Flirting with Disaster: Gay Bashers Sometimes Masquerade as Barflies Looking for a Night of Passion

By Gallagher, John | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), October 28, 1997 | Go to article overview

Flirting with Disaster: Gay Bashers Sometimes Masquerade as Barflies Looking for a Night of Passion


Gallagher, John, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


Last issue, The Advocate looked at hate crimes motivated by blatant homophobia. In this edition, we examine hate crimes that occur in unexpected places. Predators in pickup crimes almost catch their victims off-guard. Coming up next issue: Why so many gay murders go unsolved.

Gay bashers sometimes masquerade as barflies looking for a night of passion

For many, the scenario has all-too-familiar beginnings: Two men meet each other in a bar and, after establishing their interest, agree to go home together. But on this summer night, the story took a nearly fatal turn. One man attacked the other, almost strangling him. The victim managed to escape, but the crime remains unsolved. The reason: The victim is closeted and never reported the incident to the police.

"He doesn't want to deal with it," says Darryl Cooper, chairman of Gay Men and Lesbians Opposing Violence, an antiviolence group in Washington, D.C. "He thinks it will go away if he doesn't talk about it. I think it could haunt him the rest of his life. And his attacker is still out there.

"Pickup crime" has been a sorry fact of gay existence for decades. Gay men--and to a much lesser extent lesbians--have been targets of violent Physical attacks and robberies by people they thought would be just sex partners. When people make themselves vulnerable, they can be in danger. Perpetrators of hate crimes sometimes play the sex card.

"The really violent acts have happened during the course of the pickup, or they use pickup methods to hurt somebody," says Dianne Hardy-Garcia, executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, a political group that works on violence issues. "Many of the murders here were in that style. Lots of pickup crimes, are marked with hate crimes as well."

In fact, a survey by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects found that half of gay-related homicides stemmed from pickup violence. "I don't think a month goes by that we don't have to involve ourselves in pickup crimes or date-related crimes," says Jennifer Rakowski, project coordinator for Community United Against Violence in San Francisco. "Pickup crimes can be very dangerous, even deadly."

The problem is chronic in Washington, D.C., where 31 gay men have been killed since 1992. "All the indicia, were that they were pickup murders," says Cooper. "There were indicia that sex had taken place. The victims were last seen at a bar."

Pickup crimes aren't always as heinous--or uncommon--as murder. Victims can be assaulted or, more often, robbed. "Property crimes are more common than person crimes," says Gregory Herek, a research psychologist at the University of California, Davis, who has studied anti-gay violence. "They wake up in the morning, and their stereo or VCR is gone."

For many victims, the circumstances surrounding the crime are too embarrassing to repeat--something that perpetrators count on. "A lot of times one of the factors that led people not to report a crime, other than police homophobia, is that they feel they set themselves up for the crime, especially in a property crime," says Herek. "One person [in a survey of gay-related crime] said, `It's sort of my fault. I brought this man to my apartment.'"

Even victims who are willing to report the crime may not be entirely forthcoming about how it happened. …

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