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Gay NC Robbery Victim Fends Off Attackers with Pocket Knife

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday July 11, 2008

A gay North Carolina man who was beaten and robbed in the early morning hours of July 6 fended off his attackers with a pocket knife. Now, fellow townspeople are also coming to his defense.

The man, who was not identified, was attacked and robbed as he walked along a street in Asheville, NC. When the victim struck back, stabbing one attacker with his pocket knife, the group fled, though they took the victim's wallet. The victim reported being punched, kicked, pursued, and pulled down off a fence as he sought to escape the gang, but he was not harmed, reported the online news outlet Citizen-Times.com.

In the wake of the incident, however, the people of Asheville have begun to come together over a proposal to make the city's streets safer, in part by guarding against anti-gay attacks.

Though the victim's attackers shouted anti-gay slurs, police said that it appeared the attack was not motivated by bias, but was rather a simple robbery.

Even so, the nature of the attack, in which a group of men set upon a lone victim while uttering anti-gay epithets, raised concerns among the townspeople.

North Carolina has no protections in place for GLBT citizens, whether they are victims of hate crimes or denied jobs and housing on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity, Citizen-Times.com reported. The street attack served to underscore the vulnerability of NC residents to bias crimes.

Said the town's police captain, Tim Splain, "In this case, they were doing a robbery, and they ended up making some antigay slurs."

But the locals were not quick to brush off the incident as fortuitously not anti-gay.

Rather, about 80 people congregated at Asheville's Firestorm Caf? in Asheville to discuss founding a new safety organization, the Safe Streets Asheville Project, and discuss the creation of a police hotline dedicated to reports of anti-gay bias crimes.

Another safety idea that came up was ride-sharing so that gays and lesbians on foot would not be left to travel on the streets at night.

As word got out about the attack and the groundswell of grassroots support to act against anti-gay violence, people began to talk about experiences with bias crime.

Louise Newton, an organizer for the new community group, said that she heard back about recent bias crimes via email.

Said Newton, "That just brought home to me that it's not just about this single event, but actually about a series of events and a culture in Asheville that's an underbelly that we don't see very often," reported Citizen-Times.com.

The Western North Carolina AIDS Project's Michael Harney was quoted in the article as saying, "I think this is gonna be an educational opportunity within the GLBT community to encourage people, no matter what-if they are called a name, if someone throws something at them or they are physically assaulted-to report it."

Harney suggested hate crime victim services be added to the United Way's 211 information hot line that provides listings for a variety of local agencies.

Some expressed reservations about how the incident affected the town's image as an accepting place.

Said retiree and recently relocated resident Cliff Yudell, "Outside of Asheville, the city has a reputation of being very open."

Said Yudell, who had relocated to Asheville from Miami, "I was shocked to learn that this is not the case; it's disappointing."

Added Yudell, "There needs to be a central organization that deals with gay rights and concerns, and the larger community should care about this."

One young woman said that the high price of gas has left her on foot more often, and that some sort of transportation service would be welcome.

"Five other women live in my house that identify as queer," 23-year-old Sasha Tobin said, "and we shouldn't have to feel at risk every time we walk from our house to downtown."

Splain was cited as saying that an investigation between the July 6 attack and other events that were reported to police over the weekend is being conducted to assess whether the incidents are connected in some way.

Splain also said that the city has a low rate of reported anti-gay crime, though he allowed that a reluctance to report such crimes could account for the seeming infrequency of such attacks.

Said Splain, "There always needs to be some awareness that people are treated differently based on their sexual preference or race."

The executive director of Equality NC, Ian Palmquist, was quoted in the article as saying that anti-gay bias crimes are second only to race-motivated bias crimes.

Palmquist decried the lack of state laws to address a need for anti-discrimination protections.

The Citizen-Times article quoted Palmquist as saying, "We live in a state where it's perfectly legal to fire someone simply because they're gay, and [therefore] victims may be reluctant to go forward and go public if they know their sexual orientation is going to be put out to the world."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.