"Are you a chuffer?" a fresh-faced yupster called out.
"Am I a what?" my friend Carl Halvorson replied.
"Are YOU a CHUFFER?" he shouted. Rather than wait for my friend to answer the puzzling question in the after-last-call hours of Sunday morning, the young man cocked back his fist and thrust it into Carl's face so hard it knocked him off his feet.
Dazed, confused and more than a little shocked, Carl stood up, dusted himself off and walked home. He was at the corner of Southwest Stark Street and 13th Avenue. It was 2:30 am. There were no witnesses. It would take him another day before he would report what had happened to the cops.
"So, was this a hate crime?" Carl asked the next day. To which I replied, "It sure was!" before we confirmed our suspicion by Googling "chuffer," and learning it's Brit slang for a human bottom.
My partner and I had brought over some chicken soup from Elephants Deli to lift Carl's spirits, but what we really wanted to do was check on him and make sure he was OK. I know Carl well enough to know that he wouldn't make a fuss, and situations like these are the antithesis of his personality. But in this case Carl's eye was bulging with the biggest shiner I'd seen since Rocky, and I knew it had to be reported. After he realized what chuffer meant, Carl agreed. Since last July, according to the Portland Police data system, there have been 11 reported bias crimes with regard to sexual orientation. The last one occurred in May, and the last one to happen in Portland's official gay district, the Burnside Triangle, was way back in January at Southwest Stark Street and 12th Avenue.
Personally, though, those statistics don't add up—only a "Dirty Dozen," with the addition of my friend's report? Or, only an average of such one horrific incident a month? No way. This isn't the first time someone has told me about something like this happening on Stark. In fact, it was only weeks ago someone told me about a similar attack near the same place where Carl was bashed.
So, what gives? Is Stark a problem or not?
"Overall, the problems on Stark Street are not any worse or better than they have been in the past [when Stark Street was traditionally gay]," says Portland Police Detective Brian Grose, who works the bias-crime beat. "The dynamics are changing, though, and the street reflects that. I could easily see an increase in hate crimes when you mix young, drunk, self-professed straight males, who usually are the ones looking for trouble, with the gay population that frequents this street."
Grose struck me as a cool cop, someone who'd be willing to listen to your story and actually investigate these crimes. In addition, Carl had nothing but praise for the police officer that took down his crime report. But it seems Carl's willingness to report this crime is somewhat of an exception. It's going to take a lot more brave victims like Carl, who are able to get over their own fears and put themselves out there, in order for the cops to arrest the scumbag—and any of his like-minded imitators—who hurt my friend.