder trial, though reading trial transcript excerpts shows this to be not at all true. And occasionally comments below the article suggest queer people might deserve to be murdered.
An in-depth feature titled “Sudden Heat” plays on the definition of voluntary manslaughter.
Michael himself does not claim to remember any kind of sex. He remembers having sex with his girlfriend five times.
His girlfriend remembers being blackout drunk and seeing Belton and Griffin having anal sex twice, as well as oral sex.
Girlfriend says she was the drunkest of all of them.
Whatever you want to call it, Griffin said.
III. We were advised to mourn privately, discreetly. The one character witness was warned not to issue a soapbox message to a community, but to limit her comments to how the loss affected her personally.
This man responded with a comment that saddened and appalled me. Two options: extreme cover-up or suicide.
We must respond in that place, also, to the quieter regimes.
Don’s papers, journals, and his research are at the Lilly Library on the Indiana University campus. Thirty-seven boxes.
Christian, who died in 2012, said there were more gay bars in Bloomington in 2004 than there are today. A year after his death, the count was one: Uncle Elizabeth’s, also known as the double-wide (for its architecture). After relocating to the far west side, it too closed in 2014. Is there anyplace from our era left?
Bullwinkle’s closed. The Inner Chef closed. Now there are no pride flags on the courthouse square.
He said every bar in Bloomington is a gay bar.
I usually end up nursing a Miller Lite and thinking that it doesn’t reflect my beautiful life.
I fell off my bike once in front of Uncle E’s, sober.
It was the only bar I snuck into before I was twenty-one.
There’s a place called The Back Door. “We like to call this a ‘queer bar,’ not a ‘gay bar,’” said one of the owners in 2013. House Bar sold cans of beer on Sunday when the liquor stores were closed, speakeasy style. Only in 2018 did Indiana legalize alcohol sales on Sundays.
Club Kirkwood could be a book of its own. After-hours house party. Selling cans of beer out of the fridge after the bar closed every other Saturday. Site of strong feelings. Site of drunk bike ride home, no traffic, victorious feeling.
On paper it all might sound dangerous.
• • •
TO READ MORE FROM THIS STORY, PICK UP A COPY OF VOL 52.2
KRYSTAL LANGUELL lives in Chicago, where she works at the Poetry Foundation. She is the author of three books of poetry, the most recent of which is Quite Apart (University of Akron Press, 2019). Her essays have previously appeared in American Poetry Review, Chicago Review, and Rain Taxi, among others.