Statistics show rise in gay hate crimes

Increase in cases reported at schools

By Laura Smitherman
El Paso Times

The faint scar on his right cheek was left by a gang of three homophobic schoolmates who attacked him on the campus of what is now his high school alma mater --  a place he thought would he a haven.

"They were calling me faggot, and I was just walking away. trying not to look back," said the 20-year-old man, who wishes to remain anonymous, even three years later.

"I tried to fight hack; I had to.  Then they cut my face with a piece of metal."  His story is just one behind the statistics released Tuesday by the gay and lesbian nonprofit group LAMBDA GBLT Community Services.  Those statistics indicate a steady rise of antigay hate crimes reported to LAMBDA in EI Paso this decade. although there was a slight dip in 1997 to 145 assaults, harassments and acts of vandalism.

Perhaps more disturbing, LAMBDA officials say, is the increase from five to 50 hate crimes at schools since 1995, when the anonymous graduate's face was slashed   President and founder Rub Knight said the statistics may indicate that teachers are failing to institute effective anti-bias courses.

The role of schools is particularly  important in the fight against bias-related violence because negative attitudes toward the (gay and lesbian) community are often instilled in children by their families," he said  "If left unchecked, these negative attitudes are often expressed through violence."

Nationally. almost 2,500 anti-gay hate crimes were reported in 14 metropolitan areas, a 2 percent increase over 1996.  All tracking agencies, including LAMBDA.belong to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence

In El Paso. Knight said, such incidents have become more violent, as indicated by a 53 percent increase in assaults that more of ten were carried out with weapons such as rocks and bottles.

And he said the crimes have become more focused, pointing to a threefold increase in serial incidents, or those that are carried out several times by the same offender against the same victim.  Those trends, which are mirrored on the national level, can be traced to the increasing visibility of homosexuals, said gay and lesbian advocates.

Fur instance. heightened publicity was given to such events as the "coming out" of actress Ellen
DeGeneres and her character in the show 'Ellen" on national TV.  On the heels of that now-famous
episode last year, an Atlanta lesbian bar was bombed.

Fart of the problem may be that anti-gay hate crimes rarely are reported to police, advocates
and police agree.  In 1997, the police documented only two incidents out of a total 11 crimes motivated by prejudice. And 42 percent people reporting crimes to I,AMBDA never called the police.
'We encourage anybody of a particular group who is a victim of a hate crime to dial 911," El Paso police spokesman Al Velarde said.

Because if they don't report it, there's not much we can do to solve the problem."

Knight said his group has been working with police to resolve the discrepancy.

And he said LAMBDA plans to develop more awareness programs with groups such as Project Change, an organization that fights racism.