Hate crimes reported against gays in Minnesota more than doubled in 2007 from 2006, marking two straight years of increases in violence, intimidation and harassment toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals in Minnesota, a new report shows.
The spike is dramatic when compared with an average increase of 24 percent from the previous year in attacks on gays across the country, according to the report (PDF) compiled by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Add to that Minnesota numbers showing more than four times the number of felony-level assaults on gays than in 2006, three times more attacks requiring hospitalization or prolonged care and five reported cases involving sexual violence. Consider that there were no sexual violence attacks reported in 2006.
The report reflects two growing realities, said Rebecca Waggoner Kloek, anti-violence program manager for OutFront Minnesota, the Minneapolis-based contingent of a national organization promoting equality and safety for the gay community. One: a significant rise in violence perpetrated on the GLBT community. Two: increased willingness on the part of victims to report their attacks. Gay rights advocates see that willingness as a sign of progress. “They’re coming out of isolation,” Kloek said.
Violent tactics growing
Rising violence in the report surfaces as a key cause for concern. Along with use of traditional weapons, “some victims are chased down on the street by a car,” Kloek said. “There’s an increase in use of knives, gun violence and assault, and not just by a single perpetrator anymore. It’s sometimes three or four on a single victim.”
While Minnesota reported no anti-gay murders last year, the number of fatal attacks rose from 10 to 21 nationwide.
The big jump in Minnesota hate-crime numbers came in a year when the state Legislature debated a question of putting a ban on same-sex marriage on the Minnesota ballot. Interestingly, as the issue gained prominence in the news and private conversations, reports of attacks on gays dropped significantly, then rose sharply when the legislative session — lacking sufficient support for the proposal — ended, according to the report.
That pattern has been common in other states when the GLBT community is in “a harsh political spotlight,” Kloeck said. It’s not because crimes against gays are subsiding, she said, but because some gays fear reporting crimes when the community is in the spotlight. “What happens is people become very afraid when there’s a harsh spotlight around a divisive issue,” she said. “They’re afraid they’re going to be a target for further violence.”
More victims taking a stand
Kloek largely credits training of law enforcement officers in responding to anti-gay incidents for a rise in victims’ willingness to report crimes against members of the GLBT community. Yet advocates are aware that many attacks on people in the GLBT community continue to go unreported, she said.
“It takes a lot of courage to step forward and say, ‘This happened to me because I’m GLBT,’ ” she said. “Possibly you’re going to have to come out, and that may mean losing your job or your family.” Yet victims admit that even the name-calling hurts. More Minnesota gays are choosing to stand up for their rights, she said. “People are getting to the point where they don’t want to live with it anymore.”