Thursday, July 24, 2008

Activists and politicians seek to reduce summer anti-LGBT attacks

Hate crimes remain some of the most difficult things I have covered as a journalist. They are barbaric. They are gruesome. And they are most importantly reflective of broader prejudice, homophobia and other social ills that continue to leave a bitter stain on society.

Two incidents late last month and on July 7 in the five boroughs were yet another reminder anti-LGBT hate crimes remain a problem in New York. My article for EDGE details how local activists and politicians reacted, and what they say they hope will happen to lessen the incidents of these assaults. Let's hope they work.

As reports of anti-LGBT hate crimes continue to rise in many parts of the country, two incidents in the five boroughs within weeks of each other prove LGBT New Yorkers remain vulnerable to this violence.

A man and a woman attacked a gay man and his partner on a crowded 1 train late last month as they returned from volunteering at a Greenwich Village church. The second incident occurred at Carmen’s Place, a shelter for transgender youth in Astoria, on July 7. Four teenagers allegedly assaulted the Rev. Louis Braxton, Jr., the shelter’s director, with a paint bucket and other objects after he stopped them from attacking a trans woman who was reportedly dancing outside the Steinway Street facility.

The New York Police Department arrested four suspects shortly after the attack, but the first incident took place the day before hundreds of thousands of people poured into Manhattan for the city’s annual LGBT Pride parade. Politicians were quick to react.

"Homophobia must never be tolerated, but it is especially surprising and hurtful that such an attack could occur in the West Village so near to the birthplace of the LGBT movement, and the day before the [LGBT] Pride march," openly lesbian City Council Speaker Christine Quinn [D-Chelsea], openly gay state Sen. Tom Duane [D-Chelsea] and City Councilmember Alan Gerson [D-Tribeca] said in a statement released shortly after the attack took place. "June is the month that we celebrate the LGBT community in New York City and advocate for equal rights and the elimination of intolerance and prejudice, and this attack only goes to show that we still have a long way to go."

The Anti-Violence Project reports the number of reported anti-LGBT hate crimes spikes during the summer. This increase is due, in part, because of the greater visibility LGBT people have during Pride month festivities and other celebrations. The increased attention around the push for marriage for same-sex couples and other issues can also play a factor.

Duane told EDGE in a recent interview from his Manhattan office he feels working with the NYPD in neighborhoods with large LGBT populations is one way to prevent such attacks. He further pointed to a mobile command post on 14th Street during Pride as another potential deterrent.

"It’s an advertisement to gay bashers that they better think twice before they act on homophobic impulses," Duane said.

He added targeting LGBT New Yorkers through newsletters and e-mails are among the other ways to educate them about the potential risks they face from these attacks. And AVP executive director Sharon Stapel pointed to organizing and education through the city’s schools and community centers.

"We are talking about people who live their lives honestly with integrity," she said.

A number of anti-LGBT hate crimes have rocked New York in recent years. A car struck and killed Michael Sandy on the Belt Parkway in Sheepshead Bay in October 2006 as he attempted to flee three men and a teenager who attacked him after they lured him to an isolated beach along Jamaica Bay. A group of men robbed and beat performer Kevin Aviance after leaving an East Village bar in June 2006. Rashawn Brazell’s dismembered remains were found inside a Brooklyn subway tunnel and recycling plant in February 2005. And Richard McCullough stabbed Sakia Gunn to death after he and another man confronted the teen and a group of friends while they waited for a bus in downtown Newark in May 2003 after a night out in Manhattan.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects reported earlier this year the number of reported anti-LGBT hate crimes in New York dropped 14 percent in 2007. The state’s hate crimes law includes sexual orientation, but not gender identity and expression. But Stapel stressed, however, she feels New Yorkers across the five boroughs have an important role to play in preventing these attacks.

"As a community, as the LGBT community and as a society as a whole, we have to say this is unacceptable," she said. "We have to recognize that it’s all of our problem. As long as we tolerate violence in a community, we will continue to see violence in that community and other communities."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, I am one of the victims of the subway attack the day before the Pride March. Thank you for bringing attention to this story.

I am working closely with Duane and Quinn's offices. There is much that needs to be done to improve the security of our subway stations.