A lesson learned

We may never know for sure what happened between the gay man and the Marine during the LCR convention, but we can’t overlook the situation’s one clear lesson

David Webb

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

It’s hard to understand exactly what happened at a Dallas Hilton Anatole hotel bar last weekend when a Log Cabin Republican conventioneer was allegedly called a “faggot” and assaulted. Everyone involved seems to be engaging in high-gear damage control.

Although police cited the suspect for an alleged Class C misdemeanor assault at the scene, the victim reportedly advised police the next day he would not be pressing charges after the suspect apologized to him. That in effect gave the suspect a pass for allegedly slamming the victim’s face on a bar table.

What is extraordinary about this development is that the police apparently acted as mediators between the victim and the suspect the day after the incident. The negotiations reportedly involved the Dallas Police Department’s liaison to the LGBT community, Laura Martin, who described the suspect as 27-year-old member of the U.S. Armed Services.

Dallas police spokesman Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse claimed that the alleged crime did not rise to the level of a hate crime — even though the suspect used the slur “faggot” during the attack — because either the victim or one of his friends allegedly provoked the assault by either whistling or making a catcall at the suspect and his friends. He described both the victim and the suspect as being intoxicated, and dismissed it as a bar fight.

After the charges were dropped, police considered reporting the incident as a hate crime for statistical purposes, but decided not to, according to Martin.

The victim and his friends, who do not want their identities revealed, have disputed the official police report, calling it “misleading.” The victim, who is from out of town, said he decided not to press charges because pursuing it would be time consuming and “arduous.”

What’s more, we learned that the suspect might be a member of the U.S. Marines who was staying over at the Anatole after a tour in the Middle East. Ironically, all of this began coming to light just as reports circulated about the Marine Corps conducting seminars aimed at smoothing the way for gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. Armed Services.

What a mess. If all that’s true, no wonder the Dallas Police Department found time to negotiate a cease-fire between the victim and the suspect.

On top of all that, we learned during the same weekend that U.S. Navy Seals had finally managed to take out Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the al-Qaida attacks on the U.S. in 2001. It’s not exactly the best time to be criticizing a member of the military.

Still, there are troubling aspects to this story. From decades of covering crime, I know that the most common defenses in crimes involving everything from assaults to murders of LGBT people is for the suspect to claim the victims made sexual advances. The suspect reportedly also told the police the next day that he didn’t remember much about the incident, another common excuse for attempting to shirk responsibility.

Likewise, the victim acknowledged being intoxicated.

Astonishingly, the victim took a real verbal beating in the comments sections of the Dallas Voice’s blog, Instant Tea, where the alleged assault was reported. It was interesting that so many LGBT people took the position that the victim deserved to not only be viciously assaulted, but to be humiliated in public as well.

As a member of the U.S. military, the consequences for the suspect would be far more severe than a mere hefty fine. A conviction would mean a nasty stain on his military record. Even if the victim or someone else at the table whistled or made a comment about someone “looking good,” it hardly merits a physical attack from someone who has sworn to protect U.S. citizens.

On the other hand, members of the LGBT community need to be respectful of heterosexuals and be on guard not to offend anyone through their actions or words. With all of the gains the community has made in recent years, we are more recognizable and subject to more scrutiny and criticism.

With the end of the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy quickly approaching, members of the U.S. Armed Services are likely to be more on edge and prone to taking offense.

We saw a similar event occur in 1993 when three Marines stationed at Camp LeJeune allegedly attacked a gay man in a Wilmington, N.C., gay bar., when then President Clinton was vowing to end the ban on gay and lesbians serving in the U.S. Armed Services. That led to a high-profile lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center on the behalf of the victim. The lawsuit was later settled for a token amount. The Marines in that incident also claimed they were provoked by the bar patrons.

We may never know exactly what happened at the Anatole Hilton in Dallas that night, but maybe we can learn a lesson from it anyway: We probably all need to monitor ourselves a little more closely when we are in predominantly straight venues to make sure we aren’t pushing our luck. What is appropriate in a gay bar just doesn’t work well in most other places.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative press for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

—  John Wright

Log Cabin Republicans member assaulted, called ‘faggot’ during convention at Hilton Anatole

A Log Cabin Republicans member was assaulted and called a “faggot” early Saturday during an altercation inside a bar at Dallas’ Hilton Anatole hotel, where the gay GOP group is holding its National Convention, according to Dallas police.

Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse, a spokesman for DPD, said the incident isn’t currently being treated as a hate crime because the suspect’s use of the word “faggot” was provoked by the Log Cabin member and his friends.

Janse said both the Log Cabin member and the suspect were intoxicated when the incident occurred at about 1 a.m. The Log Cabin member and his friends were whistling at the suspect, who got offended and shoved the victim, Janse said.

The Log Cabin member suffered minor injuries, described as a cut to his nose. The suspect was cited for class-C misdemeanor assault but was not taken into custody.

