Monday, June 22, 2015

Beware of the Haters


The tragic murders in Charleston, SC drove home the point that there is much hatred in this world, and there is little reason to believe it’s going away anytime soon.  Racial hatred is percolating, creating a deep fissure in our society—a troubling situation even a half century since the civil rights bill was signed into law.   There is also an abundance of hateful anti-Semitism, anti-Latino, anti-Asian and yes, homophobia out there, and we need to be concerned.  Very concerned.

Within the past month, two separate anti-gay attacks on young male couples in Baltimore both startled and angered those community members who became aware of them.  The victims were beaten up pretty badly but are now recovering. 
The couple that was robbed along with the beating, not only lost money and cell phones, but also had to endure the painstakingly bureaucratic process of obtaining new driver’s licenses and other forms of identification as well as reporting stolen cell phones, credit and ATM cards. 

Then there is the trauma resulting from these incidents that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.  They acknowledge, however, it could have been worse.  They are living.  Not everyone who had endured such brutality survived.
Both attacks occurred after returning from a bar or club at night.  And in both instances, the attackers launched anti-gay slurs while committing their assaults.  In one case the victims were called “bitches” and “queers” and in the other one, “f*****g faggots.”  This indicates, at least to me, that the attacks were hate crimes.  We know that in one of these incidents, police are investigating it as a possible hate crime.  Police did not confirm if such an investigation will be pursued for the other one.

Whether technically they are found to be hate crimes or not, they were acts of hate.  The anti-gay slurs and the vicious beatings would lead me to that conclusion.  The robbery of both members of the couple took place during the beating; it was not your routine street robbery in that the victims were not held up at gun or knifepoint initially and told to fork over their valuables.  While they were punched and stomped on, one of the attackers went through their pockets to retrieve wallets and phones to top off their heinous mugging. 
The other attack on a couple did not involve a robbery but one member, Steven Lemmerman also known by his DJ name, DJ Lemz, was severely roughed up  following an altercation with a motorist who came within an inch of hitting him in a crosswalk.  His partner escaped without injury.

Baltimore can be a rough city; we should be vigilant for possible attacks.  This is especially true if the U.S. Supreme Court rules favorably on marriage equality in the coming days.  Yes, there will be celebrations galore should we win the case. 
However, there will also be a backlash, and no one knows exactly how that reaction will manifest itself.  Anti-gay attacks are likely to result though the extent is unclear.  There has been so much overt acceptance of LGBT folks and support for same-sex marriage that people can be fooled into believing that life will move merrily along down a rainbow path.

This is far from the truth.  Many people have not bought in on the equality concept.  Most won’t go out and beat up “queers” as if it was a sport—and I know that some who participated in those activities viewed gay bashing as just that: recreation.  Some may, though.  They simply don’t like us, some even hate us, and much of this bigotry is tied to religious dogma and generations of homophobia within their families.  Taken a step further, the haters out there are potentially violent.
These recent gay bashings could be instructive.  The important safeguard is not to draw undue attention to yourself in this current environment.  Lemmerman told me less than a week after the assault, “I do not believe the attacker was driving around specifically looking to attack gay couples, but I believe us having fun and being ourselves set him off in an awful way.”

There are other common sense approaches, such as try not to walk alone on a street; walk where the streets are well-lit; do not display or use a cell phone or show any cash while walking; and do not get intoxicated.  The last point is very important because if you are impaired, you cannot be observant of your surroundings.  And if you are attacked, your condition will not enable you to make a clear, indisputable identification of the attacker.
As a victim of a brutal attack, Lemmerman added his insights: “Please be aware of your surroundings and who is around you. If you are out at the clubs, try and travel with at least one friend if on foot. If Stu [his partner] was not with me screaming for help, I shudder to think how much worse it could have gotten.

“If someone tries to provoke you, do your absolute best to not give them a reason to go after you. No matter how awful what they say or do is and how mad you might get, be the bigger person and walk away from the situation as safely and fast as you can. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time.”
You can find more safety tips from the Baltimore Police Department here.    
 
In addition, we do have an LGBT Liaison with the Baltimore Police Department if you experience any difficulties in dealing with the police.  His name is Sgt. Kevin Bailey, and he can be reached at 443- 984-7411 or by email at Kevin.Bailey@BaltimorePolice.org.

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