D.A. blames Prop 8 for anti-gay violence
by Dan Aiello
Incidents of anti-gay hate crimes doubled in at least one Bay Area county last year and one prosecutor is attributing the increase to Proposition 8 and the ensuing same-sex marriage debate.
Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Jay Boyarsky, assigned to monitor hate crimes in the South Bay, told the Bay Area Reporter the likely reason for the spike in anti-gay violence is Prop 8.
"Hate crimes track headlines," Boyarsky said, and the LGBT community's increased visibility from the marriage debate stirred emotions about gays and lesbians that led to anti-gay attacks. Boyarsky said his experience with other minorities helped lead him to his conclusion about the statistical increase.
In 2007, Santa Clara County saw 20 hate crime incidents. Seven of those – roughly one-third – were based on anti-gay bias. But in 2008, 25 hate crime incidents were reported, 14 of which were perpetrated against LGBT persons.
"My experience in prosecuting and monitoring hate crimes for almost 15 years has led me to believe that hate crimes track headlines to a certain extent, with the most obvious example of that being the increase in attacks toward Muslims – and Sikhs because they were interpreted to be Muslim – following 9/11," he said.
Boyarsky also recalled how the public debate over immigration reform two years ago led to an increase in anti-Latino violence.
"Anti-immigrant bashing increased," he said.
"When it comes to the attacks against the LGBT community last year it seems that the number of anti-gay incidents are based on the increased visibility of the community because of Prop 8. More visibility and more controversy leads to an increase in hate crimes," Boyarsky said, though he cautioned against reading too much into such a small statistical sample. "We saw an increase from seven of 20 to 14 of 25. These are statistics and you can spin them different ways. I think the fairest way to say it is the local government offices in Santa Clara County are seeing a spike, seeing an increase, in the number of hate crimes against the LGBT community."
Frank Schubert, campaign manager for Yes on 8, told the San Jose Mercury News he hoped the Prop 8 debate "did not result in more crime."
"But if it did, it did so on both sides," he told the paper.
Boyarsky said, "There were incidents that went the other way in Prop 8. In one case, the police were called because someone had parked a car in front of a house with several Yes on 8 signs in their yard. The car had signs saying 'No on 8,' and 'Bigots Live Here.' That's not a hate crime, though. Being for Prop 8 or against Prop 8 is not a hate crime. More importantly than that, a political position is not a hate crime. A political party, for example, is not a protected class."
Boyarsky believes Santa Clara County's rigorous monitoring of hate crimes benefits the community at large.
"We've always gone the extra step to delineate factors about the victims and the defendants. We track every incident – if it involves prohibitive bias, we want to know about it. If there appears to be a hate crime, we track it, said Boyarsky.
Santa Clara County records not only prosecuted hate crimes, but all reported hate crime incidents.
Openly gay Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager said that he was pleased the county, along with Network for a Hate Free Community, tracks hate crimes so thoroughly.
"Clearly there is correlation between the rise in incidences against LGBT people and the high profile of the Proposition 8 campaign," Yeager wrote in an e-mail. "For most of us, we live very peacefully together. When hate crimes do happen, they are of great concern."
While San Francisco is among the counties that does not statistically distinguish hate crimes, the nonprofit Community United Against Violence agency reported 25 LGBT-based hate crimes for 2008.
"Our statistics include Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, and San Francisco" counties, said Tina D'Elia, hate violence survivor program director. D'Elia told the B.A.R. that the 25 incidents "represent a decrease" in the number of cases over 2007, "but an increase in the number of perpetrators." In other words, the number of attackers per incident "very much increased."
D'Elia also stated that the number of "hate-based, group-related incidents" increased, accounting for 13 of the 25 reported incidents. Nearly all of the groups were religious organizations, according to D'Elia.
"We had incidences involving the Mormon Church in Fruitvale and near Lake Merritt in Oakland, as well as incidences involving the Fred Phelps group when he came out here. Most were conservative religious-based groups. The [alleged offenders] were from groups under the umbrella of religious organizations."
D'Elia attributed the incidents to Prop 8 and said that some of these incidents were at political rallies.
"Prop 8 incidents ranged from anti-LGBT homophobic slurs, false arrests, not enforcing voter polling rights when Yes on 8 protesters were blocking polls, and refusing to take reports when people reported being physically attacked and threatened," said D'Elia, of the cases reported to CUAV.
Sacramento is among the Northern California counties with the highest per capita ratio of hate crimes. Like most counties, Sacramento only reports by its single hate crimes penal code and does not otherwise keep statistical information, according to Sacramento County Sheriff's spokesman Sergeant Tim Curran. In 2007, Curran told the B.A.R ., Sacramento County saw 18 hate crimes, and a decrease to 17 in 2008. He was unable to say how many of those cases were caused by anti-LGBT sentiment. Sacramento County has approximately 1.3 million residents.
Although Sacramento County does not keep statistics of anti-gay assaults, the city of Sacramento maintains detailed statistical records of all hate crimes. Hate crimes that occur in the city are not included in county statistics. The city has a population of 407,000.
Sacramento Police Sergeant Norm Leong told the B.A.R. that in 2007 there were 20 hate crimes, of which four were LGBT related. In 2008, Sacramento saw a total of 13 hate crimes, seven of which were attacks against the LGBT community. For 2009, the capital city so far has had a total of three hate crimes, all of which were perpetrated against LGBT people.
Sacramento's LGBT community has been impacted over the last decade by a large Slavic evangelical community that is virulently anti-gay, according to LGBT activist Jerry Sloan. Sloan told the B.A.R. that the high percentage of hate crimes being perpetrated against LGBT victims in the region "is not surprising."
The most recent incident, reported March 6, occurred outside a Midtown gay bar, the Mercantile, where three Hispanic males allegedly attacked and severely beat two gay men leaving the bar. The men were not robbed and the three assailants used anti-gay slurs during the attack, according to police.
Pamela Brown, policy director for Marriage Equality USA, told the B.A.R. that her organization recently completed a survey that listed Sacramento as one of the "hot spots" of anti-gay attacks during the Prop 8 campaign.
"Sacramento was the region where we received the largest number of people submitting stories of anti-gay attacks," said Brown.
According to Brown, MEUSA received 1,868 respondents to its survey, with 38 percent reporting some type of anti-gay incident. Brown explained that the survey broke the state down into regions and asked respondents to self-identify by age, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
"People under the age of 18 were one of the groups that reported the highest number of cases," Brown said, noting that 45 percent of those youth reported some kind of anti-gay incident in response to the survey question, "During the campaign period did you experience any homophobia, hate speech, threats or violence?"
In addition to the MEUSA survey, Brown said that in January the American Psychological Association released three separate studies describing the psychological stress associated with anti same-sex marriage amendments.
One study that used national survey responses of LGBT individuals, found that those who live in states that have passed marriage amendments experienced increased psychological stress not due to other pre-existing conditions but as "a direct result of the negative images and messages associated with the ballot campaign and the passage of the amendment," according to the APA Web site.
Participants also reported feeling "alienated from their community, fearful they would lose their children, and concerned they would become victims of anti-gay violence."
"I hope it doesn't, but if the court rules in favor of Proposition 8 we'll have to go through another fight," said Brown. "This kind of debate destroys neighborhoods, it tears apart families, and my belief is that if people realized that they might reconsider putting anybody through it."
To view the MEUSA survey, visit http://www.marriageequality.org/uploads/REPORT TWO_PROP_8_HURT_MY_FAMILY_FINAL_VERSION.pdf