DETROIT – Hate crimes are up four percent both nationally and in Michigan, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs report for the year 2004. The report was released last week at a press conference at the Triangle Foundation offices in Detroit.
Speaking at the conference was Alex Gjerovski, who was assaulted at a house party in Berkley last December. When Gjerovski tried to break up a fight that had started between two men he suddenly became the target of their animosity. The two men turned on him saying, “So the faggot wants some,” he recalled.
“I instantly recoiled,” Gjerovski told the press. “I was naturally worried about what was going to happen. At that point [the man] walks up, burns a cigarette on me and proceeds to beat me and then his brother joins in. They basically beat me black and blue. While they’re beating me they called me ‘faggot’ and ‘cocksucker.’ I had to get stitches. I had two black eyes basically for over two or three weeks.”
Gjerovski called the Triangle Foundation when authorities failed to respond to his calls.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I had called the police and they pretty much sent me running around. I had to call the city prosecutor and it took two to three weeks of consistent calling for them to call me back.”
Also at the press conference, it was revealed that Between The Lines has been the target of anti-gay harassment as of late. A man was arrested for attempting to seal shut several newspaper boxes in Royal Oak in January. And on March 9, a disturbing message was left in the personal voice mailbox of BTL co-publisher Susan Horowitz. The message was played at the press conference.
“I want you to know I think that everything you folks are doing out there is really disgusting,” the message said in part. “You filthy f—ing perverts should all be gassed, shot, burned and stabbed. You’re like a scab on the ass of society.”
Triangle Executive Director Jeff Montgomery blamed the heavily anti-gay political climate and the deceitful rhetoric spread by proponents of Proposal 2, the constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples, for the increase in violence across the state.
“The rhetoric that comes out of not just the far right political but also the fundamentalist far right religious community is so venomous and vehemently anti-LGBT [that it] places LGBT people in the context of sub-human references and [uses] language demonizing LGBT people,” he said. “It begins to bring people out that harbor those feelings, and as they hear their religious and political leaders voicing these things … they begin to feel empowered by that. They begin to feel they have a license to act out against LGBT people and so they will.”
Montgomery called the rhetoric a “toxic poison.”
“The individual human tragedies and traumas that result, such as Alex’s experience and the people at the paper, and specifically Susan’s experience, in hearing the message, are the glaring consequence of this poison,” he said. “But, ultimately, this plague affects this entire country because it really fertilizes and foments an atmosphere where the very ground we walk on oozes of this sort of bias and hatred and bigotry.”
Montgomery said that there is no such thing as an insignificant incident and that all incidents should be reported. Crystal Witt, Triangle’s victim advocate, also spoke at the conference. It is her responsibility to take all initial reports and investigate claims of anti-LGBT violence and harassment. She, too, stressed the important of reporting all such cases.
“When something happens to someone, reporting it is part of the healing process,” she said. “It also helps us track this information so the public can really see that these hate crimes do exist. And hopefully it stops the perpetrators of these crimes from continuing unchecked.”
Gjerovski said that although his physical wounds have healed “the emotional scars still do remain. I have flashbacks. I have dreams.”
He also said that if it had not been for the Triangle Foundation, he likely would not have continued in his pursuit for justice against his attackers.
“Triangle helped,” he said. “Otherwise I may have just forgotten about the whole thing at this point because it was getting to be such a hassle.”
In closing the press conference, Montgomery called on religious and political leaders to be responsible in their statements and claims against gays.
“We need to call on those leaders in being responsible to cease this sort of dangerous rhetoric which we believe most of them are using in a cynical way and in a way to advance their own particular interests,” he said. “We know what they’re saying about LGBT people is false. But it’s not just false, it’s also very, very dangerous.”
If you’ve been a victim of anti-gay harassment or violence, please call the Triangle Foundation at 313-537-3323. Triangle will do only as much for you as you ask them to. Some of things they can help you with are assuring that you are in a safe environment, establishing a community network and referring you to caring professionals who can help take care of your legal and emotional needs, advocating for you and helping you file police reports, navigating your way through the legal system, etc. Triangle will also help you speak with the media but only if you request they do so. Triangle respects your privacy and will keep your case completely confidential if you so request.