Saturday, May 22, 2010

UPDATE: Couple Suspected in Death of Elderly Gay Roanoke Man Arrested in SC

Roanoke's WDBJ-7 reported yesterday that the married couple suspected in the beating death of 80-year-old Harold Markham were apprehended in South Carolina on Friday. Justin and Meghan Musser who were tenants in Markham's home are facing one count each on the charge of murder when they are returned to Roanoke for arraignment.

Markham was a retired barber who made extra money giving haircuts in his Dale Ave. home. He was also an employee of Video World, an adult video store on Williamson Road. What none of the local news services has mentioned, however, is that Harold Markham was gay. Initial reports do not suggest that his brutal murder was a hate crime. My sources tell me that the Mussers are known crystal meth users and that this crime was most likely drug related.

The Roanoke Times story on Friday did mention where Mr. Markham worked, perhaps because of the hint of salaciousness it brought to the story. But leaving out the fact that Harold Markham was gay is demeaning to the memory of a man who was part of Roanoke's LGBT community for 80 years. I'll give the Roanoke Times the benefit of the doubt and say that perhaps they just didn't dig deep enough to find out more about Markham's life. I prefer to believe that the reporter wasn't a homophobe, just lazy.

Harold Markham was one of the last remnants of the pre-Stonewall generation. He was someone who grew up at a time when there were no Pride Parades, no LGBT Marches on Washington and no way for LGBT people to live their lives openly. All of this has been completely ignored by all of our local media.

The plight of gay seniors in a culture that prizes youth and beauty has also been ignored, not just by the media, but by us. Markham was an uncomfortable reminder to the LGBT community that, God willing, we will all grow old and we will do so without the Social Security survivor benefits that heterosexual widows and widowers are entitled to. If we are fortunate enough to be able to afford a senior living community or retirement facility, we may be forced back into the closet, because very few of these places are queer-friendly, nor are they prepared to care for geriatrics living with HIV/AIDS or even recognize our relationships.

Harold Markham also reminds us of a side of our community that we are embarrassed to admit exists, the Bookstore Culture. Everyone from the dog catcher to the corporate executive visits the the adult bookstores for a quickie now and then, but no one wants to admit it. To those people Harold Markham was just the guy behind the counter, but he was also a human being and deserves to be remembered with dignity and respect.

It is difficult enough to get Roanoke's mainstream media to cover our stories. Most of them don't even bother to cover Pride any more. So it's up to us to tell our own stories, to seek them out and listen to them.  The most important lesson we can draw from this tragedy is, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

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  1. Steve well while you may be willing to give the Roanoke Times the benefit of the doubt for leaving out the fact that Mr Markham was gay I am not. It is further proof of the homophobic nature of the vast majority of people in the Roanoke Valley. It's not only the news papers either it's the TV media as well they never cover LGBT events but boy they sure are telling us about ever other thing going on every weekend even dedicating entire semens to them and sending special reports out to cover these events. I'm not afraid to say so and if more people were willing to get involved and call them out on it each and every time it happens we'd get some changes,but their not and that's the same reason that the Pride festival and other gay sponsored events never get any attention. The ONLY reason they covered the backstreet shootings is because it hit the national wire and they would have really looked like bigoted xenophobes if they didn't cover it. Thank GOD I'm outta here as soon as my house sells life's to short to spend it fighting with the bigots for a decent quality of life....I'll move to were people have got half a brain instead and aren't living in the turn of the century.


    Brandi Parker

  2. Brandi, I wholeheartedly agree that the local news media, including the Roanoke Times, doesn't do nearly enough to cover the LGBT community. In this particular case, however, I don't think the reporters here are professional enough to dig deeper into the story of an old man who lived alone, took in borders and was murdered by these two crack-heads.

    Had they even done the slightest bit of investigating, they would have found out that Harold was gay. He certainly wasn't closeted. He had no wife, children or grandchildren. I doubt they even did the legwork. It certainly would have added more depth to the reporting.

