The "Silence No More" candlelight vigil (April 30) was a call to arms against hate crimes in Baltimore. We are fed up with being attacked by ignorant thugs who have nothing better to do with their lives than to seek out vulnerable members of our community—particularly, but not exclusively, transgender people—and try to hurt us. Silence in response to these attacks is definitely part of the problem, and it occurs on several levels.
One way to end the silence is for community leaders, such as Trans-United, which opened up a dialogue with the Baltimore City Police Department, the State's Attorney's Office and the U.S. Attorney General's Office to demand that these institutions not only work harder to apprehend the culprits engaged in these attacks but also to aggressively prosecute the criminals to the fullest extent of the law, applying existing hate crimes statutes when appropriate.
The mainstream media, which all but ignored the suicides of two young boys last year who were bullied in school for being perceived as gay but kicked into first gear when a straight teen committed suicide after being bullied, are guilty of being silent. The media must report attacks on our community members, which would encourage the broader population to be watchful and more involved. There was no ostensible news coverage of the vigil by the mainstream press.
Silence from our local LGBT community organizations is not a good thing either; they must be part of the solution. At the Vigil, several women were asking why the Center—Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) was not a sponsor of the Vigil or had a representative address the crowd. This is a community event of great significance, and the women's frustration was understandable. I confirmed with Sandy Rawls, the Vigil's principal organizer, that the GLCCB had been invited to be a sponsor and to provide a speaker, but no one from the GLCCB returned her phone call.
It is also incumbent upon our own community members to speak out against these crimes. One gay man was recently attacked after leaving a Mt. Vernon bar but never reported it to the police. Every attack or verbal insult about being gay or transgender must be reported. While the perpetrator(s) may never be caught, the statistical evidence could support added police surveillance to the area when they see a problem increasing.
Moreover, this man didn't even want his story told in this paper, despite a pledge of anonymity, even if such a story would benefit other members of the community by heightening awareness. Again, that's where silence hurts us all.
On the other hand, I applaud Adrian and his partner for reporting to police an incident whereby an egg was thrown at the couple by a passenger in a moving vehicle while walking hand-in-hand up St. Paul Street. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. Clearly, someone like that who had an egg in the vehicle had no other goal but to seek out member of our community to cause trouble. It was an egg that night, but it could evolve into something worse later on. The police officer who showed up to take the report was "nice, cordial and efficient," according to Adrian.
To be sure, not all responding officers dutifully take reports or show much of an interest. Some make the victims feel like they're the criminals. We have to overcome that fear and still make the attempt to file a report. We are fortunate to have a liaison with the lgbt community, Sgt. Jeffrey Chaney.
Should anyone in the community be a victim of a crime or even a recipient of anti-gay epithets in Baltimore, he or she should call 911 and report it. If one is called "faggot" or "dyke" by someone, while that is not a crime, it is considered a reportable hate bias incident. If you don't report these, the police will assume there is no reason to expend resources patrolling the area.
If dissatisfied with the police response, the victim should request to speak to a police supervisor. If the issue is still not resolved, then the victim should ask for the LGBT liaison or Sgt. Chaney.
We can easily fall into the trap that we are in a comfort zone in Mt. Vernon because of the number of gay clubs and bars and the large number of LGBT folks bustling about. However, Mt. Vernon is not a gay bubble like San Francisco's Castro District or New York's Greenwich Village. Even in such lgbt conclaves as Dupont Circle in D.C., there are crimes committed against our community.
People from all over the city and beyond come to Mt. Vernon to patronize other nightclubs or restaurants, seek sex partners, or just show up to make mischief against our community. The area attracts all sorts of people.
We've made progress through the years, but homophobia remains problematic and dangerous. We have to be vigilant and careful. We must not make ourselves vulnerable by walking the streets impaired or alone.
And we definitely must not be silent.