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Sidebar: Decline of Two Groups Creates Organizing Void

Despite Increased Awareness Homophobic Hate Crimes Continue with Institutional Support

by Jeff Saviano

Think life is easy now for North Carolina's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population? Think again: Children are still taken away; jobs are still lost; they are still screamed at in public; strangers still explode into violence; little or no help is received from those government offices sworn to protect civil rights and enforce the laws.

Though this state's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community now enjoys levels of acceptance and success which are tributes to their struggles, its members still often face a culture of hatred directed their way by a hostile populace. Its members also face economic warfare, as their livelihoods are threatened or even stolen from them by prejudiced company or agency bosses, and the government agencies supposedly sworn to protect their civil rights are incompetent against or complicit with hate crimes. State officials and media organizations often declare their hatred of gays publicly.

In early March, former staff members of the NC Coalition for Gay & Lesbian Equality (see accompanying sidebar) released their annual study, "Homophobia and Human Rights in North Carolina." Looking at reports of anti-LGBT acts in 1996, reported incidents totalled 72-twenty-five short of 1995 totals, perhaps, but those assembling this year's report had none of the resources available in earlier years, so many incidents were more than likely missed. (And of course, many victims of anti-LGBT acts do not report their troubles formally, either not knowing who to contact or fearing that no matter how safely their information is guarded that somehow their disclosure may bring retribution.)

When they review the record, what stands out to Coalition members is not just that hateful events seem to appear without warning from hateful individuals; rather, many see a continuing and chilling pattern of race and class power being used to hurt the lives of not so well-off people in the LGBT community.

It perhaps may come as little surprise that many people face spontaneous acts of hatred, ranging from taunting to violence. A grocery store employee follows a 'suspect' customer down an aisle and yells "Hey faggot," while the manager says he can do nothing as the employee is 'on break.' Or someone spray-paints series of anti-gay graffiti on campus property, saying things like "I hate fags." Frightening weirdos leave life-threatening messages on LGBT organizations' answering machines. Gay pride flags are stolen.

Or, more viciously, cars with bumper stickers reading "Gay Basher" (apparently someone makes these) revs its engines at two gay men walking in a neighborhood, and moves as if to run them over. Houses, apartments, cars are vandalized. Disturbed neighbors fire guns into the air and scream epithets of hatred. People at bars attack and beat others suspected of being gay.

These types of incidents may not be surprising to many, but their apparent unpredictability often allows people to dismiss these acts as the uncontrollable products of ignorant people, people without 'culture' or 'class,' the 'unsophisticated.'

But how do we then explain the systematic use of jobs and money as a weapon against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders?

When jobs, promotions, or benefits are systematically threatened, denied to, or taken away from, say, African Americans, it is clear that we are witnessing economically-enforced racism, and those of us with good consciences support organized efforts to stop this economic warfare, including the proper enactment of or enforcement of protective laws. Do we recognize the same systematic denial of protections from LGBT peoples?

Looking over the Coalition's 1996 report, one sees that the LGBT community is frequently denied the even limited economic access middle class citizens expect. (Expect falsely, as the end of the Cold War has brought a renewed vigor in rich people's attacks on living standards.)

A bank refused to open a joint account for two lesbians. A landlord who owns a mall with its own church, perhaps thus qualifying for nonprofit status, raises rents "excessively" for a gay male small business owner as well as a Native American tenant. A heterosexual artist with a gay adult son endures her job interviewer describing gays as "garbage" and bragging that "he had fond memories of beating them up as a young man."

A new lesbian employee at a firm was subjected to unwanted, unsolicited sexual flirtations by a 'heterosexual' female employee. Of course, other employees tell the supervisor that the lesbian employee is the harasser, so she is fired two days later. One also can use for purposes of revenge our military's standardized homophobic policies-now known as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' A military employee who is lesbian exposes two small business owners for fraud. It's child's play for the defrocked businesswomen to tattle to this faithful employee's commanders that she is a lesbian, and she is not only humiliated but quickly discharged.

Or, more simply, a gay male was reportedly fired from a private business for being an 'out' gay man. The EEOC responded to his pleas by saying that the agency did not deal with "the gay issue." This is of course only an honest response by agency officials, as they have not been charged to protect gay people from being fired due to prejudice.

Unlike silly right-wing imagery suggesting that most gays & lesbians are wealthy & powerful, members of the LGBT community are of course middle to lower income, reflecting the normal maldistribution of wealth in this country. (That is, if estimates that 10-15% of all US residents are LGBT are assumed to be accurate.) Like most people, they find it difficult or impossible to leave jobs which are sources of harassment, and fewer still can fight back legally against this economic warfare.

What about the government? Are these agencies and individuals, empowered by us to run parts of our lives, reliable protectors of the civil rights of LGBT Tar Heels? If you read this paper regularly, you'll probably smirk and say, of course not. But take a look anyway.

