GLBT hate-crimes rising, study says

The rate of violent crime against GLBT individuals in Minnesota may be on the rise, according to a study released by OutFront Minnesota (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Community Action Council).

In 1997, according to the report, there were 288 crimes of bias committed against gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people in the Twin Cities. That figure was up 27 percent from 1996.

Ironically, a press conference held at the state capitol May 18 was nearly canceled by organizers because of a death threat received by earlier in the day. Law enforcement officials took the threat very seriously, dramatically increasing security at the conference. The press conference was attended by U.S. attorney David Lillehaug. (At press time, Lillehaug had just announced his plans to resign his position for unrelated reasons.)

The GLBT hate-crimes study, the sixth of its kind by the GLCAC, paints a bleak picture of the environment for GLBT people in Minnesota, according to GLCAC anti-violence programs coordinator Tommie Seidel. "I think it reflects what community members and staff here have been feeling, which is that the [crimes] have gotten much more violent in nature" Seidel says. "And certainly we're seeing a large increase in the number of assaults with weapons. The level of injury to the victim has increased and has been increasing for several years.

"The other piece that I think is of particular concern for community members is the number of attacks that involve more than one perpetrator -- what we call group attacks."

Furthermore, the actual number of hate crimes in Minnesota could be higher than the figure estimated by the study. Many of the cases reported to the GLCAC are never reported to the police, Seidel says, and other cases may go completely unreported.

But Seidel is encouraged by the reaction and concern generated by the release of such figures. The Minnesota Summit on Hate Crimes, held on May 19, helped shed light on the problem of bias crimes within the gay community. The summit was sponsored by the Minnesota Attorney General's Office and U.S. Attorney's Office.

"I think that any time they decide to get on the wagon and bring some attention to this issue, it only helps the community. I've heard people question what the motives of Lillehaug and [Minnesota Attorney General] Skip Humphrey might be. I guess to me, if the end result is that we are able to create some important and effective change in legislation or education, that's reason enough."

Minneapolis bookstore owner Harvey Hertz has seen hate crimes close up. His business, A Brother's Touch bookstore, has been vandalized several times in the last year. He says he's not surprised by the increased figures.

"On the one hand, I thought that people would get more used to [gays and lesbians]," Hertz says, "But in the African-American community, until Rosa Parks wouldn't go to the back of the bus, you didn't hear a lot about the violence. When people start to stand up for rights, when people are more open about who they are, there's probably going to be more violence."

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