It's easy to get complacent about gay issues in a progressive town like Portland. The mayor is gay. Our queer community is legion.
But at last night's GLBTQ Community Forum on Gay Bashing
, it was hard to sustain the illusion that Portland is a magical paradise free of hate-based crimes. With shaky voices, local queers Birch and Jeffrey told their story of being assaulted by a group of men yelling “faggots” and “I hope you die of AIDS” last Sunday morning, May 30, outside the Living Room Theater.
Blow Pony founder Airick Heater spoke of three violent homophobic attacks on attendees of the popular downtown dance party held at the Eagle Underground last summer. Yes, it can happen here.
Over 100 concerned citizens filled the Q Center to separate the facts from the rumors in a frank discussion that included a panel with Mayor Sam Adams, new Police Chief Mike Reese, Commander Mike Crebs, and Captain Eric Hendricks. Also there were Rod Underhill, a chief deputy district attorney in Multnomah County; and Sean Riddell of the state Justice Department
Reese noted that the number of reported bias crimes based on sexual orientation in Portland has sunk steadily from 26 to eight over the last three years, but acknowledged that many neglect to file a police statement. All members of the panel emphasized the need for victims of “bias crimes” to report the crime immediately.
But not all community members trusted that the police would respond proactively. Heater says the officer assigned to investigate the attack last June outside The Eagle Undergound was “cocky and arrogant,” dismissed the complaints of the four victims and seemed to sympathize more with the alleged perpetrators.
“Is it going to take one of my brothers or sisters with their head bashed in for you to do something? Something has to change drastically – we need your help,” Heater told the police panel.
Several in the audience expressed concerns about two presumably unrelated gay bashing attacks that also took place in the early hours of Sunday morning in different parts of Portland – outside C.C. Slaughters in Old Town and near the Aalto Lounge in southeast. Community members also chimed in with worries about police presence during the upcoming Rose Festival. The panel was receptive to concerns.
So where do we go from here? “We need to make sure that you all feel comfortable filing a report,” Underhill emphasized. Reese explained the new law requiring all Portland police officers to distribute business cards so that officers who may respond inappropriately to bias crimes can be reported by victims. The potential for the city to establish an anonymous way of filing a bias crime complaint was also suggested. Adams echoed community members' suggestion that citizen foot patrols be instituted to help keep each other safe. Bars like the Red Cap and Boxxes are also instituting more outdoor security.
The forum was the first in a series of three panels
that will be held on the issue of gay bashing. The Q Center will also offer a queer self-defense workshop on June 15. Everyone seemed to agree that the evening's forum was a positive step forward.
“Portland is the kind of city that no matter who you are or how you're dressed, you have a right to feel safe,” Adams said.