“Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York” was in many ways always a story for today.
A call to arms as much as it is a queer history lesson and true crime docuseries, “Last Call” wrapped its four-episode run on HBO and Max on Sunday, and with it reminded viewers why its story of a 1990s serial killer who preyed on gay male New Yorkers at neighborhood piano bars is one that can inspire action now.
Published in tandem with the HBO limited series on July 12, a New York City Anti-Violence Project report titled “Under Attack: 2022 LGBTQ+ Safe Spaces National Needs Assessment” found a continued uptick in anti-LGBTQ violence and harassment in 2022. It is the first comprehensive survey directly asking LGBTQ organizations about the hate they experienced and what they need to prevent it.
“Political rhetoric absolutely has a direct impact on anti-queer violence. It’s one of the biggest things I hope people understand and take away from the series,” “Last Call” director Anthony Caronna told TheWrap of AVP’s findings.
The study surveyed 380 LGBTQ organizations and businesses and found that anti-queer violence and harassment continues to occur regularly at LGBTQ-oriented spaces. Over 60% of those surveyed experienced some type of harassment or violence over the last year.
Meanwhile, organizations that specifically served LGBTQ youth were even more likely to experience harassment to the tune of 77.8%. At 86.8%, nearly nine in 10 LGBTQ community centers were subject to at least one incident of violence and harassment. Nearly half (47.5%) reported what they believed was involvement from white nationalist groups in such instances.
While “Last Call” celebrates the strides towards equality the LGBTQ community has achieved over the last three decades and commemorates the justice brought to serial killer Richard Rogers, who since 2005 has been serving two consecutive life sentences in New Jersey State Prison, it also shines a light on the less promising parts of the contemporary queer experience. With the good and the bad, it’s an experience that victims Thomas Mulcahy, Anthony Marrero, Peter Stickney Anderson and Michael Sakara never got to see.
“Peter would love it today, to be able to have a boyfriend,” interviewee Tony Hoyt, Anderson’s one-time friend and secret lover, said in the “Last Call” finale. “And he’d breathe a sigh of relief of, isn’t it about time?”
Matt Foreman, noted activist and formerly of the NYC AVP, admitted that Rogers’ sentencing still “felt like justice denied.”
“It took so long that it wasn’t as gratifying as it could’ve been,” he said.
One particularly resonant sequence in Episode 4 spliced Anita Bryant’s 1970s proclamations that “homosexuals… have to reproduce by recruiting our children” alongside those of Florida governor and 2024 Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis denouncing the trans community: “We’re not going to be injecting concepts like transgenderism into kindergarten or first grade, that is inappropriate.”
Those videos were paired with recent headline clippings stating that anti-LGBTQ critics’ re-popularization of labels like “groomer” and “pro-pedophile” show a resurgence of old tropes. Another headline from ABC News might indicate how that resurgence has had real-world repercussions: “Rise in Anti-LGBTQ+ Harassment and Attacks Have Communities on Edge.” In the last year alone, “Last Call” notes, a record 322 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in U.S. state legislatures.
The finale also relays stories out of Manhattan’s gay neighborhoods like Hell’s Kitchen, where there has been a larger pattern of bar patrons being robbed and, in some cases, killed.
“We have to take the victories that we have and be happy for those things, but it doesn’t solve the problem. This is happening again. We’ve come full circle in many ways,” Bea Hanson, prominent anti-violence activist also formerly of the NYC AVP, said in the doc.
Hanson added: “The rallying cry here is to really understand the impact of political context and rhetoric and how that leads to violence.”
“Bea and Matt and AVP have fought for decades to hold people accountable for their hate speech and it’s so important that we all learn from them and do the same,” Caronna told TheWrap. “We need our allies to step up and stand with us in saying enough is enough.”
Per the AVP’s July study, events by Drag Story Hour, a national organization coordinating educational youth literacy events featuring drag performers, was a particular target of anti-LGBTQ harassment and correlated with a rise in anti-drag and -trans legislation out of DeSantis’ Florida, Tennessee and elsewhere. (As it pertains to LGBTQ youth services, Florida also controversially passed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill in 2022, which restricted educators from speaking about sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom.)
Caronna told TheWrap that while such anti-LGBTQ rhetoric continues to exist on major, national platforms, mainstream allyship that did not exist in the ’90s is also at the fore — “but there are also a lot of political allies who stay silent.”
“Now is not the time to sit quietly while people with worldwide platforms encourage hate and violence,” the director said. “We need our elected politicians to boldly speak out against what’s happening and make it clear that this kind of hate speech will never be tolerated. No matter how coded it is. Help starts with supporting organizations like AVP that are operating all over the country. Whether that’s donating or volunteering time. There are a lot of organizations like AVP and they all need support and help in fighting for the queer community.”
Caronna then nodded back to Hanson, who in the last minutes of the “Last Call” finale says, “We’re all in this together, and that’s a joyful thing.”
“It’s a line I think about a lot and encourages me to find the joy in fighting back alongside my queer community members,” Caronna said. “It’s truly a joyful thing to be part of this community and to have each other’s backs.”
In addition to promoting the AVP’s “Under Attack” report, “Last Call” also has a series of resources as part of its impact campaign that it encourages viewers to seek out at the end of each episode. For more information, visit the series’ official website via HBO.