A cautionary tale for LGBT travelers

Allan Turnipseed

Murder of former Dallas resident in Mexican state of Jalisco should remind us never to get too comfortable, anywhere we live

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

No one knows what thoughts flashed through American expatriate Allan Turnipseed’s mind during the last moments of his life in his Mexican retirement home on Lake Chapala last month.

But they surely must have been thoughts tinged with shock and disbelief.

It was a turn of events that likely came about because the former Dallas resident became too comfortable in a foreign country plagued by violence. He may have let down his guard and placed trust in young strangers whose minds harbored deadly thoughts.

Turnipseed’s 40-year partner, Bob Tennison, reportedly discovered the 62-year-old lying face down in a hallway of their home. The victim’s assailants tied his hand behind his back and shot him in the head, according to published Mexican reports.

Two homeless, teenage Hispanic brothers, who were known associates of a street gang, confessed they had forced their way into the home to rob it. They killed Turnipseed after he threatened to turn them in to police, according to the reports. They allegedly took the equivalent of about $1,000 and a Toyota pickup from the scene before going shopping to purchase tennis shoes and clothing, as well as marijuana and food.

The shocking crime cut short the life of a respected member of Dallas’ LGBT community who had owned a local business and participated in the Stonewall Business and Professional Association. The prominent graphic designer — who was born in Canada, grew up in Dallas and graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington — also left behind several grieving relatives and many close friends.

It appears that Turnipseed had become as socially and charitably active during his seven-year residence in his Mexican community as he had been in Dallas. That probably led to a false sense of security that many tourists and expatriate residents tend to develop in Mexico.

I know that because of my frequent trips over the past two decades to Puerto Vallarta, which is 204 miles west of Guadalajara and Lake Chapala in the same state of Jalisco.

About four years ago, I was robbed on the street in Puerto Vallarta. I had become so comfortable visiting the city that I walked back to my hotel on the beach from a downtown nightclub one night, confident that no harm could come to me.

As I walked toward my hotel, two friendly young Mexican men joined me on the sidewalk. They walked beside me, asking me all of the questions to which I had become accustomed from the tribe of young hustlers that prowl the beach by day and the streets by night.

Suddenly, one of them was grabbing my wallet out of my pants pocket and the other one was sprinting down the street like a football player. He caught the pass of my wallet through the air, and both of them disappeared into the night.

I was lucky. The robbery consisted mostly of subterfuge. But it could just have easily gone very badly in different circumstances with the use of a knife or gun.

As it happened, I only lost a couple of hundred dollars, my credit cards and my peace of mind.

Some would say I was asking for trouble by walking alone at night, and I’m sure that’s true. I would never do the same thing in Dallas, which goes to show how comfortable I used to feel in Puerto Vallarta.

I imagine Turnipseed felt the same level of comfort. After all, he was in his own home, opening the door to a knock from a couple of teenagers with whom he had came into contact through a friend, who reportedly had given the youths food and shelter. The pair of brothers, who reportedly were American citizens abandoned by their parents, were a familiar sight in the community.

What Turnipseed might not have known is that many residents knew the two youths had reputations as thieves.

What I have come to realize is that known criminals commonly circulate in the midst of tourists on the beach and at other public places without interference in Mexico.

That information usually is gleaned only from bartenders and waiters, who either take a liking to a tourist or just don’t want to see a good source of tips disabled or permanently eliminated.

Mexico is an enchanting country, and most of its inhabitants are good people. But it has always been a much more dangerous destination than some people realize, and Turnipseed’s murder is not the first grisly attack on American residents on Lake Chapala.

While most of the recent Mexican violence can be attributed to the drug cartels’ wars with each other and the government, it likely has also created an atmosphere where human life is considered by criminals to be less valuable.

Mexico is a favorite destination for many LGBT tourists from Texas, and many people have successfully retired or maintain vacation homes there. Publicity about Turnipseed’s murder is unlikely to change that.

But hopefully it will be a strong reminder to all Americans that caution is more critical than ever when undertaking travel south of the border.

