Although he remembers it well, Eugene Lovendusky talks cautiously about being attacked while walking with his boyfriend and his best friend in Midtown in May.
The assault happened near 42nd Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues, and is being treated as an anti-gay attack, said the 28-year-old, who was reportedly insulted and punched in the face. The men “started yelling faggot at us,” Lovendusky told New York’s PIX 11 in May. A 19-year-old man was arrested and charged with aggravated harassment and a hate crime.
“The event only empowered me further and strengthened my resolve to stand up as a queer person who demands the right to feel safe,” said Lovendusky, a longtime activist and co-founder of Queer Rising, which seeks equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, partly through acts of civil disobedience.
Lovendusky declined to give further details about the attack, saying the New York District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, advised him not to discuss it.
Lovendusky is just one of several survivors of anti-gay violence this year. A 32-year-old gay man was shot dead in Greenwich Village in May; a 21-year-old transgender woman was beaten to death in Harlem in August. Other non-fatal assaults have been reported, including the attack on a Williamsburg man on Sept. 26, and the August beating of two gay men who were holding hands near 24th Street and Ninth Avenue.
According to city police data reported in the New York Daily News, police investigated 68 anti-gay incidents between January 1 and August 16, 2013. Police reported investigating 54 anti-gay incidents in all of 2012, according to the newspaper. The New York Police Department did not respond to multiple requests for recent anti-gay or hate crime reports.
The reasons for the spike are unclear, but some who have worked with the LGBT community say that recent LGBT policy victories, especially in the area of gay marriage, could be triggering an anti-gay backlash.
New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, got interested in the issue after the murder in Greenwich Village, which occurred just blocks from his home.
“I felt an obligation to my community to look at the [issue] more closely,” said Hoylman, who is openly gay. He hosted a public forum in June that led to an August report on New York State’s Hate Crimes Law.
The law, introduced some 13 years ago, increases penalties if a crime was triggered by the victims’ race, sex, religion or sexual orientation, to name a few.
The report notes that the average age of offenders statewide is between 13 and 22 years old, and that some police agencies are potentially not reporting their hate crimes data to the state. It also recommends that the New York State Comptroller conduct an audit to improve the collection of data, and calls on the state legislature to expand the scope of protected categories to include transgender people.
As reports of anti-gay attacks pile up, a growing number of people have sought help from IHI Therapy Center, one of the oldest psychotherapy centers serving the LGBT community in New York, said Ben Hennessey, the center’s executive director.
These clients complain about feeling unsafe after witnessing or suffering from hate crimes. Some even talk about carrying pepper spray and alarms, measures that have “never really been discussed before,” said Hennessey.
But Robert McCrie, a crime historian at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that based on recent hate crime statistics, the rising number of crimes against gay and transgender people may not indicate an alarming, long-term trend.
“The numbers aren’t big enough,” said McCrie, adding that targeting people based on their perceived sexual preference is the third most likely kind of hate crime. Most hate crimes are racially motivated, followed by crimes sparked by religious bias.
In fact, McCrie believes that the overall trend is toward a safer society. He noted that LGBT people are more widely accepted today, and that may make them more willing to report hate crimes.
Hennessey agreed. New York is more accepting to the LGBT community than ever before, said Hennessey, “but I think people always have to be vigilant for bigots. Bigots are still out there.”