November 21, 2005
By JESSE HAMILTON, Courant Staff Writer
Within shouting distance of the scene of a recent attack on a lesbian couple in Hartford, people raised their voices at a rally Sunday against the silence they believe encourages hate crimes.
The Barry Square rally was the first of back-to-back events in the city condemning assaults on people because of their sexual orientation or lifestyles.
A group brought together by the Task Force on Race, Class and Social Justice gathered in the park with demands that city officials catch and prosecute the couple's assailants and encourage more sensitivity in police response to hate crimes.
More than 50 people stood on a carpet of brittle leaves to hear those demands and cheer the message of tolerance from the speakers.
The couple had just left a nearby club on Oct. 30 when they were attacked on Campfield Avenue by several men. The women, 24 and 22, suffered broken bones and were frustrated by the police response.
The women did not call police right away, nor did officers respond to the scene. And when the women met with investigators the following day they felt the police attitude was unsympathetic, one of the women said.
Attending the rally, Jerimarie Liesegang, director of the Connecticut TransAdvocacy Coalition, a group fighting for the rights of transgender people, called that police response "confused and insensitive."
Mayor Eddie Perez, who appeared with the deputy police chief for the southern part of the city, told the group that the police "didn't respond the way they should have responded," but said it was based on a mix-up, not prejudice.
Deputy Chief Jose Lopez said police were dispatched that night, but were confused by a simultaneous incident around the corner from the site of the beating and were not aware of the attack. He added that hate crime response and sensitivity are part of an officer's education, and those who do not embrace it are not welcome.
"In the city of Hartford, there is no room for hate, for bigotry or for violence," Perez said. When it occurs, he said, people must stand up against it.
Like Perez and the other speakers Sunday, Liesegang decried silence. "Hate and violence feed on silence. We must never be silent."
The rally attracted several different advocacy groups, preaching on the same theme.
"I'm here today because I know how it feels to be different," said the Rev. Cornell Lewis, founder of the Men of Color Initiative. Magdelena Luz of Latinos Contra La Guerra said the people here came together as "witnesses again of a horrible hate crime in our neighborhood."
Any person, they reminded listeners again and again, could be the target of hate.
According to FBI statistics, there were 116 hate crimes reported in Connecticut last year. The national number was 7,649. Among those thousands were the killings of 13 transgender people.
Their violent deaths were the focus of Sunday's second event.
Through the cold night, through the same neighborhood in which the lesbian couple was attacked, demonstrators walked with candles in hand to the fourth Transgender Day of Remembrance at the Metropolitan Community Church of Hartford.
Residents emerged onto porches, wondering who the quiet marchers were and showing little surprise when told of the violence that had stirred them.
At the memorial vigil inside the church, those attending lit 13 candles - one for each transgender person killed - and read biographical information about each aloud, just as similar groups were doing across the country.
Pastor George Chien championed love over hate. "In our differences, we are one," he said.
Donna Shubrooks, a nurse and the mother of a transgender son, said, "Hatred has to be taught; therefore, it can be untaught." She said she refuses to live in fear, even though her son could be attacked "just for being himself."
Strangers though the 13 were to those in the church, some of the people wept.
"It cuts so close to home," said Liesegang, who was born a man but lives as a woman. She recalled organizing the first of these annual remembrances in 2002, and looks forward to the year such a memorial won't be needed.
"Unfortunately," she said, "that day has not arrived."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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