David Webb is a former staff writer for the Dallas Voice. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

String of anti-gay hate crimes rocks NYC

In latest incident, 7 gang members are accused of torturing 3 victims after discovering one of their recruits was gay

COLLEEN LONG | Associated Press

NEW YORK — Members of a street gang discovered one of their recruits was gay, so they attacked the teen, brutally beating and torturing him and two other people in gruesome assaults, police said Friday, Oct. 8.

Seven of the suspects were arrested and being held pending arraignment on charges of robbery, sodomy, menacing and assault as hate crimes. Two others were being sought.

The attack came amid heightened attention to anti-gay bullying following a string of suicides attributed to it last month around the country.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the first of the four assaults in the most recent case occurred at about 3:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 3.

The first victim, a 17-year-old potential recruit for the “Latin King Goonies” street gang, was grabbed by gang members and taken to an empty Bronx apartment they used for parties and sex, police said. The teen was stripped, beaten and sodomized with a wooden plunger handle, police said.

The attackers, apparently angry he was gay, yelled anti-gay insults and questioned him about his contact with a 30-year-old man, police said.

The teen was eventually released and told not to tell anyone. He walked to a hospital where he was treated, but he reported his injuries as due to a robbery.

Using information gleaned from their interrogation of the recruit, the attackers then descended on another 17-year-old also thought to have had a relationship with the 30-year-old, police said. Both were lured to the same apartment.

The second teen was assaulted at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday, police said. The 30-year-old arrived about an hour later with malt liquor, thinking he was going to a party. He was stripped to his underwear and tied to a chair opposite the other teen, who was forced by the angry mob to burn the man with cigarettes, police said. They beat the 30-year-old, forced him to drink copious amounts of the malt liquor he brought, and sodomized him with a small baseball bat, police said.

“These suspects employed terrible wolf-pack odds of nine-against-one, odds which revealed them as predators whose crimes were as cowardly as they were despicable,” Kelly said.

During the attack, some of the assailants went to the 30-year-old’s home, where they attacked his older brother and robbed him of $1,000, a 52-inch TV and two debit cards, police said.

The victims were eventually freed, hospitalized and treated.

The assailants scrubbed the scene top-to-bottom with bleach, even repainting the walls to make it look new, police said.

“They could clean, but they couldn’t hide,” Kelly said.

Investigators said they still found alcohol cans and hair at the scene. And an onlooker slipped a phone number to detectives, leading them to the primary suspect. The victims, initially reluctant, also started to divulge more details about the assaults, Kelly said. The Hate Crimes Task Force took over the investigation, along with Bronx robbery and gang division and special victims squad and arrested the seven men.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the city’s highest-ranking openly gay official, called the attacks “vile” and “horrifying.”

“These attacks are appalling and are even more despicable because the victims were clearly targeted in acts of hate simply because they are gay,” Quinn said. “The cowardly few who committed these crimes do not represent New Yorkers and our community will not be cowed by such violence.”

A weekend rally on anti-gay bias was planned following other crimes against gays.

On Sunday, Oct. 3, a patron at the Stonewall Inn, a symbol of the gay rights movement since protests over a 1969 police raid there, was beaten in an anti-gay bias attack, according to prosecutors. Two suspects in the case were charged. Their attorneys say they’re not guilty.

That attack followed the Sept. 22 death of a New Jersey college student, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his sexual encounter with a man in his dorm room was secretly streamed online. The student’s roommate and another freshman have been charged with invasion of privacy. Authorities are considering bias-crime charges.

The attacks remain all too common, and there is still a stigma to being a lesbian, gay bisexual or trangendered person, said Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which works to combat attacks on gays and others. That stigma leads to such attacks, and to young people feeling their only alternative is suicide.

“We have to stop thinking that it’s OK to bully LGBT people, or make fun of LGBT people,” she said.

“What we see now is the link between casual sort of comments and the real and horrific violence that results because those comments contribute to an entire culture of violence.”

—  John Wright