Gay rights advocate' in west Michigan high school beaten, police say

Police in Wayland, Mich., are investigating an attack by two 14-year-old girls on a third girl in Wayland Union High School. The victim was identified as a supporter of gay rights. The June 10 attack was purposely recorded on a cell phone video by another female, police say.
On June 16, the two girls were charged with one count each of aggravated assault. Each girl could face up one year in a juvenile detention facility and $1,000 fine.
The two girls were not charged with a hate crime because Michigan's Ethnic Intimidation Act does not cover crimes based on the victim's real or perceived sexual orientation.
Wayland is located south of Grand Rapids and, according to the city's Web site, has a population of 3,939 people.
Police told Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV 8, the NBC affiliate, the two girls attacked the victim because she was a "gay rights advocate."
Chief Dan Miller of the Wayland Police told the Kalamazoo Gazette the 14-year-old victim identified herself as a lesbian.
"I guess some say she's pretty outspoken and the other two girls didn't like that," he said in the Gazette. "We were told by the two suspects it was over the sex-orientation issue that they don't believe in.
"We don't know if there was any contact between them other than verbal. Something like this doesn't come up all of a sudden. It was brewing," the police chief said.
"It was a pretty vicious attack on the one gal. She didn't know it was coming," Miller told News 8. "She obviously went down to the floor very quick and tried to fend off her attackers."
Both outlets report the victim received bruises, but no bones were broken or serious damage done.
Attacks against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teenagers, or those perceived to be such, are not new to Michigan schools.
A study done in 2005 by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), found that of teenagers in Michigan schools, 99 percent of them heard anti-gay slurs and 88 percent heard gender slurs, such as saying a boy was not acting "masculine enough" or a girl not acting "feminine enough."
The study also looked nationwide, and found over a third (37.8 percent) of students experienced physical harassment at school on the basis of sexual orientation and more than a quarter (26.1 percent) on the basis of their gender expression. Nearly one-fifth (17.6 percent) of students had been physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation and over a tenth (11.8 percent) because of their gender expression.
The reported attack in Wayland has gay rights advocates up in arms.
Melissa Pope, director of victim services for Triangle Foundation, a Detroit-based gay rights and anti-violence group, said the incident showed the clear and immediate need for passage of an anti-bullying bill and a hate crimes bill.
The anti-bullying bill was passed by the Democratically-controlled House over a year ago, and has been languishing in the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Holland Republican Wayne Kuipers. Kuipers opposes the bill in its current form.
"I think if you are going to make a statement on bullying, you don't make special classes of students," Kuipers told BTL in March. "Bullying is a symptom of a larger problem."
Kuipers said he is working on substitute bills that would address the bigger problems behind bullying. "It is a lack of respect for others," Kuipers said of the root of the problem. "They (students) are not being taught the proper way to deal with others."
Referring to the Wayland incident, Triangle's Pope said: "My understanding is they said they beat this girl because she was an LBGT advocate. They have not hidden their motive. They targeted her. Clearly that demonstrates a need for anti-bullying legislation."
Pope echoed Kuipers's concerns that bullying represented a deeper problem.
"Again on more than one level, because you have young people who are not only planning this attack — they are documenting it and they're displaying it as essentially a badge of honor," Pope said. "Something they are proud of. It is difficult for me not to see us being in a very bad place when this type of violence is something we brag about."
Wayland police have said they will seek hate crime-related charges against the two alleged attackers, but Pope said they can't really do that.
"This crime is being termed, at least in the media, and my understanding is that the police are looking at charging the attackers with, hate crime," Pope said. "But there aren't any laws about hate crimes against LBGT people in Michigan. There is no law to charge them with in Michigan. I think it is a clear indication that a hate crime law is desperately needed."
Such a law has been proposed every legislative session since 1997. However, it has received only one public hearing, and has never come to a vote.

Topics: News

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