Whenever there’s trouble around the Chinatown and Gallery Place Metro stations in the District, the finger of blame often points to a most unusual group of suspects: a black gay gang called Check It.
Depending on whom you talk to, they’re just a bunch of mischievous gender benders and drama queens, vulnerable gay youths seeking safety in numbers. Or, they’re one of the largest, more aggressive gangs in the city.
To hear the leader of Check It tell it, there may be some truth to both.
“I just got tired of people beating on me and calling me faggie,” Tayron Bennett, 21, told me recently. He’d helped to organize Check It while a student at Hine Junior High School. Other gay youths from his Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast soon joined, followed by gay youths from throughout the city.
D.C. police estimate that Check It has a core membership of about 20 and counts between 50 and 100 others as “associates.”
“At first, I tried fighting bullies one-on-one, but they don’t fight fair; they fight two and three on one,” Bennett said. So the youths got together and “started carrying mace, knives, brass knuckles and stun guns, and if somebody messed with one of us then all of us would gang up on them.”
At Hine, Bennett had been unsure of his sexual identity and was hurt by schoolmates who said he acted gay. When a teacher also said he acted gay, Bennett went into a rage and hit the teacher with the buckle of his belt. He was arrested and expelled from school. He never went back. And he vowed never to run from a bully. No tears. No fears. If attacked on the streets, he wouldn’t even call the police. He’d just find a way to get his revenge.
The District may have a reputation as a “gay friendly” city, home to one of the largest, most affluent and politically influential gay and lesbian communities in the country. But Bennett and his friends live in a world where attitudes toward homosexuality are not always so progressive.
For Bennett, the focus now is just on staying out of trouble. But sitting at home all day is “boring,” as he put it. Adding to the restlessness, he knows that Check It members are just a tweet away, eagerly awaiting word from him to meet downtown and start the drama anew.