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June 9th, 2010 Caitlin Giddings | News Stories
 

Stark Reality

Gay bars try to make patrons feel safe after attack.

     
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ATTACK VICTIMS: Airick Heater, James Birch Campbell and Jeff Darling (left to right) discuss being targeted in gay-bashing attacks. Heater was attacked last year, Campbell and Darling on May 30.
IMAGE: Caitlin Giddings

On Memorial Day weekend, a group of six gay men left the downtown bar Red Cap Garage and were assaulted by another group of young men who hit them and yelled, “Faggots!” and, “I hope you die of AIDS!”

Police have assigned two detectives to the case, but no arrests have been made.

“My memories stop 10 minutes before it happened,” says one of the victims, James Birch Campbell.

Still think Portland is too progressive to have a gay-bashing problem?

At an LGBTQ community forum held June 2 to address the attack, many of the more than 100 people packed into the Q Center were shaken but not surprised by the assault. Although Mayor Sam Adams and representatives from law enforcement said the number of reported sexual orientation-based crimes in Portland sank from 26 in 2007 to eight so far in 2010, people lined up to give one account after another of harassment and assault.

Many expressed fear that police wouldn’t listen to them if they reported the crime, or that nothing would be done to find the perpetrators. “Is there any easier way to file a report without an intimidating officer coming to your house?” one man asked.

“We can’t do anything if you don’t call us,” said Rod Underhill, a Multnomah County deputy district attorney.

So how do you solve a problem that goes unreported because some fear getting police involved? The LGBTQ community says it is stepping up to police “Vaseline Alley” or “The Gay Triangle,” the stretch of Southwest Stark Street between 10th and 13th avenues that’s ground zero for visible downtown queer life.

The Red Cap Garage and Scandals, two Stark Street mainstays, are exploring new ways to help their clientele feel safe coming downtown, especially during Rose Festival and Pride weekend this month.

Justin Buckles, events manager at the Red Cap Garage, is starting a project that allows victims of bias crimes to report to a trained ally at the Red Cap Garage, which will then maintain a database of attacks at the Q Center. Buckles believes incidents are more likely to be reported this way.

“Our goal is to teach the police department from our standpoint that this is how these attacks happen and this is how they’re instigated when they do happen,” Buckles said.

Police spokeswoman Det. Mary Wheat says police would prefer people report directly to officers, who are doing outreach with sexual minorities. “The more layers you add to an investigation, the harder it is to solve,” she said.

One block from the Red Cap Garage, Scandals plans to increase security for the upcoming Pride block party June 19-20 and to hang checklists warning patrons to be aware of their surroundings. Both the Red Cap and Scandals are now willing to provide escorts to walk people to their cars. The May 30 attack took place on a notoriously dark corner of 10th and Stark.

Q Center executive director Kendall Clawson says the center is open to considering Buckles’ idea. And the state Department of Justice says it will establish a confidential reporting system for victims of hate crimes including race, gender, religion and sexual orientation.

“What’s coming from this,” Clawson says, “is a great opportunity for coordinated efforts.”

 
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