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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.

Pocatello Democrat Sen. Edgar Malepeai sponsored a measure last legislative session that would have added the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the Idaho Civil Rights Act and Human Rights Act. The measure was designed to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity, but after thousands rallied across the state in support of the legislation, the Senate State Affairs Committee failed to print the routing slip, effectively killing the bill. The vote fell strictly along party lines.

"They put politics before people's lives," Boise Democratic Sen. Nicole LeFavour said.

Passage of the bill would have offered civil-rights protections to people who report hate crimes by making it illegal to fire, evict or discriminate against a person because he or she outed their sexual orientation as part of the police record. LGBT advocates say passage of the legislation could have encouraged more people to report anti-gay hate crimes.

"Legislators keep saying, "We're not going to do it. We're not going to give it hearing. We're not even going to talk about this issue. And that has actually raised the ability and the entitlement for people to commit hate crimes because what the state has actually said is, 'We don't think they are equal to everyone else,'" Hopkins said.

A lack of legal protection adds to the barriers that prevent reporting, Blazak said.

"The main reason that people don't report is they are afraid of the police. They are afraid that the police share the same values as the [assailants]."

Mary joined nearly 200 people at the R Bar in May as they gathered to raise money for Annie's medical care and living expenses. Their numbers stood in solidarity and in stark contrast to the four men who assaulted Annie, but for some, the event brought back personal reminders of unspoken memories.

"This is personal for me," Mary said. She was attacked by four men in downtown Boise nine years ago.

Her attackers saw a tall woman with what Mary describes as Idaho aesthetic sensibilities--short hair (it's an easy 'do for farm work, Mary said) and practical, unisex clothing (duds you can dirty up, Mary said). Between the anti-gay slurs, attacks on her gender and punches, Mary assumed her attacker felt she was neither man enough nor woman enough for their standards. But she could fight like a trained martial artist.

"I was able to get out of a scary situation. But I wasn't fighting. I was surviving. And the police were like, 'Well, she looks more hurt than you.' The cops just said you guys go this way and you guys go that way. I was just trying to figure out what was happening. But I knew it was hate. And I wasn't getting any help," Mary said.

Mary said the police were more concerned with who hit who rather that what was said. Charges were never filed.

"There's a little bit of public-relations work that police have to do to show they are protecting those populations," Blazak said.

Things have changed since Mary's attack, Boise Police spokesperson Lynn Hightower said.

"Police officer training, as far as being more sensitive to victims, is 180 degrees from where it was 10 years ago, from where it was 20 years ago," Hightower said.

Now victims of LGBT-based hate crimes are offered enhanced protections by Boise Police even though they are not covered under state hate-crime statutes. If there is an indication that a crime was motivated by hate, a detective responds, along with a victim's services coordinator, who puts victims in touch with community support services such as counseling and helps them navigate the legal system.

"There are a lot of categories of special victims, children and battered women. But for someone to be targeted because of their sexual orientation, because of their race, because of their religion--that can be an extremely violating, emotional, traumatic thing to go through," Hightower said.

Last fall, social media reports about an escalation in crime directed toward LGBT and talk in the community about unreported anti-gay hate crimes eventually made their way to Boise Police, Hightower said.

LeFavour tweeted in October 2011 about a "horrible rash of anti-gay hate crimes," and encouraged people to report what they see. And after a number of brutal incidents in the summer and fall of 2011--including one reported assault of a tourist from Boston--LGBT activist Duane Quintana called a meeting between law enforcement, LGBT members and U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson to discuss ways to curtail the violence.

The local buzz and concern prompted Boise Police to issue a press release, Facebook posts and fliers encouraging people to speak up and report the violence.

"We got several thank yous for the outreach, but the department did not get a single report," Hightower said.

But enhanced police response doesn't always translate into a hate crime being charged or reported.

"Establishing what is and isn't a bias crime by the police is a difficult thing," Blazak said. "To figure out what the actual motivation is requires an investigation. And sometimes, even though it feels like a hate crime, sometimes it's not if there's not a clear bias motivation. There's that legal side that the police are sometimes asked to untangle. First of all, if you don't have a state law that doesn't protect that class then there's no reason to ask those questions."

Idaho victims of hate-based crimes targeting sexual orientation and gender identity can't look to Idaho law for safeguard or recourse, but federal civil-rights legislation offers some protection. Still, Olson said not all hate-motivated crimes would fit under federal hate-crime definitions.

"These are often random crimes of opportunity. So one of the problems is that often the victims don't know the perpetrators. So victims can't provide information about who participated in the crime," Olson said.

And that information is vital to not only identifying an attacker but digging into the circumstances of a crime. Federal law states that hate crimes must be motivated by some kind of bias. That bias may not always be apparent during an attack and is sometimes gleaned from background investigations into an alleged assailant's character and surface through past statements that they made, organizations that they belonged to, or activities they engaged in, Olson said.

Federal law also defines hate crime more narrowly than many state laws. In order for a hate crime to meet federal definition, it must be commissioned in connection with interstate commerce. In other words, the crime must somehow cross state lines in order for federal agents to have some jurisdiction, Olson said. The use of a cellphone, the Internet, a weapon that crossed borders or the interstate transport of anything used in the commission of a crime could help an offense meet federal guidelines. A crime that disrupts interstate commerce or economic activity could also fall under federal hate-crime law.