According to this year's Coalition report, a man facing prosecution for molesting his young son still could file suit for custody against his ex-wife, using her lesbianism as blackmail. A civic-minded gay male couple try to help "clean up" the neighborhood and are virtually ignored by local police when officers are called upon; the police detective is overheard referring to them as "the two queers."

Even violence goes unpunished if the victims are queer. When a gay man was hit in the mouth by a jerk with a beer bottle due to the gay man's sexual orientation, the gay man promptly took out a warrant for the attacker's arrest; mysteriously police 'lose' the warrant, while the local church and the District Attorney suggest that he drop the charges. No doubt these civic leaders are concerned for this fine, violent citizen's well being; the man who had the bottle slammed in his face was not a recipient of such respect.

But why should government officials stop with subtle or untraceable prejudices? Why not declare hatred officially? Many politicians are taking up just this challenge.

In one debate over the funding of agencies which discuss the subject of homosexuality (arts agencies in particular), Mecklenburg County Commissioner and Democrat Hoyle Martin wanted to "protect children from being exposed" to homosexuals, but of course if he had his way "we'd shove these people [gays & lesbians] off the face of the earth."

In Davidson County, county commissioners on December 10th unanimously passed a resolution condemning the "homosexual life-style." (Had they read one of these reports on anti-LGBT acts they would understand that the "homosexual life-style" includes getting attacked by strangers, friends, coworkers, bosses, police, and government leaders. If this is the life-style they condemn we should all agree that no one should have to lead a life-style like this.) Of course, this resolution is to be realized through the denial of economic resources like health or tax benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.

And the world of media okays local radio stations to have cheerful wake-up morning shows which treat listeners to humorous homophobic insults, and which joke about the freakishnesses of "homos" or "lesbos," both of whom in popular parlance fit in the category of "perverts."

Many of the problems faced by our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community may indeed be rooted in cultural habits. Changing the deeply held convictions of hundreds of thousands of people is an extremely difficult task, but essential over time. Of course, those who face multiple categories of discrimination, such as being LGBT, African American (for example), and poor, are hit hardest of all.

Many of the problems, however, are rooted in structures of power which citizens can more directly influence, such as governmental agencies and officials which do not support the civil rights of gays & lesbians or the laws and regulations which allow private business to act with prejudice against people of certain sexual orientations. According to Coalition members, these intersections of gender, race, & class oppressions may be combatted in a more organized fashion, but not without people willing to come forth with time and other resources.

  This article is compiled from the NC Coalition's '96 report, and all examples cited are contained within the report.  

  Decline of Two Groups Creates Organizing Void

Combatting these multiple sources of pain for the LGBT community requires organized efforts. Unfortunately that will now be more difficult here in the Triangle.

The Lesbian and Gay Health Project, the state's largest LGBT organization (serving mainly the Triangle area), has closed. And the NC Coalition for Gay & Lesbian Equality-North Carolina's only statewide direct-services-agency, and the only project fighting anti-LGBT violence in the entire Southeastern US-has laid off its entire staff due to lack of funding.

Many grassroots efforts still exist-Chapel Hill's Lesbian Avengers are now quite active and visible, to take just one example. Yet former staff members of the NC Coalition for Gay & Lesbian Equality argue that providing direct services to individuals rather than broad, politically-oriented actions requires funded efforts.

They cite cases in which specific perpetrators of anti-LGBT hate crimes have been convicted, while those victimized have received long-term support. They can list their "impressive" efforts to bring in the US Justice Department on cases which could come under federal jurisdiction; to work with the state Human Relations Commission and the NC Association of Human Rights Workers and with North Carolinians Against Racist & Religious Violence; or their precedent-setting formation of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs or in doing rural organizing and coalition building with non-LGBT allies.

Their annual report, on which this article is based, has served as a model of comprehensiveness across the nation. "The work of the North Carolina Anti-Violence Project is vital on a national as well as local level," said Jennifer Rakowski of Community United Against Violence in San Francisco (quoted in the report).

The Coalition's Board of Directors claims that a key problem leading to the layoffs was that responsibility for fundraising fell entirely on Board members and their "statewide constituency." Co-Chair Chris Ingle remarked disappointedly that "the collective 'we' have not risen to meet the challenge." Grants obtained by Executive Director Kenda Kirby were intended to be supplements to the budget, not the basic budget itself.

Those wishing to do something about the loss of this resource may wish to participate actively in NC Pride 97, to be hosted in the Omni Hotel off 15-501.

In spite of current difficulties, Coalition members still urge those experiencing LGBT-oriented harassment or crimes to report the incidents.

People needing assistance with a particular case should contact the NYC Anti-Violence Project at (212) 807-6761.

Any incident should be reported and catalogued for future analysis. The Coalition's 1995 report contained a standardized reporting form. Send information (must include a verifiable name and phone contact in order to be tallied) to:
National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs
c/o NYC Anti-Violence Project
647 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014.

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