Monday, July 26, 2010

Gay Bashing Can Happen Anywhere

Vancouver, British Columbia is a million miles from Baltimore in so many respects: three time zones away, totally dissimilar scenery, lower homicide rate, different demographic composition, etc. Yet both share some common characteristics: they have busy ports; both draw multitudes of tourists; and both have vibrant LGBT communities.

Visiting Vancouver for three days seemed like a nice respite from the crime-dominated reports we read in our local newspaper or see on TV. Yet, imagine the surprise I felt when the Vancouver LGBT newspaper Xtra! told of the second gay bashing there in a three-week period.

A July 1 beating of a gay man by two Vancouver 21 year-olds took place on Davie Street, the main drag that runs through the city's "gay village." Police Department spokesperson Const. Jana McGuinness told Xtra!, "Disturbing comments were also allegedly made regarding the victim's sexual orientation." It was the latest such attack in a city that unfortunately is earning a reputation of late for its gay bashings.

This is Vancouver. This is Canada. This isn't supposed to happen there, especially when the country legalized same-sex marriage putting Canada far ahead of the U.S. on the progressive curve. The lesson here is that gay bashing can occur anywhere, anytime.

Just over five years ago, Chris Crain, then editor of the Washington Blade, was severely beaten in Amsterdam, of all places. Amsterdam? It is arguably the most gay-friendly city, and the Netherlands the most gay-friendly country on the planet. Yet this attack took place while Crain and his partner were holding hands walking along the street enroute to their hotel by seven men believed to be of Moroccan descent. This much publicized incident made international headlines and sullied, to some degree, the rainbow reputation of Amsterdam.

Baltimore may not be Vancouver or even Amsterdam, but each city sadly has its share of attacks against lgbt people. No place is safe. Hand-holding, while we all agree should be allowed unfettered in a perfect world, is an invitation to would-be gay bashers. And we know the world is nowhere near perfect.

Walking alone late at night is risky. Parking in dark, secluded areas is risky. Stumbling intoxicated down a street is risky. And yes, hand-holding is risky.

We've come a long way. We can write laws that protect us. We can gain rights that in the past seemed unreachable. We can even live, work and play in a gay village. But these forward steps do not and cannot prevent hatred because that is contained in one's mind. No law is going to change how a bigot or homophobe thinks; it can only codify behavior. And haters, especially if they, themselves, are under the influence, will ignore the law. We know that all too well.

But we can protect ourselves from bashings and attacks. Avoiding the situations mentioned above will help.

Also reporting any hate-based incidents will allow law enforcement to understand the scope of the problem. If hate-based incidents or crimes are not reported, police will not be aware of the situation. Resources will not be directed to areas where incidents occur if no one reports them. Reporting will help prevent future attacks on our community.

By the same token, members of the Baltimore City Police Department must stop discouraging people from reporting crimes in an effort to keep the "numbers" down. Even rape victims have been persuaded not to file reports. This is deplorable.

As stated in our front page story, activist organization Trans-United held an historical meeting with the city's State's Attorney as well as a U.S. Attorney in an effort to do something about hate crimes committed against lgbt citizens. Agreements were reached that hate crimes statistics will be maintained on a database, which had not been done before. This is an important step in gathering information for law enforcement so that we can minimize the dangers still lurking out there.

Thank you to Sandy Rawls and her Trans-United colleagues and supporters for their efforts in this campaign to stamp out hate crimes in Baltimore. We must help them achieve their goals.

In Vancouver, lesbian city councillor, Ellen Woodsworth condemned the attacks along Davie Street, which she said have been going on for years. She is calling for a meeting between the city's mayor and business and religious leaders to denounce homophobia and call for zero tolerance of gay bashings. Woodsworth is also pushing for more education on tolerance.

Vancouver and Baltimore may seem a world apart, but gay bashings and hate crimes are, unfortunately, a common denominator that must be eradicated to the extent possible. This is a community-wide problem that requires a community-wide solution.

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