    The truth is that reporters in Roanoke are either focused on getting out of this back-water market, or they've landed here on the down-slide of their careers.

    Then there are those that settle for the mediocrity that passes for news writing here and are content to do their minimum to get by. However you slice it, they just don't have what it takes to tell a good story.

  3. Steve you said they don't do enough ? Hell they don't do anything...You tell when was the last time you saw a LGBT related anything on channel 7 or 10 ? Or a story about one of our issues in the Roanoke times tell me ? There's none not unless their reporting on a national LGBT issues. It's how this town has been forever and I'm sic of's like trying to turn bricks into gold it;s just never going to happen.. Hey if you would like to get together and chat sometime over coffee we can meet @ Mill Mountain or some place....I known we never got to finish our conversation the other Saturday. I'm off thisTuesday if you want or any other day I go to work at 2:00


  4. This is a tragic story. Whether the media did or didn't cover it well from the viewpoints of our GLBT community is relevant, but it is certainly not the story. Much needs to be done for media to portray us true to light...after all there is no story for them in doing attention grabber in the newspaper or on the tv news,so they think. I believe that story...of our huge commonalities,our contributions etc is a big story which needs to be exposed,it needs desperately to be told,and the media needs to be constantly reminded of that, from us. They need to be an important local vehicle by which the oppression against us can be truly seen for what it is...unjust,paradoxically religious based, and often a result of plain ignorance and bias,negative media images. They need to be reminded of their social everyone within the local community and beyond. They have huge power of influencing opinions and decisions,and a corresponding huge obligation to tell all sides of a story,objectively w/o slanting and bias. While it may be true that we are sometimes"oversensitive" to possible oppression when it may not be there, most of the time for us it is there and we must challenge it in every instance. The question may be how do we truly know when we have been treated unfairly, and do we do harm when we presume we have when we haven't been intentionally? Is oppression ..oppression when it's intentional or not?

  5. Very good point, Frank. In giving the benefit of the doubt to the Roanoke Times writer, I am admitting that I don't know what was in her heart or her head. I do think that in glossing over the story and not digging more deeply to find out just who Harold Markley was, she did him a disservice. He deserves more that to be reduced to a few paragraphs. In the coming weeks we will probably learn more about the crack heads that killed him than we will ever know about Harold.

    The points I made above about what Harold's life may have been like were suggestions about how much more there is to tell about our community. We know what our issues are, but until the mainstream press starts writing about them - not just during Pride season or when a crime is committed against one of us - public opinion will never change.

    The Roanoke Times like to think of itself as being LGBT-friendly because it has covered Pride (some years more in depth than others)and as Brandi points out, the Backstreet shootings became national news, so they couldn't ignore it.

    The local TV news crews are no better. Jay Warren has been out for years, but never takes on our issues, except once, very recently when he confronted Cooch about his anti-gay campus letter. These stories are rare.

    But on a day-to-day basis when a local news editor tells a reporter to go out into the community and bring back a human interest story, do they ever consider writing about us or asking us for our input on stories? Hell no.

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  7. Steve,

    If you ask me Jay Warren is extremely in the closet. Don't expect him to do us any favors.

    When I first heard this story, I really didn't take issue about Harold being gay not being mentioned.

    Maybe it's just me but I felt the story was more about a lonely old guy who wanted to help out a young couple, not using the best judgment for sure, and ended up getting killed in the process. That could happen to an elderly man or woman gay or straight.

    I'm not defending the local media, that's for sure. I have issue with the media about only showing the outrageous part of gay life; drag queens, lesbians running around bearing their naked breasts and glittered up boy toys, etc. Though these are scenes more prevalent at bigger city Pride Parades, the media here does neglect showing real hard working members of the LGBT community that don't look or act especially spectacular.

    Nobody thinks ill of straight men running around in a dress such as in a Mardi Gras parade, but boy let it be someone gay and it's a menace to the world. It is a cruel and unfair double standard.

    It is unfortunate the news media, even here in Roanoke, blows up everything out of proportion in order to attract viewers.


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