Death sparks call to unity

After Lake Natoma assault, diversity summit is set today.

07/21/2007 12:00 AM

07/27/2007 3:47 AM

Hundreds of supporters are expected this afternoon at the West Coast Diversity Summit in Sacramento to unite in the name of Satender Singh and bring grass-roots groups together against the hate they blame in the death of the young Fijian immigrant.

"It's about building bridges," said Nathan Feldman, of the cable access show Being Gay Today, who is organizing the forum at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. "This is pulling the community together."

The summit, organized months before the attack on Singh, has since refocused to unite community resources and set up wider networks to respond swiftly to acts of violence, Feldman said.

He also hopes it will serve as a public outlet to vent the emotions sparked by Singh's death, which came after a July 1 attack reportedly preceded by homophobic and racial slurs.

While the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department continues to investigate the assault on Singh at Lake Natoma, a core of politically active leaders in Sacramento's gay community, including Feldman, say the death should serve as a rallying cry against hate crimes for a community they fear has become complacent.

But the case also has exposed a rift within the local gay community over how to respond.

"What is our community response?" Feldman asked earlier this week. "It's been 17 days, and we still don't have one."

Many who plan to attend today's forum will demand action from authorities and lawmakers and could push for protests. Others in the community would prefer a more measured approach.

"The initial knee-jerk reaction among anybody who feels helpless is to fight back somehow, with a protest or something like that," said Ed Bennett, president of the Stonewall Democratic Club of Greater Sacramento, which has worked to elect gay and lesbian officials. "But I also feel there is a time and place for that, and now is not the time."

Bennett, who is also a member of the Satender Justice Coalition, a multicultural and interfaith task force formed days after Singh's death, said they are seeking answers through the appropriate legal channels. They are stressing caution until more facts surface in the case.

"We really need to give the Sheriff's Department the room to do their job," Bennett said.

On Wednesday, coalition members met with Sheriff John McGinness. On Monday, they are scheduled to meet with District Attorney Jan Scully.

On July 1, Singh and his friends were confronted at Lake Natoma by a group of men who, according to witnesses, hurled explicit homophobic slurs at Singh -- apparently because he was seen dancing with and hugging other men -- and racial remarks at him and his friends. After the daylong dispute, one of the men punched Singh, who fell backward and hit his head.

The 26-year-old Singh died July 5 of blunt force injury to the head, according to the Coroner's Office, which has classified the death as a homicide.

Bennett, of the Stonewall Democrats, said there is always room for both public grass-roots activism and behind-closed-doors diplomacy. But he acknowledged that better communication is needed.

At this point, "we're sitting at the same table," Bennett said. "I know something good will come out of it."

Michael Gorman, founding editor of Outward magazine, one of the Sacramento area's leading gay publications, agreed that both methods are necessary. But he said he is concerned about the idea that the gay community should remain quiet about the case.

"There is this pent-up emotion, that passion is there, that fear is there, that frustration is there and we need to channel it," Gorman said. "This is creating a whole new generation of activists who are going to come out, because they are not comfortable being quiet.

"The bottom line is everybody is a little bit afraid and are shocked that this is happening today," he said. "We haven't had to confront this, this starkly and this nakedly, in a long period of time."

The summit will be held from noon to 6 p.m. at the cathedral, 2620 Capitol Ave.

As of Friday, no arrests in the case had been made. Sheriff's officials ask anyone with information to call (916) 874-5115.


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