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Threat of Violence Other Longtime Companion for Gay Men, Women : Homophobia: Some call gay bashing the last permitted hate crime. It is happening more and more, and thought to be underreported.

July 18, 1993|ARLENE LEVINSON | ASSOCIATED PRESS

It happens all the time in Ron Cayot's neighborhood in Chicago, a gay enclave called Lake View. A car full of youngsters pulls up and asks directions. Their unwary victim bends down to answer.

"And all of a sudden somebody's fist will come out and hit the guy in the face, and they'll drive away laughing," said Cayot, a disabled 39-year-old carpenter whose voice is a choked rasp.

The threat of violence is the other longtime companion of gay men and women. The casebook of anti-gay killings and assaults is a numbing descent into cruelty.

It happened to Cayot. Three young men just pulled up beside him and a friend one night, yelled "Faggot!" and, after a scuffle, "Aiming!"

Then the gun spoke, three times, tearing open his neck, piercing his abdomen and lodging a bullet in his shoulder.

It would be months after the March 31, 1992, attack before Cayot could speak again, even eat again on his own. He still can't work and his left arm, the one he writes with, is numb. A series of operations has left him with more than $1 million in hospital bills he can't pay.

His assailants remain at large.

"They think that gay people are weak, they think that we're all 'pansies' and that it's a real easy target," Cayot said.

So they target them, again and again.

On Feb. 9, a mugging in Hartford, Conn., turned into a rape when two brothers asked a man if he was gay and he said yes. That same night, in Madison, Wis., a gay man was punched, choked and kicked while an assailant screamed: "I hate faggots!"

The list of the victims is unending: Allen Schindler, his skull smashed against a toilet in Japan until the gay American sailor's body was unrecognizable to his mother; Ana Maria Rosales, shot in the face on Jan. 7 in Washington, D.C., as she left a bar holding hands with another woman.

A witness told police Rosales' assailant demanded: "What's wrong with you, girl?" then said he intended to have sex with her, and then killed her. A grand jury decided hatred of lesbians was at least a partial motive for defendant Gregory White, now awaiting trial.

Anti-gay violence is markedly demeaning and vicious; some say it's the last permitted hate crime. It is happening more and more often.

"We're in a period of increased acceptance and empowerment (of gays) on the one hand, and increased backlash on the other," said Kevin Berrill, a consultant in Washington, D.C., who 11 years ago began the first systematic recording of anti-gay violence for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

"Anytime a persecuted, disempowered group agitates for equality, there is a backlash. We've seen that over and over again in our nation's history."

Once self-concealed, afraid of scandal and rejection, homosexuals suddenly seem to be all over.

They hold gay pride picnics in city parks. They march on Washington. They demand representation on city councils and in Congress. They go on talk shows and hold hands in public. They let it be known that the person they keep house with is not of the opposite sex.

They become the subject of scrutiny, whether the topic is AIDS, gay rights, cries of evil from conservatives or the welcome of the Clinton Administration--which installed lesbian Roberta Achtenberg as an assistant secretary in the Department of Housing and Urban Development while pushing to lift the ban on gays in the military.

Tying this directly to violence is only a hunch, however. The figures are meager.

It's widely assumed, by people who work with victims of such violence and those who track it, that much more occurs than gets reported. Victims fear hostile or uninterested police. They may encounter prosecutors wary of the vagaries of hate crime that make it hard to prove. And they shy away from public exposure of their homosexuality.

So what gets most notice is the bloodiest street violence, the worst attacks outside gay bars or in neighborhoods or other areas frequented by gays.

"We end up talking about street violence (because) it's the only place where we have data. It looks more like a crime," said Gregory Herek, a social psychologist at the University of California at Davis. Herek is considered the preeminent researcher into anti-gay prejudice and violence.

"We have evidence there is an iceberg out there," Herek said. "We see the tip of that iceberg in lesbian and gay street youth who frequently flee to large cities to escape violence in their homes and in their schools."

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, seeking a consistent measure of a little-reported crime, takes a five-city survey of agencies that aid victims of anti-gay violence. It toted up 817 incidents of anti-gay assaults in 1992, up from 775 the year before. Slayings attributed to homophobia jumped from eight in 1991 to 12 last year, the task force said.

"The continuing rise, particularly in cities with long-established victims' services, indicates to us it is not just increasing awareness, but increasing incidence of hate violence," said Martin Hiraga, director of the task force's anti-violence project.

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