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Volunteer Teams Patrol Gay Strip : Civic activism: Their mission is to avert late-night incidents of gay-bashing.

February 23, 1992|MICHAEL SZYMANSKI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONG BEACH — It has been almost 10 years since Jack Castiglione nodded hello to two men as he left a Long Beach gay bar on Broadway and was shoved violently into oncoming traffic.

Although not injured, Castiglione was shaken by the attack. Now the 43-year-old owner of a mail-order music supply business has returned to Broadway and joined a gay and lesbian patrol.

The patrol volunteers are determined to take the streets back from attackers who have beaten up at least 60 gays since August, 1990.

"I don't stay up past 2:30 in the morning, normally, but I will for this," said Castiglione, who was out on patrol until 3:15 a.m. on a recent weekend. "These beatings have just got to stop."

The Long Beach Teams Project Inc. is a group of men and women who have monitored a string of nine gay and lesbian clubs and restaurants along Broadway every Saturday night since Feb. 1.

The group uses walkie-talkies, a cellular phone, a pickup truck, megaphones and whistles to stop an attack and report it to police. Soon members will carry stun guns to protect themselves from attack and, in rare cases, hold suspects until police arrive.

"We don't plan to apprehend anyone. Our main focus is to get the victim to safety and stay back," said activist Rick Rosen, 43, an architect who masterminded the project. "We'll let the police do the direct intervention."

Similar patrols are common in West Hollywood, Silver Lake, San Francisco, Dallas, Kansas City, Houston and New York. But the Long Beach patrol is unique because it carries liability insurance for each of the volunteers, is a nonprofit corporation and has the full support of local police.

"They are our eyes and ears in the community, and we encourage more groups like them," said Long Beach Police Commander Ray Jordan. "We know they're out there, and we're prepared to give them immediate response."

A police supervisor and corporal trained and closely scrutinized the team to make sure that no members were vigilantes.

"We hope that their presence out there will encourage people to call us when hate crimes occur," Jordan said.

Distrust of the police and a lack of response are the two most common reasons crimes go unreported, said Castiglione, who keeps statistics for the Long Beach 24-hour Hate Crime Hot Line.

But project members praise the Long Beach Police Department commanders who started programs to make all officers aware of hate crimes.

"Things have changed a lot," Rosen said. "Five years ago, if we reported a bashing incident, the police would have laughed at us."

In the first few nights of the patrol, no police calls were necessary. However, police did stop the patrol's white pickup truck and detained driver Jeff Ziegler for almost half an hour.

"The police need to check us out and know we're for real," said Ziegler, who was not fazed by being questioned. "We know we have to follow the laws everyone else has to follow."

On a recent patrol, 10 men met at 9 p.m. in an alley where they distributed radio equipment rented for $60 a night. They planned their strategy for patrolling Broadway from Alamitos to Kennebec avenues until the streets clear after the bars close at 2 a.m.

They passed out white jackets with a logo designed by a friend who was a victim of gay-bashing. The back of the jackets read L.B.T.P. for Long Beach Team Project.

Wearing a nose ring, multiple earrings and jewelry with bells and bones, Daniel Glaze showed up for his first night on patrol arm-in-arm with Anthony Mendez.

"I'm usually bigger than anyone who would harass me," said Glaze, who is 6-foot-1 and weighs 200 pounds. "My mom in South Gate is worried that we're setting ourselves up as targets, but I'm usually the guy that mothers warn their kids about."

Glaze and Mendez joined because they knew women involved in the patrol.

"We're here for anyone in the community," Ziegler said. "We're here for the Unitarian church over there, the liquor store, the podiatry office, everyone."

An elderly woman with a small Shih Tzu said she felt more at ease walking her dog at night because of the patrol. A mother said she lets her children sit on the front porch at night, but would not without the patrol. A man and woman shouted from across the street, "Thanks for doing this. We need it."

In front of the Mine Shaft on Broadway, an angry man tried shoving past the doorman, and a scuffle broke out. With a megaphone, the patrol told the man they were prepared to contact police. He left, but loitered near the club the rest of the evening.

As the patrol walked the same blocks over and over, the punk rocker shop, leather store, liquor stores and clubs closed up, and the employees waved good night.

"Some people would have us go back in the closet, but we are showing we can take a lead in the community by addressing the public safety issue at large," said Rosen, a longtime activist among the estimated 40,000 homosexuals in Long Beach.

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