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Stand Together Against Violence

June 1998

Sometime during our lifetime, most of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or HIV-positive, have been on the receiving end of someone’s hatred. Maybe it was a comment made as we walked by a group of people hanging out on a city corner that was said just loud enough for us to barely hear it; or a chilling slur came out of the darkness by a voice we recognized as that of a neighbor while we were walking home through the woods to our house in the country. Maybe the violence came physically in the form of a fist, a bat, a knife, or a gun. At any rate, there was nothing we did to deserve what happened. Although the following article is written by an anti-violence project based in New York City, and the statistics given are particular to it, bias-related crimes affect all of us no matter what our geographic location. We don’t all live in communities that have adequate resources to address it, but at the very least, know that our nation tracks hate crimes. So, if you are victimized, you can at least report it. Pride means standing up for yourself. Pride means standing together against violence.

We at the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP) know that violence directed against our community due to hatred and homophobia is an ever present and growing reality. In fact, in our annual national report, "Anti-Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Violence in 1997," we documented a startling 14.4% increase in bias crime against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and HIV-positive people in New York City last year.

Even more disturbing than the increase in the number of incidents was the accompanying increase in the severity and intensity of the violence. For example, in 1995 the most commonly used weapon of attackers was a rock or a bottle, something you might find on the street and hurl at someone. By 1996, and continuing in 1997, the weapon of choice was a club or a bat -- something that would indicate premeditation by the assailants.

Violent Realness

What our report demonstrates (and the stabbing in April 1998 at Christopher and Hudson Streets of a man perceived to be gay supports) is that violence continues to be a common occurrence in our lives, something that deserves and demands constant attention and work by law enforcement.

We need only remember that the stabbing on Christopher Street comes on the heels of a vicious anti-gay attack in Chelsea that resulted in the victim losing an eye. This attack was preceded by another stabbing in the Euclid Avenue subway station where two gay men were attacked with ice picks and one man's lung was punctured. These attacks were caused by the perpetrators' hatred and homophobia when they perceived the men to be gay. Unfortunately, it appears that spring 1998 will mirror the violence trend that occurred during winter and spring 1997. During that time, violence increased in the 10th Police Precinct located in the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan. Reports to AVP of anti-lesbian and -gay violence in Chelsea significantly increased, with bias motivated assaults growing a staggering 200% during the first four months of 1997 compared to the same period in 1996.

At first, the new commanding officer of the 10th Precinct was not concerned about this trend. He even stated to the press that the violence experienced by the community at that time was "Not a problem."

Not This Year! Not Ever!

Although the increase in violence is very disturbing, the subsequent organizing done by the community, and the concessions we won from the 10th Precinct were very encouraging and should empower us in our work responding to the most recent incidents. In fact, as a result of our effectiveness last year, we know that we will stop the current surge of violence and send a clear message to homophobes that we will not stand for assaults in our neighborhoods.

If we work together once again, we will make it clear to every homophobe that violence against members of our community is totally unacceptable. To those people whose hatred compels them to commit acts of violence, we emphatically say, "Not this year! Not ever!" Through our community organizing efforts last year, the Commanding Officer of the 10th Precinct retracted his statements and met with AVP to develop a plan to make Pride week and weekend as safe and violence free as possible. The meeting also resulted in the number of uniformed officers being increased to patrol 8th Avenue between 14th Street and 23rd Street (a corridor where many of the incidents were occurring). Further, our efforts helped to establish a New York Police Department Temporary Headquarters vehicle set up on 8th Avenue between 14th and 15th streets. AVP staff trained many of the officers who were assigned to Chelsea, and all 1,500 uniformed officers who worked on last year carried special AVP sensitivity literature.

These successes reflect the power we hold as individual citizens and as a community. Beyond political and community organizing, there are a few safety tips that are always wise for all of us to follow:

  • Stay alert. Awareness is your best self-defense.

  • Trust your instincts. If you think something is wrong, remove yourself from the situation.

  • Project confidence. Walk as if you know where you're going.

  • Carry a whistle. If you feel threatened, blow it, or shout "fire" to attract attention.

  • If you feel threatened -- cross the street, change direction, run to a place where there are other people, or walk closer to traffic.

  • If you decide to bring someone home -- introduce her or him to a friend, acquaintance or bartender so that someone knows who you left with.

If you are the victim of any crime, at any time, please remember to report what happened. It's very important that violent incidents against gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, HIV-positive people, and people with AIDS be reported so it can be documented as a real problem in our society.

Use the assistance and advocacy resources available for you. AVP has a 24-hour, bilingual hotline to which you can report violent incidents that occurred and get referrals to services. The number is (212) 807-0197. All our services -- counseling, court- and precinct accompaniment -- are free and confidential. If you don't report what happened, you won't get the help and support that you need, and our society will never get an accurate representation of the amount of hate crimes occurring against us. Additionally, hate crime statistics help us in our fight for the resources we need to make our streets safe.

Someone doesn't have to hit you or hurt you for it to be a bias attack. If someone calls you a faggot, a dyke, or any other homophobic name, AVP considers it bias. Tragically, we grow accustomed to people calling us names and usually don't do anything about it. It's important that we work to fight against that tendency. By reporting incidents of hate to the AVP hotline, you help us to more accurately track and respond to hatred. Don't forget. If you or someone you know ever need our services, we are here for you. Be safe and let's all send the message -- NOT THIS YEAR! NOT EVER!

Back to the June 1998 Issue of Body Positive Magazine.

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This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.
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