Since sexual orientation and gender identity were added to federal hate-crime laws under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Anti-Hate Crime Prevention Act in 2009, three Idaho cases have been reported to the Department of Justice. Two of those cases were dropped and the third is under investigation. The guidelines may not cover assaults such as Annie's, which is still under investigation, but Olson said that shouldn't discourage victims from reporting crimes.

"If there is an assault, call us. Call the FBI," Olson said.

A lack of civil rights, absent protections under state hate-crime laws and narrow federal definitions of hate crimes keep the DOJ and FBI statistics on anti-gay hate crimes low. But Blazak said the fuel behind the numbers--what's reported and not reported--is what kept Mark silent for 20 years: fear.

"There is a reason we have hate-crime laws on the state and federal level. And that's because hate crimes are a form of terrorism. That sounds very dramatic, but the idea is that hate crimes target more than the immediate victims of that crime. They target larger communities," Blazak said.

Terrorism. It's a strong word, LeFavour said. And it's not one the wordsmith-turned-politician uses lightly, if at all in the context of Idaho political debate for LGBT equality. The term carries heavy emotion and the power to polarize, she said.

"I really do think that it's important to call them message crimes," she said. "[Hate crimes] send a message to an entire community."

But a line of sociologists and bloggers have put semantics aside and drawn the connection between gay bashing and waves of fear that have rippled through entire communities.

"Hate crimes are meant to target large groups of people and instill terror in them. They are meant to send a wave of fear throughout a community and a message that 'we don't want you here.' Whether it's a cross burning in a black family's yard or gay bashing, whether it's defined as a hate crime in Idaho or not, the goal is the same--to negatively impact a large population," Blazak said.

And there's a cyclical fear behind hate crimes.

"The thread that ties it all together--whether it is neo-Nazis or anti-gay churches or individuals who are engaged in acts of violence--is an ambivalence or fear of the rapid pace of change in our society. Some people embrace change as an opportunity and a good thing, but there are others--mainly straight, white males--who see change as undermining their natural authority and, therefore, they need to fight back against it in any way, shape or form. And some of this is through mainstream politics--the conservative, right wing of our democratic system--but some of it is through what we call hate crime," he said.

That fear stems from what sociologists call a backlash, or a negative response to oppressed people gaining rights or power in society. The Civil Rights Movement saw a backlash against blacks through lynchings, beatings and challenges to affirmative action. The Women's Movement saw a backlash in the form of legislation that aimed to curtail reproductive freedom and from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who coined the term "femi-nazi" and, more recently, called a women's health advocate a "slut."

"The term that we often use in sociology is this idea of a zero-sum game. The idea that if some group without power gains some power, the perception among people with power is that they are somehow losing power and, therefore, they have to push back--they have to push back against affirmative action or they have to push back against feminism or they push back against gay rights," Blazak said.

This backlash or plays of the zero-sum game shape anti-gay hate-crime trends. When the fear spikes, the backlash sets in, the zero-sum game is played and people get hurt.

"Around political issues, we get trends. For example, after 9/11, there was a big increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes and then it dropped considerably. But then when [debate] about the mosque at Ground Zero started up, we saw it all over again," Blazak said. "Around presidential elections, there's an increase because the gay civil-rights issue gets used as a sort of political football, and that agitates certain people and that increases attacks on gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities."

Advocates say that countering the LGBT backlash begins with adding protections to state laws that would safeguard sexual-orientation and gender-identity minorities from discrimination.

"It sends a strong message that violence will not be tolerated," said Chai Jindasurat of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

In Idaho, that would mean adding the words to state statutes to protect Idahoans from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And those words wouldn't just protect minorities, advocates say. Unlike race or ability, which sometimes carry physical clues, sexual orientation must be revealed. Anti-gay hate crimes are based on presumption, making everyone a target, advocates say. And laws that would protect a gay teen from assault and discrimination could also protect a straight man from the same kinds of bias and attack.

"Civil rights protect everyone," Hopkins said.

Surveys show most people support LGBT civil rights. A December 2011 survey commissioned by ACLU of Idaho and conducted by noted Republican pollster Moore Information found that 78 percent of Idahoans found anti-discrimination legal protection for LGBT acceptable. And a May Gallup poll found that support for gay marriage surpassed the opposition with half of all Americans backing the words, "I do," regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. And LeFavour said many lawmakers were ready to add the words.

"The majority of lawmakers this session knew that 'Adding the Words' was the right thing to do. I think that we reached a critical mass. It's just that politics made it very intimating for some to take on an issue they don't feel comfortable talking about," she said.

Adding the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" would change lives, LGBT advocates say.

Hopkins notes that statutes could even change statistics. After the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, the FBI and DOJ began reporting a slow overall decline of race-motivated crime directed at blacks.

Lisa Perry with Add the Words said Idahoans will keep the campaign alive until the message sticks. She said that as long as one group isn't safeguarded from hate crimes and discrimination, we're all vulnerable.

"If we as a society turn a blind eye to a form of discrimination, it makes it easier for other groups to experience discrimination long as all unique individuals aren't safeguarded."

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