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Reports of Gay Bashing on the Increase in L.A. County : Hate crimes: Service center officials call the total of 217 incidents in 1993 alarming. Numbers in other cities drop.

March 09, 1994|BETTINA BOXALL and WILLIAM J. EATON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The number of gay-bashing incidents reported to a Los Angeles agency in 1993 doubled the previous year's total, while the number of such incidents chronicled in other cities around the country declined for the first time in five years.

Lesbians and gay men reported 217 Los Angeles County incidents, ranging from threats to beatings and murders, to the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, compared to 107 in 1992.

The increase appears more dramatic because the 1992 figures were unusually low. No money was spent that year publicizing the center's anti-gay violence project or hot line, so fewer calls came in.

Compared to 1991, when the center chronicled 192 anti-gay incidents, the 1993 figures reflect a much smaller increase of 13%. Still, center officials called last year's numbers alarming, particularly when contrasted with a 14% decline in gay-bashing incidents recorded elsewhere.

"Unfortunately, in Los Angeles we have not been following that trend," said Lorri L. Jean, the center's executive director. Jean attributed the local rise to the increased visibility of the gay community last year--when gay issues were frequently in the news--as well as the poor economy.

"People take their frustration out on groups deemed to be the most vulnerable," Jean said Tuesday.

Using a government grant, the center last year stepped up efforts to track violence against gay men and lesbians. A coordinator was hired to take calls, counsel victims and help them in their dealings with law enforcement. Typically, advocates say, many incidents are never reported to police.

Kay Shafer, the hate crimes coordinator for the district attorney's office, says she is following the cases of five gay men murdered last year, but motives for the killings remain unclear and none of the slayings have been classified as hate crimes. Two of those killings were reported to the center, and were thus included in the violence report.

In Washington, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released its annual report on anti-gay violence, citing a total of 1,813 incidents recorded by gay service agencies last year in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York and San Francisco. The most incidents--597--were recorded in New York. San Francisco followed with 366 gay-bashing episodes, a 16% drop from 1992.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) met Tuesday with Brenda and Wanda Henson, a lesbian couple whose plans to establish a feminist retreat in Ovett, Miss., have made them the target of threats and gunfire. Frank said he would conduct a House judiciary subcommittee hearing in Ovett next month to explore what the federal role should be in such cases where there is a breakdown of local law enforcement.

Last month U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno sent federal civil rights mediators to the tiny town, the first time the Justice Department has ever taken such action in a gay harassment case.

Boxall reported from Los Angeles and Eaton from Washington.

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