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Crimes of Hate: The Stark Reality of Hate Crimes Against the LGBT Community

Attacks against gay community often go unreported out of fear of retribution

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Words punctuated the kicks and punches.

"If you guys are going to dress like dudes, then we are going to hit you like dudes," Annie remembers hearing between two rounds of assaults and a final crash to the pavement that shattered her knee.

Annie stood in the parking lot of Addie's restaurant on Fifth and Main streets with friends in the wee hours of a late April morning when a kick to the back of the knee, followed by anti-gay slurs and punches ended her carefree night in downtown Boise.

The attack put Annie in the hospital, and after two hours of surgery that repaired her broken knee with a rod and nine screws, she's unable to walk. She'll be in a wheelchair for at least two more months. The attack left the young restaurant employee unable to work. And without an income or health insurance, the medical bills and living expenses are piling up.

Annie's name, like others in this story, has been changed in order to protect those who fear retribution or fallout.

"It's sad. The whole thing makes me want to cry," Annie said in a telephone interview from her parent's home, where she's staying while she recovers.

Annie pressed battery charges against her attacker but he quickly posted bond.

The assailant's three friends that taunted Annie and encouraged the kicks and punches also walked away, and in the weeks since the attack, Annie found there is little under Idaho law to protect victims of anti-gay, hate-motivated crimes. Anti-gay assaults are not covered under Idaho hate-crime statutes and lawmakers have refused for six consecutive years to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's anti-discrimination laws. That, LGBT advocates say, leaves many victims silent and many crimes against sexual-orientation and gender-identity minorities unreported.

"If you do report, unfortunately, our state doesn't think that you are equal to everyone else. And you're going to have to go on the record. And once you go on the record, you risk losing your job, your housing and the public knowing something about you that makes you a further target for discrimination. And in that realm, there is no protection," said Monica Hopkins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho.

In fall 2011, tweets and social media reports indicated a surge in the number of hate crimes against LGBT people. Anecdotal reports from LGBT community members echo an alarming increase in the number of beatings, harassment cases and verbal assaults against Boiseans based on presumptions about sexual orientation and gender identity. But crime statics and police reports don't parallel what's well known about the safety on the street.

"It happens all the time. It's really frequent. And it's very frequent downtown, especially if people have been drinking," Annie said.

National reports and reality don't match up either. In 2009, the FBI reported 122,000 cases of anti-gay crime but most incidences go largely underreported, according to Bureau of Justice statistics. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that the actual rate is 15 times higher.

Mark can count four friends who have been victims of anti-gay-motivated assaults in the past year. That's 50 percent more than the Boise Police Department logged in crime statistics reports. Since 2002, Boise Police reported just 14 anti-gay hate crimes. But sources interviewed by Boise Weekly say they collectively know of dozens of instances that occurred in the last couple of years.

Mark knows why the numbers don't match up.

He filed a public records request last month. The documents he unearthed came from a 20-year-old cold case. He didn't look at the entire contents of the report--he still couldn't bear to see the images of his 17-year-old self battered and bruised.

One police photo showed an all-American-looking kid dressed in a Meridian High School sweatshirt with the word "Warrior" stretched across a large, blue letter M. Mark's face sported the sparse fuzz of adolescence, an emerging black eye, a swollen cheek, numerous abrasions and bloodied cuts. Photographs of his body revealed cuts, bruises and abrasions on nearly every inch of his back and down to his knees.

"It was humiliating enough to have to take your clothes off and have someone take pictures of you," Mark said.

He didn't want to report the attack that happened near the Emerald Club, a now defunct gay bar. Mark was en route from Boise State to his brother's downtown apartment when he passed the club. He was 17 and curious, so he wandered around outside the club where he ran into two affable men, not much older than he was. They struck up a conversation and Mark felt he was making friends outside an establishment where a "GAY FRIENDLY" sign hung.

Then the two men asked if Mark was gay. Mark felt safe. He felt befriended.

"Yes," Mark replied.

Then, Mark felt the pain of the first punch.

"I was jumped and beaten and called, 'Faggot! You're going to die! You sick fucker!' There were two of them and one of me. I thought I was going to die," Mark said.

Mark tried to conceal the attack the same way he concealed his sexual orientation.

"My first thought, was, 'This didn't happen.' I didn't know how I was going to explain what happened. How was I going to explain I was outside of a gay bar? People were going to start to wonder."

But the gashes and bruises were too many and Mark's parents called the cops.

Mark told police he didn't remember what happened on that day he's tried to forget.

"I stayed quiet. I lied to police as a way to protect myself. But I actually protected the people who were attacking me. I gave the police nothing to go on because I knew if they were caught, they would say it happened outside of a gay bar and that I told them I was gay."

Mark retreated and buried the story of that sunny fall afternoon his senior year of high school. Who would he tell? He didn't know anyone who was openly gay, and a month after the attack, Meridian High School suspended three popular teachers for inviting lesbians to speak to a civics class.

"That pushed me even further into the closet," Mark said. "I survived the physical attack but reporting what actually happened to me would have just opened me up for more attack."

Mark held onto his silence because he feared what would happen if people knew that he was gay.

"People say that hate crime doesn't happen. I know it does happen. It happens in plain sight and people don't know because people are afraid to speak up. And it's that environment and that makes hate crime OK," Mark said.

There are many reasons not to report anti-gay hate crimes, said Randy Blazak, sociology professor at Portland State University and executive director of the Coalition Against Hate Crime.

"Once you report being the victim of an anti-gay attack, your sexuality is now a matter of public record. And you may not have told people in your family, let alone your community."

Attacks against LGBT and immigrant populations are among the most underreported hate crimes, Blazak said. And fear drives the silence.

"In order for it to rise to the level of a hate crime, you have to reveal things about the situation that make it a hate crime. Specifically, it must be a crime motivated by bias against a protected group--such as race, disability, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. And in that becoming part of the public record, if you are--or are perceived to be gay or transgendered--you risk discrimination in all of the things that are not protected," Hopkins said.

Crimes motivated by sexual-orientation and gender-identity bias are considered criminal acts and protected under federal hate-crimes laws but not by state laws. And gender-identity and sexual-orientation discrimination, or acts and institutional practices that maintain a majority group's dominance and treat people differently or unequal are not protected by either state or federal law.

Some Idahoans tried to change that.

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