WASHINGTON — Seventy homosexuals were killed last year as part of an "alarmingly widespread" pattern of violence and harassment against gay people, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said in a report Wednesday.
A record 7,248 incidents--including physical assaults, arson, vandalism and verbal abuse--were reported to the task force by 120 churches and community and campus groups in 38 states. Among their sources are published and televised news reports.
Of the total, 1,259 incidents--17%--were classified by local reporting groups as "AIDS-related," the report said, "indicating that hatred and blame associated with the epidemic continue unabated." Such incidents involved a verbal reference to AIDS by attackers or were directed against people with AIDS.
The total number of episodes represents an increase of 240 over the previous year, but the study asserts that even that figure probably falls short of painting the true picture of violence against homosexuals.
"Without question, the vast majority of anti-gay episodes in 1988 were not counted," Kevin Berrill, director of the task force's anti-violence project, told a news conference. "Nor can we accurately gauge whether and how this problem has changed in comparison to other years. What this report does show, however, is that anti-gay violence continues to be alarmingly widespread."
Berrill called the survey "our annual wake-up call to the American people" urging passage of measures to monitor and combat violence against homosexuals.
Of the 70 murders, 22 were classified as "anti-gay," in which prejudice against homosexuals was a motivating factor. The other 48 were identified as "gay-related" slayings in which the victim's sexual orientation appears to have been a relevant factor.
The task force received reports of 885 physical assaults, 713 threats of violence, 449 acts of vandalism, 205 incidents of verbal or physical abuse by the police, 54 bomb threats and nine acts of arson. The largest number of incidents, 4,835, involved verbal harassment.
Although most of the crimes were committed by individuals, the report noted a "disturbing trend" of violence by hate groups, led by the neo-Nazi Skinheads. Nineteen organizations in 17 communities reported threats or attacks against homosexuals by such groups last year, the report said.
The criminal justice system often offers little help, the report charged in a stinging assessment: "As with victims of rape, lesbian and gay victims are often blamed for attacks against them and frequently encounter indifference and prejudice from prosecutors, jurors and judges."
Anti-gay attacks stem from bigotry that "is sanctioned and promulgated by a wide range of religious, political and social institutions," the report said, adding that many leaders in government, religion, entertainment and the criminal justice system have made "offensive and inflammatory public comments about gay people, including statements that trivialized, legitimized and encouraged anti-gay violence."
Chief among the report's suggested remedies is passage of the federal Hate Crime Statistics Act.