by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Every time the LGBTQ community advances our rights we face backlash; retribution for wanting the right to love and live in happiness and to finally not be a second-class citizen. Members of our community are beaten, fired from their job, threatened and in some cases killed.
In May of 2013, 32-year-old New Yorker Mark Carson was gunned down in the West Village. Another victim of hate. Carson was in a historically Gay neighborhood and just a few blocks from the Stonewall Inn. Carson's tragic death was part of a troubling trend in New York at the time. Over the course of just two weeks, aside from Carson's death, three hate crimes against Gay men occurred and earlier in May 2013, a Gay couple was attacked by disgruntled Knicks fans outside Madison Square Garden. According to NYPD, there had been 24 anti-Gay (hate) crimes in just the first four months of that year, compared to 14 in 2012.
The rise in anti-Gay violence in New York came at a time when LGBTQ New Yorkers were enjoying greater visibility and acceptance than they had at any point in the nation's history. At that time, same-sex marriage was legal in 12 states and polls indicated that a majority of Americans supported equal marriage rights.
'You can see in the mind of a mentally deranged person that the progress we've made around Gay rights recently is very threatening. That's when these crimes tend to occur,' said political strategist and former Clinton administration adviser Richard Socarides, who suggested chilling possibilities for the months ahead in a May 2013 feature published by Salon.com. 'This isn't just confined to New York. If we see a Supreme Court ruling at the end of next month that we expect will be either favorable or very favorable and advance us closer to full equality for Gay people, we might see more of this.'
Unfortunately, the case could be made that Socarides was right. SCOTUS ruled in favor that certain parts of DOMA were unconstitutional and President Obama said the U.S. would no longer defend the discriminatory same-sex marriage ban in court. As the LGBTQ community and our allies celebrated around the world, others seemed to sink farther into darkness. Plans were made and although nobody knew it at the time, we would all soon find out. Stories from major cities across the U.S. began to pop up and just like what happened in Seattle over the last couple of years, bias or hate crimes are on the rise. And, sadly, many of the people committing these crimes suffer from some sort of mental illness.
The idea of newly empowered citizens becoming the target of heightened violence is not at all new says Michael Bronski, a professor in studies of women, gender, sexuality at Harvard and the author of A Queer History of the United States.
'I think that's true. But to apply that principle you have to be very careful,' Bronski continued. 'We've seen it with African-Americans, too - as people get power, other people feel their power is being taken away from them.'
SUPREME COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF MARRIAGE EQUALITY
Last Friday, the Supreme Court ruled unequivocally in favor of marriage equality. The landmark ruling has some experts bracing for an anti-Gay backlash.
'We don't know if it's gonna have a direct effect yet,' says Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. 'But I think it's extremely likely that we will see anti-Gay hate crime go up if and when same-sex marriage is legalized throughout the country.'
o When France legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, it was accompanied by a reported 30 percent increase in such attacks.
o In 2009, a surge in anti-Gay hate crimes in California was blamed on controversy surrounding Prop 8, a state ban on same-sex marriage. At the time, a Santa Clara County prosecutor in charge of tracking hate crimes said, 'My belief from having done this work for many years is that surges in types of hate incidents are linked to the headlines and controversies of the day.'
There are anecdotes of individual attacks inspired by same-sex marriage wins, too. A 28-year-old Michigan woman was beaten up by three men who recognized her from local TV footage of her wedding, which took place shortly after an amendment restricting marriage to heterosexual unions was struck down.
There isn't too much data to back up a causal connection; in fact, the data on anti-Gay hate crimes tells another story - one that seems to go against all logic. When it comes to Gay-friendly states, California, Massachusetts and New York are some of the very first that come to mind - but they are also among the top ten states with the highest rates of anti-Gay hate crimes.
Why is that? Because, just like in Seattle, members of the LGBTQ community are actually reporting these incidents to police. In other areas, people remain silent, afraid of possible retribution.
The latest FBI data from 2003 to 2013 found that in addition to those three states, the top offenders were the District of Columbia, Nevada, Colorado, Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey, Kentucky and Washington. However, Alaska, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Wyoming reported zero anti-Gay crimes that same year. The fact is, people were just not reporting crimes if they happened.
LAST WEEKEND'S ANTI-GAY HATE CRIMES IN SEATTLE
In Seattle, SPD arrested two men for hate crime attacks over Pride weekend, and are also searching for another group of suspects who attacked a Gay couple on Capitol Hill.
In the first incident, officers responded to E. Pike St. and Boylston Ave. around 2 a.m. Sunday after a Gay couple reported they had been attacked by a group of suspects, who told them they were 'celebrating Pride, too.'
The victim told police he was sitting on the street when one of the victims struck him in the hand.
When the victim asked the suspect what he was doing, he responded 'we're celebrating Pride, too,' followed by an anti-Gay slur. The suspect then punched the victim in the face, knocking him to the ground.
The victim's boyfriend intervened, but the two other male suspects joined the attack, knocking the second victim to the ground as well. The suspects then repeatedly kicked the victims as they lay on the pavement.
