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Your Neighbor Could Be a Homophobe

Hate Crimes Against LGBT Folks Outpace Racially Motivated Crimes

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WHERE BROOKLYN STREET dead ends into SE 16th, a set of cement stairs ringed with barbed wire rises out of the asphalt. It was in this foreboding spot, after midnight on November 1, that a man perceived to be gay was beaten and left unconscious with serious head and abdominal injuries. He became just one of 55 victims of Portland hate crimes reported so far this year.

Portland is a gay haven in many ways—we boast the nation's first out mayor of a big city, in case you've forgotten, and one whole tab on travelportland.com maps out trips for LGBT tourists. But after a push within the LGBT community to report more hate crimes, violence based on gender or sexual orientation has displaced race as the city's most frequently reported bias-motivated crime.

The victim in the SE Brooklyn beating was walking home alone from a friend's house when a man spotted him at the base of the pedestrian walkway crossing the Union Pacific railroad tracks, and started "making remarks" about his sexual orientation, as the police politely put it. The suspect, described as a 6'1", muscular white man with freckles and blond hair, beat the victim and took off with a friend.

"He was just walking home," says Portland Police Detective Kevin Warren, the bias-crimes detective working the case. "He was minding his own business."

Police say they initially did not make the crime public because they thought they were closing in on the culprit. But their leads in the beating ran dry, they say, so last Thursday, December 2, police sent out a citywide alert asking for the public's help.

The number of hate crimes reported in Portland has stayed relatively steady for the past four years, with 72 crimes reported in 2007, including 29 motivated by race or color and 28 motivated by perceived gender or sexual orientation. In 2010 so far, cops have taken reports of 55 hate crimes, including 12 motivated by race or color and 21 motivated by gender or orientation. State stats for 2010 are not available, but since 2007 statewide, hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation average 16 percent of reported bias crimes, while racially or ethnically motivated crimes make up 53 percent of reports. Because official statistics track only incidents reported to police, the actual number of bias-motivated crimes is likely much higher.

After the high-profile assault of several men in drag downtown last spring, ["Hate Comes out of the Closet," News, June 10], local LGBT folks sounded off at law enforcement officials during a heated public forum, with many saying they felt too intimidated by local police to report crimes. The public talks eventually led the Q Center, an LGBT nonprofit, to form a downtown Queer Patrol and the attorney general's office to create an anonymous hate crime reporting website.

Q Center Executive Director Kendall Clawson sees the stats as a success.

"We took a leadership role in something we're not normally asked about," says Clawson. "The days of not talking about gay bashings are over. Once our community banded together and started turning the spotlight on that in the spring, we've seen the number of reports change."

Since the state launched its anonymous reporting site, it has recorded 25 hate crime complaints, including two racially motivated crimes and 11 crimes motivated by gender or orientation.

The Tonic Lounge (3100 NE Sandy) is holding a fundraiser for the Brooklyn Street beating victim December 18 at 9 pm.

Ironically, one of the men hurt in the spring assault reported another type of anti-gay intolerance this past week.

Jeffrey Darling, maybe better known as the drag persona Fannie Mae Darling, spent last week organizing an event at Mississippi Studios called Queer Quistmas, with the plan to collect coats for the Portland Rescue Mission, a faith-based homeless services center. But when Darling called the mission asking if they'd co-sponsor, he got a call back informing him that the mission would have to "respectfully decline" the offer. A mission representative first said sponsorship of the queer event might upset donors, and officials later also blamed logistics. Darling called the decision "total bigotry," declining the mission's eventual offer to take the coats anyway, and the story blew up online and on TV.

Queer Christmas will now benefit Our House, a nonprofit helping people living with HIV/AIDS.

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