Officials say election year wedge issues usually contribute to jump in hate violence
NEW YORK — A rash of attacks against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across the country — including the severe beating of a New York man whose attackers believed he was gay — suggests the number of reported assaults could rise in 2008, an advocacy group said.
The number of reported attacks against LGBT people increased 24 percent in 2007 over 2006, and they were expected to jump in 2008, said Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.
Officials were still crunching the 2008 figures, which will be released next spring, Stapel said.
The baseball bat beating of Ecuadorean immigrant Jose Sucuzhanay in New York on Dec. 7 was the latest in a number of reported assaults, said the project, which coordinates organizations that document violence against LGBT and HIV-positive people.
Sucuzhanay was walking arm-in-arm with his brother when they were assaulted by suspects shouting anti-gay slurs. The attack left Sucuzhanay, 31, brain dead.
Since the February fatal shooting of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old Los Angeles boy who endured harassment after telling classmates he was gay, "we are witnessing what appears to be an increase in both the occurrence and severity of violence motivated by racism, homophobia, and transphobia," said Stapel.
Stapel attributed the increase in part to more people reporting incidents, but she believed there actually could have been more assaults because 2008 was an election year.
"Election years are always violent years for us because of wedge issues," Stapel said, referring to ballot measures this year banning gay marriage in California and Florida. "With increased visibility comes increased vulnerability to LGBT stereotypes and violence. We’ve seen some of the most violent hate crimes that we’ve seen in a while."
In the case of Lawrence King, one of his classmates was charged as an adult in the slaying, which prosecutors classified as a hate crime.
Other incidents include the discovery of Angie Zapata’s body in July in her apartment in Greeley, Colo. Zapata, 18, was a transgender woman. Police have charged a man with murder as a hate crime in her death.
In June, a surveillance tape was publicized showing Memphis, Tenn., police officers beating Duanna Johnson, a transgender woman, and shouting slurs in a jail booking area; a public outcry erupted. Johnson was found fatally shot on a Memphis street in November, although the motive for the shooting was unknown.
Also in New York City, police arrested four teenagers on charges of assaulting a priest outside a shelter he ran for homeless transgender youths in July. Witnesses said the four teens had harassed and taunted residents with homophobic slurs and insults before the assault.
"I expect the number will increase from 2007 to 2008," Stapel said. "I hope I’m wrong about that."