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Firsthand hate.

MATTHEW SHEPARD'S MURDER BROUGHT TO THE NATION'S ATTENTION A REALITY MOST GAY MEN AND LESBIANS ALREADY KNOW: BIAS ATTACKS ARE ON THE RISE. STATISTICS CAN TELL ONLY PART OF THE STORY. WHILE 2,445 ANTIGAY HATE CRIMES WERE REPORTED TO AUTHORITIES IN THE COUNTRY'S LARGEST CITIES IN 1997, MANY MORE ATTACKS ARE NEVER REPORTED. HOW THOSE ASSAULTS CHANGE THE LIVES OF VICTIMS AND HOW SHEPARD'S DEATH IS BEING USED IN THE QUEST FOR HATE-CRIMES LEGISLATION ARE THE SUBJECTS OF THE STORIES THAT FOLLOW.

They never thought it would happen to them or anyone they knew--but it did. In accounts from around the country, four men and three women talk about the link that joins them together their experience with antigay bias attacks

MARK BANGERTER Boise, Ida.

The man who attacked Mark Bangerter in April did so because he thought Bangerter was gay. The 47-year-old oil painter, who is straight, had just finished hugging a friend good-bye at a local bar when a stranger called him "faggot" and punched him in the forehead before storming out.

When Bangerter left the bar a few minutes later, the same man grabbed him and pinned his neck to the sidewalk. The bar owner chased the attacker away, but

he then went to the building where Bangerter lived. When Bangerter arrived, the man knocked the artist out cold. Witnesses say he kicked Bangerter's head repeatedly against the concrete curb before he fled. The blows broke several bones in Bangerter's face and permanently damaged an optic nerve, destroying the vision in his left eye.

"As he was running away, he said, `I'll get you, bitch,'" Bangerter says. Boise police have issued a warrant for the man's arrest. "I hope to get back to my life soon," Bangerter says. "And I'd like to continue to paint."

BETH SHAPIRO Boston

It's been ten years since Beth Shapiro first learned on the late-evening news that Martha Alsup, her therapist, and Alsup's partner had been murdered--apparently targeted because they were two women traveling together--while vacationing on a private beach in Anguilla, an island in the British West Indies. "I just couldn't believe it could be true," Shapiro says. "I think anyone who has been through something like this is never the same. It's like you step through a door from the rest of humanity."

Shapiro's grief propelled her to start Wilderness Heals, an annual women's hikeathon that, among several other purposes, helps lesbian victims of hate crimes. In 1998 the three-year-old event raised more than $100,000.

"I tried to put the trauma of my loss to some kind of use," Shapiro says. "It was wonderful for me to learn that I could go into the woods and be strong."

DENNIS HOLLOWAY Albuquerque, N.M.

Dennis Holloway wasn't even safe from homophobia in Santa Fe's best-known gay bar, which is also popular with people who aren't gay. That's where in February a man leaving the bar called Holloway and his husband, "You sick fuckin' faggots."

"We politely reminded him that he was in a gay bar," Holloway says, but that didn't stop the man from sucker punching Holloway--breaking his nose and his spirit--before escaping. "I have never been assaulted before in my life, so seeing my cupped hand fill with blood was very traumatic," Holloway says. "I think the problem of hate crimes in this country is linked to clubs that cater to [a mixed] clientele--gay, straight, gay haters, and the sexually confused."

BRENDA HENSON Ovett, Miss.

Brenda Henson and her partner hit hatred head-on when they moved their organization, Camp Sister Spirit, a feminist education and cultural retreat, from Gulfport, Miss., to Jones County in 1993.

At first, angry locals tried to run the women off the road. Others fired shots across their property. But they weren't really alarmed until someone hung a dead dog on their mailbox, shot it and the mailbox several times, and placed a sanitary napkin under the animal. The message they got from the incident: Die, bitch. They've even fought off a lawsuit filed by area residents to drive them from their property.

Henson says their fight has been worthwhile given that more than 4,000 visitors and volunteers from 11 different countries have gone to their camp since it opened. "It's just ignorance," Henson says. "Wanda and I are pacifists, but we bought guns. We've got to be willing to stand our ground and fight back. We can't be refugees in our own country."

BARRON SEGAR Atlanta

When Barron Segar, 37, spoke at an October vigil for Matthew Shepard at Atlanta's Emory University, he did so from a position of experience. Six years earlier, while leaving an Atlanta gay bar, Segar found himself in a situation dangerously similar to that of Shepard.

At first Segar ignored the group of nine men taunting him as he approached his car. But when the name-calling continued, he answered, "Don't worry about it--you're not my type anyway." Segar's comment prompted the men to run across the street and attack him. One of the men held a knife to his throat, and another said, "You need to know that this is what we do to faggots." The men, who were later convicted, eventually dropped the knife and ran away but not before kicking Segar.

"Their mission was to come out here and pick on gay people," Segar says. "There are so many people who are victims of hate crimes, and I know how they feel."

MARGIE HUNTER Washington, D.C.

It was tragic enough that Margie Hunter lost her son, 24-year-old Tyrone "Tyra" Hunter, in a car crash in August 1995. But it seems hate exacerbated her loss. She has sued the District of Columbia, arguing that the local fire department and hospital employees were negligent in treating her son because he was a transsexual.

According to news reports, department officials acknowledged that a rescue technician made a disparaging remark about Tyrone Hunter, who was dressed as a woman. Margie Hunter's attorney says witnesses at the scene testified that rescuers also stopped treating her son while they made "shocking and callous" jokes.

"I just couldn't understand how Ty died," Margie Hunter says. "If I had my way, the doctor would be reprimanded and the firefighter that made those remarks would not be able to treat another living thing. If those things happened, then I think I could go on with my life."

LLOYD KELLY Chicago

In November 1997 Lloyd Kelly received a note warning him to "watch himself." But the 38-year-old social worker for the state of Illinois, who was active in a union, chalked the message up to antilabor forces at work. In February 1998, though, he found another note. On tom white paper, with words spelled out in ransom-style newspaper letters, it read: YOU NEED TO HAVE YOUR ASS KICKED 30 DAYS FUCKING FAGGOT.

"I have no idea what it meant," Kelly says. "But I remember thinking, Fine, I'm going to use the system."

Although police said they could not trace the threat to anyone, Kelly's office agreed to sponsor monthly cultural days that focused on minorities. He says the events helped his coworkers realize they all had more commonalities than differences.

Stefanakos is a New York City-based freelance writer.
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Article Details
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Author:STEFANAKOS, VICTORIA SCANLAN
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Jan 19, 1999
Words:1204
Previous Article:Marriage-go-round.
Next Article:Matthew Shepard Inc.?


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