“Two groups of intoxicated individuals got into a verbal argument,” Janse said in an e-mail Saturday afternoon. “Supposedly the victim and his friend were whistling at the suspect, who took offense and shoved the victim. Officers interviewed both parties and made a class-C assault. Which is not a jailable offense if the two parties can be separated, which they were. Detectives are interviewing all parties as we speak but there is no indication of a hate crime based on what both parties are telling detectives. Just two drunk people.”

Asked to confirm rumors that the suspect used the word “faggot,” Janse said: “Yes. that word was used, but it was provoked.” Asked whether he meant that the word was provoked by the whistling, he said: “Yes. And comments about them ‘looking good.’”

Laura Martin, the police department’s LGBT liaison officer, said detectives were conducting follow-up interviews today with the suspect, the victim and witnesses. She added that the use of the word “faggot” doesn’t automatically make the incident a hate crime.

“The crime has to be motivated, has to start, because of the suspect’s bias,” Martin said. “‘In and of itself, calling a name during a fight doesn’t necessarily indicate that it was motivated by bias.”

Dallas Voice is withholding the names of both the suspect and the victim until more information becomes available.

UPDATE: Martin said late Saturday that the victim has opted not to press charges, meaning the case will be dropped.

Also, the victim contacted Dallas Voice via email Sunday morning and gave us his side of the story. The victim asked that his name continue to be withheld:

“I don’t want this to get more publicity but am concerned that your version, which is based on an inaccurate and misleading police report, is going to get more attention than it should,” the victim wrote. “The police treated this as a standard bar fight when instead the guy came up behind me and smashed my face into a glass tumbler while I was seated at a table with several other guys. I declined to prosecute because the suspect apologized in person and seemed to be sincere — plus it was clear any court experience would be a long and arduous process. … (As a side matter, I can’t believe how many commenters already are taking the position that I deserved it.)”

—  John Wright

Bill would ease sexting penalties, but consensual gay sex can still be a felony for teens in Texas

Attorney General Greg Abbott

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is endorsing legislation that would ease criminal penalties for teens who are convicted of sexting — transmitting explicit photos of themselves or other minors using computers and mobile devices.

Currently, teens who send or receive photos of someone who is underage can be charged with third-degree felony child pornography, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and forced to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

Under SB 408, which was filed today, sexting would become a class-C misdemeanor for first-time violators who are under 18.

“Studies show that teenage students are increasingly taking, sending and receiving explicit pictures of themselves on their mobile telephones,” Abbott said in a press release. “This dangerous trend is harmful to young Texans. We are joining with Sen. Kirk Watson to address the growing problem of sexting and educate – not criminalize – young Texans who make the unwise decision to participate in it.”

For once we agree with Abbott here. This bill makes sense for both straight and LGBTQ teens, and perhaps especially for gay teens in the age of Grindr, etc.

But if our attorney general truly supports the concept of not criminalizing teens, he should also support efforts to fix the state’s discriminatory age-of-consent laws, commonly referred to as “Romeo and Juliet” provisions.

As we’ve noted before, if a 17-year-old MALE has consensual sexual contact with a 16-year-old MALE in Texas, the older individual can be charged with a second-degree felony and sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. On the other hand, if the older individual is MALE and the younger person is FEMALE (or vice versa), the older person can argue an “affirmative defense” and have the charge dismissed on that basis.

In other words, while SB 408 would make sexting a class-C misdemeanor, gay teens who have consensual sex, unlike their straight peers, have no defense against a charge of indecency with a minor.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, has introduced bills in previous sessions that would fix this discriminatory law, but there’s no word on whether he plans to do so this year.

Even if he does, don’t expect Abbott to support it.

UPDATE: Coleman’s office confims that he does plan to file the bill again this year.

—  John Wright

Bill would remove sodomy law from Texas books eight years after it was ruled unconstitutional

Rep. Jessica Farrar

It’s been almost eight years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas’ sodomy law as unconstitutional in a landmark ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. But the law itself, Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code, remains on the books. Bills have been introduced in every legislative session since then seeking to repeal the statute, but needless to say they’ve never passed. (Remember, the state GOP platform actually calls for the re-criminalization of sodomy.) This year, the 21.06 repeal bill has been introduced by Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston. Farrar’s HB 604, which was introduced today, would not only repeal 21.06, but also strike related anti-gay language from the Health and Safety Code. With a Republican supermajority in the Texas House, the bill is likely doomed again. At the very least, though, it should serve as a sobering reminder. Here’s 21.06, which Farrar’s bill seeks to repeal:

Sec. 21.06.  HOMOSEXUAL CONDUCT.

(a)  A person commits an offense if he engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex.

(b)  An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

And here’s the language from the Health & Safety Code that Farrar’s bill would strike:

SECTION 2. Section 85.007(b), Health and Safety Code, is amended to read as follows:

(b) The materials in the education programs intended for persons younger than 18 years of age must: …

(2) state that homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.

SECTION 3. Section 163.002, Health and Safety Code, is amended to read as follows:

Sec. 163.002. INSTRUCTIONAL ELEMENTS. Course materials and instruction relating to sexual education or sexually transmitted diseases should include: …

(8) emphasis, provided in a factual manner and from a
public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle
acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a
criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.

Read the full bill by going here.

—  John Wright