En Español Know Your Rights
Source: New York Blade
Subject: TGNCIQ Justice
Type: Media Coverage

How Safe is Your Gayborhood?

As the temperature
rises, so does the chance of anti-gay crime—but we can take steps to avoid being victims

As the days
lengthen and weather warms, the possibility of violence against LGBT people
also tends to increase. Summer—especially June, when Pride is in full swing—can
be a risky time for gays in the city.

“We
often see spikes in hate violence during times of increased visibility of LGBT
issues,” said Avy Skolnik, coordinator of statewide and national programs at
the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP). “When that visibility is
negative, would-be perpetrators of hate violence often see it as permission to
commit such acts. When that visibility is positive, the response is often a
backlash in the form of increased violence against LGBT communities.”

 


And this year could bring a perfect storm of factors that
may encourage harassment, discrimination and criminal offenses against gay
individuals.

 


The
first factor is the fight for gay marriage in the state: for same-sex marriage
supporters, the possibility of legalization has galvanized many to get involved
in the political process as never before, and increase their visibility in the
news cycle in the hopes of influencing their elected
representatives.

Second,
the start of Pride Week and the festivities surrounding the 40th anniversary of
Stonewall coincides with the end of this year’s closely-watched legislative
session in Albany
on June 22—by which time we could be celebrating an equalrights victory or
lamenting our defeat.

 


The
third factor is a jump in assaults in Manhattan neighborhoods, some of which are
popular with gays, according to statistics released by the NYPD last month—a
month in which at least two vicious anti-gay attacks occurred in the West
Village that are being investigated as bias crimes.

 


“The
more visible we are, the more vulnerable we are to the homophobic and
transphobic backlash to our struggle for civil rights,” said Sharon Stapel,
AVP’s executive director. “Another explanation is that the more awareness we
have about the hate crimes or violence that occurs against our communities, the
more informed we are about reporting the violence or seeking services for the
violence, and that’s what we want to encourage people to do.”

 


Dangerous Pattern

  

An
annual report compiled by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs,
“Anti-Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Violence” shows that, while
liberal in social attitudes, New York
City
can still be a dangerous place to be gay. NYC AVP
documented 403 bias incidents against LGBT people in 2007 (the last year for
which data are available), involving 496 victims. Forty percent of the offenses
involved assault, 14 percent involved weapons, and 24 percent involved injuries
to the victim. In total, 1,139 separate offenses were committed in
the incidents.

 


“Even
in openly gay areas, such as Chelsea or the East Village…bias
attacks are common. Sometimes the perpetrators go to these areas with the
intent to seek out victims,” the report stated. “In June, we see some of the
higher numbers of the year, but is it because more violence in happening or
because people are reporting it more? We don’t necessarily know the answer to
that question,” said Stapel. “We know that as we’re struggling for our civil
rights and we are visible in the community, we know that that can inspire the
kind of homophobia or transphobia that might lead to violence. Does that mean
we stop struggling for our civil rights? No. The answer is that we stop
violence.”

 


Coincidentally,
NYPD statistics show that over the first half of 2009, on-the-street assaults
have surged in several downtown neighborhoods, known as nightlife hubs with
large gay populations. The Sixth Precinct in Greenwich Village and the Ninth
Precinct in the East
Village
reported a 43
percent increase compared to the same period last year. The Lower
East Side
’s Seventh Precinct saw a 30 percent increase. In
contrast, Chelsea’s
Tenth Precinct saw crime drop 17 percent and the Midtown South Precinct,
covering Hell’s Kitchen, achieved a 32 percent drop.

 


Though
some of these statistics are alarming enough, at least two anti-gay attacks
have occurred in the last month in neighborhoods gays once thought safe.

 


On
May 14, a 50-year-old Buffalo, N.Y. man, whom his friends said was openly gay,
was severely punched and beaten as he tried to hail a cab at the corner of
Seventh Avenue and Christopher Street. On May 15, an off-duty police officer
was attacked on 14th Street
near Sixth Avenue
by a man yelling anti-gay epithets. The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is
investigating these two cases.

 


The
NYPD has responded by assigning at least 20 patrolmen, six mounted police
officers and a mobile command unit to Greenwich Village,
along with crime deterrents like floodlights at strategic intersections on Christopher Street.
While the response is not exclusively to combat anti-gay crimes, officers are
trained to respond to all crimes regardless of the alleged motivation, a police
source told the Blade. They can call the
Hate Crimes Task Force to investigate if necessary.

 


Additionally,
two lesbians were allegedly attacked by police officers from the 77th Precinct
in Crown Heights,
Brooklyn on May 17, though the Blade could not
confirm details of the incident by press time. (A rally in support of the two
women, organized by Make the Road New York/GLOBE and the S.O.S. Collective of
the Audre Lorde Project, is scheduled for June 6).

 


“I
think one of the things that is most important to realize is that while we are
visible, we can be vocal,” Stapel said. “We are going to call people on the
ignorance or the bigotry that may then lead people to believe they can beat
people up because of who they are or who they love.”

 


On the Street

 
 

Despite
the statistics, a quick survey of people on the street revealed mixed feelings
regarding safety in the West
Village
. Camilla
Slattery, who has lived on Christopher Street for the past four years, reported
a bar scene that gets rowdy as the weather warms up, with noise and occasional
fights in the early hours of the morning.

 


She
has also overheard possible crimes in progress. “I’ve heard people on the
street at night shouting, ‘hey, stop that guy!.’ And there have been a lot of
muggings in the area,” she told the Blade. “All sorts of people treat the West Village
like a place where they can behave like assholes.”

 

However,
she noted, “I’ve faced more harassment as a woman than for being a lesbian. I
haven’t been accosted as a dyke in probably 15 years. But as a woman, I feel
less safe these days.”

Others
told the Blade they felt completely comfortable in the area. “I’d feel safe
walking around at three o’clock in the morning,” said Joel, who was riding past
on a Razor scooter. “People are drinking on the street, but nothing more
serious than that.”


Protecting Yourself

People
can take steps to protect themselves and avoid harm, even if they can’t control
the actions of others. The first thing to remember is that an anti-gay attack
is not the fault of the victim. “When people are targeted for bias-motivated
violence, they often think, ‘did I invite an attack in some way?’” AVP’s
Skolnik said. “Contradictory homophobic and transphobic messages about how
visible or how hidden one ‘should’ be contribute to these lines of thinking.”

 


Skolnik
suggested measures that everyone can take to avoid harm.

 


•
Watch out for one another and take notice when homophobic or transphobic slurs
or statements are said.

 


•
Use your best judgment about whether saying something back to the offender will
escalate or alleviate the situation.

 


•
At parties, watch your drink and get your own drinks at the bar. When possible,
hang out with a group.

 


•
If you decide to go home with someone or to bring someone home with you,
introduce him or her to your friends. Let them know where you’ll be.

 


AVP’s
website (avp.org) has a complete list of safety tips. And, if by chance
something does happen, English-speaking and Spanish-speaking crisis counselors
are available 24/7 by calling AVP’s hotline at 212-714-1141.

 


“In June, we’re not
only saying we’re proud of who we are,” Stapel said, “we’re saying we should be
able to walk down the street safely and be who we are without fear of reprisal
or repercussions.”