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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Assaults against gays appear to be increasing

By Marcus Franklin, Associated Press

A rash of attacks against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across the country - including the severe beating of a New York man whose attackers believed he was gay - suggests the number of reported assaults could rise in 2008, an advocacy group said.

The number of reported attacks against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender increased 24 percent in 2007 over 2006, and they were expected to jump in 2008, said Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

Officials are still compiling the 2008 figures, which will be released next spring, Stapel said.

The baseball bat beating of Ecuadoran immigrant Jose Sucuzhanay in New York last week was the latest in a number of reported assaults, said the project, which coordinates organizations that document violence against gay and HIV-positive people. The attack left Sucuzhanay, 31, brain dead.

Since the fatal February shooting of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old Los Angeles boy who endured harassment after telling classmates he was gay, "We are witnessing what appears to be an increase in both the occurrence and severity of violence motivated by racism, homophobia and transphobia," Stapel said.

Stapel attributed the increase in part to more people reporting incidents, but she said there could have been more assaults because 2008 was an election year.

"Election years are always violent years for us because of wedge issues," Stapel said, referring to ballot measures this year banning same-sex marriage in California and Florida. "With increased visibility comes increased vulnerability to LGBT stereotypes and violence. We've seen some of the most violent hate crimes that we've seen in a while."

In the case of Lawrence King, one of his classmates was charged as an adult in the slaying, which prosecutors classified as a hate crime.

Other incidents include the discovery of Angie Zapata's body in July in her apartment in Greeley, Colo. Zapata, 18, was a transgender woman. Police have charged a man with murder as a hate crime in her death.

In June, a surveillance tape was publicized showing Memphis police officers beating Duanna Johnson, a transgender woman, and shouting slurs in a jail booking area in February; a public outcry erupted. Johnson was found fatally shot on a Memphis street in November.

Also in New York City, police arrested four teenagers on charges of assaulting a priest outside a shelter he ran for homeless transgender youths in July. Witnesses said the four teens had harassed and taunted residents.

(This article appeared on page A - 33 of the San Francisco Chronicle)

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