Sodomy’s legal, the city’s paying for a high school for gay kids, and queers have taken over the airwaves. If ever there was a “year of the queer,” 2003 was it. But social change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And a local human rights group says the flip side of last year’s political openings for LGBT folks may have been a dramatic increase in antigay harassment in New York.
Between July and December of 2003, the New York City Gay and Lesbian Antiviolence Project recorded a 53 percent jump over the previous year in the number of people who reported being the victim of some sort of harassment, ranging from verbal pestering to assaults that led to hospitalization. In the last six months of 2002, 267 people reported attacks to the group. In 2003, that number shot up to 408.
Police department stats also show a spike–from 44 antigay hate crimes in 2002 to 63 in 2003. Law enforcement numbers, for all hate crimes, are always dramatically lower than those reported by community groups. But what’s significant about the jump documented by NYPD is that antigay hate crime was the only category in which the cops saw a significant increase in 2003–indeed, most other bias crimes went down.
Every year, June’s Gay Pride celebrations embolden queers here and around the country; invariably, the Antiviolence Project (AVP) notices a spike in reported attacks as a result. AVP policy director Clarence Patton says he sees an average 8 percent increase in reports every July. But last July, with the Supreme Court having just declared sodomy laws unconstitutional and NBC casting a queer eye at America’s straight guys, AVP saw a 52 percent hike in New York City reports. Cities around the country saw similar increases, Patton says, but New York’s is striking because it never went away.
Patton’s group also found a near doubling in the number of queer African Americans who reported being attacked in the latter half of last year—up to 88, from 46 in 2002. AVP has not yet finished combing through its data for the year, and is thus not ready to speculate about what’s driving the racial disparity. “But it’s a surprise,” Patton said. “It kind of sticks out.”
It’s also unclear exactly what the spike in reports overall means. On one hand, it speaks to the success of AVP’s advocacy; people report attacks rather than accept them as the wages of being openly gay. On the other hand, Patton argues, the fact that the increase was sustained for so many months also suggests a retrenchment among what he calls homophobia’s “true believers,” in reaction to rapid social change.
In fact, in the last two years AVPs around the country have also seen the incidents they document become more severe. While verbal harassment and vandalism continue to be the most commonly reported incidents, people who reported attacks to AVP in 2002 were more likely than ever to have been physically assaulted.
Patton says that trend in heightened severity appears to have continued in 2003, but researchers won’t be able to say for sure until they complete a more detailed analysis. The group plans to release that analysis, along with more data, in April.