Anti-gay violence continues in Michigan, report finds

Friday, December 2, 2005
Capital News Service

LANSING-Decades after the Stonewall Riot in New York City, a survey shows that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Michigan residents are still striving for equality.

There were 93 incidents of anti-gay intimidation or violence in Michigan last year, up from 89 in 2003, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Nationally, there were 1,792 incidents, up 4 percent. There was one murder in 2004.

Most of the violence in Michigan happened in September, October and November, the months surrounding the passage of Proposal 2, which bans gay marriage.

The Stonewall Riots on June 27, 1969 in New York's Greenwich Village occurred after police raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn. Historians consider it to be the turning point for the modern gay-rights movement because it was one of the first times a large group of gay men resisted arrest.

The survey reinforced what many activists already knew.

"Michigan is probably about average," said Jeff Montgomery, executive director of the Detroit-based Triangle Foundation, an organization that works on public education and hate-crime prevention. "But we do experience more incidents than other states."

The Triangle Foundation offers education programs for police.

"Some cities and municipalities are better than others at dealing with hate-crimes, which is a result of training for the police," Montgomery said. "We train hundreds of officers each year to help promote sensitivity."

Montgomery said that government concern is also essential to curb violence.

"The governor (Jennifer Granholm) is very concerned and responsive to this issue," he said. "She is standing alone when it comes to this without any backing from other officials. If the political leadership would follow the governor's lead and be public and make it clear that anti-gay violence is unacceptable, that would go a long way.

"They need to unequivocally state that Michigan is no longer going to tolerate any type of violence. Not doing so adds to the climate of risk in Michigan."

That climate is also fueled by some elected officials and some religiously motivated people, Montgomery said.

"The hostile climate is brought on by the Legislature and the religious community, which is quite potent in the state," he said. "There is nothing worse, more dangerous, than a religious zealot who is infused with direction from their leaders to do harm."

Chris Swope, executive director of Michigan Equality of Lansing, agrees that more needs to be done to curb violence and intimidation.

"When a group is targeted based on who they are, there is a problem," he said. "It needs to be addressed. Michigan has no law to address this for the gay and lesbian community right now."

Michigan Equality is trying to amend the ethnic intimidation law to increase penalties for crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Swope said. Sexual orientation and gender identity was passed over when the bill was enacted and still needs to be included.

"This is the group that is most targeted for violent behavior," he said.

The 1988 law makes it a crime to harass or attack a person based on race, color, religion, gender or national origin.

Crystal Witt, a victims advocate for the Triangle Foundation, said that increased visibility and political backlash could be behind the rise in violence, although "We are further along then we were years ago. People who are homophobic prey on the GLBTA community. More can be done to raise awareness for sexual orientation and gender identity rights."

© Capital News Service. Used with permission