One victim sustained a possible broken nose and scrapes in the assault. The other victim had a tooth knocked out in the attack, and sustained possible broken hand.
The victims described the three attackers as: 1) a black male wearing a blue and white striped shirt and jeans, 2) a heavy set black male wearing a white shirt and jeans, and 3) a white male, approximately 5'11, 140 pounds, with blonde hair. The victims also said two women accompanied the suspects during the attack. The victims were only able to describe one woman as Asian, and the other as black.
About 15 hours later, around 5:15 p.m., police received a report of another case of malicious harassment downtown. The victim flagged down a bike officer in the 1900 block of Westlake Ave. and pointed to a man on the street, who he believed had just threatened him with a weapon. The victim said he was walking down the street when he bumped into the suspect, who swore at the victim and used a homophobic slur. The suspect then reportedly pressed something into the victim's stomach - the victim told police he believed it was a gun - and asked him 'Is your life worth that much?'
As the suspect walked off, the victim noticed SPD Sergeant Rob Brown riding by, told him about the incident and pointed out the suspect down the street. Sgt. Brown called other officers to the scene, who took the suspect into custody. The 23-year-old man again used an anti-Gay slur while referring to the victim, who was wearing rainbow-colored beads during the incident.
Police booked the suspect into the King County Jail for malicious harassment, Washington's statute for hate crime attacks. Officers were unable to locate a weapon on the suspect.
Officers made a second malicious harassment arrest Sunday, after a man and woman attacked a Transgender victim near Yale Ave. and Denny Way.
The victim was walking east on Denny Way near Yale Ave around 8:45 p.m. when the suspects approached and asked 'Did you enjoy your parade?' followed by an anti-Gay slur. The male suspect then punched the victim in the face several times as the woman jumped on the victim's back. The attack left the victim sprawled on the sidewalk. The male suspect put his foot on the victim's head before fleeing the scene with his accomplice.
The victim called 911 and received medical attention at the scene. The victim then drove around with SPD officers as they searched for the suspects. Police found the 35-year-old male suspect at Eastlake Ave. E. and E. Mercer St. and booked him into the King County Jail for malicious harassment. Police are still working to locate his female accomplice.
SPD's Bias Crimes detectives are investigating all three of the incidents. They do not currently believe any of the attacks are connected. If you have any information about the E. Pike and Boylston incident, please contact detectives at (206) 233-5000.
BIAS-CRIME IN SEATTLE
Gay men have seen our fair share of bias-crime attacks in Seattle. In fact, according to police reports, cisgender white Gay men are the likeliest to be attacked on Capitol Hill and throughout the city; that is, of course, if you are talking about muggings, verbal assaults, and intimidation. But if you look at data on bias-crimes or physical attacks, cisgender Gay men of color have suffered the most.
In August 2014, Ali Muhammad Brown, 29, was charged in the June 2014 murders of Ahmed Said, 27, and Dwone Anderson-Young, 23. According to police documents, the two young Gay men of color were gunned down after responding to a dating application meet up request Brown allegedly lured the men with. Court records indicate that Brown 'essentially executed' the Gay couple, and killed each of his victims by shooting them at point-blank range.
And there is still the unsolved beating death of Danny Vega, 58, who was an icon in the local Filipino community. On November 15, 2011, Vega was walking in the 4200 block of South Othello Street around 7:45 p.m. when he was attacked from behind by three young men who robbed and beat him and yelled anti-Gay epitaphs at him. He lost consciousness and awoke nearly an hour later 'with pain all over his face and chest,' a police report said.
Vega was able to walk home, where his roommates called 911. Wincing in pain and acting disoriented, Vega told officers he'd been attacked by three African-American males, all around 18 years of age but he 'could not provide any further description due to his injuries and pain level,' the report said. Vega was taken to Harborview Medical Center, where he later died. His friends pressed the SPD to make sure his death was investigated as a hate crime.
We've also had some close calls. On New Year's Eve 2014, a man set fire to Neighbours Nightclub essentially wanting to trap clubbers inside the burning nightclub as they tried to escape because, as he allegedly told an acquaintance, he wanted to 'exterminate homosexuals.' Luckily for all of the LGBTQ and allied people at Neighbours that morning, nobody got hurt and the FBI/ATF ultimately arrested Musab Masmari and he was sentenced to 10 years in a federal penitentiary.
Seattle Gay News does not publish this story to fear monger or rain on the marriage equality Pride Parade. Instead, we want this information to serve as a warning to anyone out there that believes that because we are able to marry in all 50 states that somehow means we are safe - because we aren't. The backlash might even get worse as time will tell. It is important for LGBTQ people to remain vigilant and mindful of their own personal safety. And it is also important to not allow or watch someone to get beaten, mugged, harassed or worse. Be a good witness, stop or call out violence when and where you see it, and do not walk alone after dark.
NOTE: The local social justice nonprofit Social Outreach Seattle offers rides home in their LGBTQ Safe Space Safety Shuttle. Need a ride? Call 203-411-SAFE.
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