Guest Blogger

Breaking: Cincinnati LGBTs protest over police/media inaction on gay hate crime

Filed By Guest Blogger | March 19, 2009 8:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: anti-gay, Cincinnati, gay protests, hate crimes against LGBT people, Ohio, police inaction, protest march

Editors' Note: Jere Keys is a long-time community activist, most recently working with Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, but is now an aspiring lawyer living in Cincinnati and blogging at Blind Prophecy . Barry Floore is a nursing student and community rabble-rouser who has been running QueerCincinnati.com , Cincinnati's most prolific LGBT-focused blog, since August 2007.

Cinciprotest.jpgThis much is known: during the early morning hours of March 6, in the neighborhood surrounding the University of Cincinnati campus, two young men were beaten, apparently for no other reason but that one of the victims was gay. In the wake of the attack, UC students and residents of Cincinnati have taken to the streets in protest over the attack and the ineffectiveness of state and local hate crime legislation.

In many cities, a story like this would have been all over the evening news, but Cincinnati is not especially known for its welcoming attitude toward LGBT people. While the violent attack was unjust in and of itself, the really disturbing part of this particular incident was how the local community only learned of this attack slowly, due in a very large part to what many of us see as a lack of concern by the police and mainstream media over "just another assault."

In an email sent to university students on March 18, UC Police Department Captain Karen Patterson described the attack. "The victims were walking home when one of the victims stopped to talk to the suspects, who were friends from high school. Upon hearing that the other victim was a homosexual, the suspects became aggressive and attacked both individuals."

Cinciprotest4.jpgSadly, our information about the attack and the condition of the victims is limited because both the UC Police Department and the local mainstream media have seemed reluctant to inform the public about this crime.

Before the police released any information about the attack to the student community at the University of Cincinnati, and before any local news station gave a report on the alleged crimes, the crime first came to the attention of local activists when it was included as a minor point in a fundraising email from the Human Rights Campaign. Confused about how such a detail might make its way into a fundraising letter but not onto the nightly news, Barry Floore of QueerCincinnati.com began gathering information with the assistance of other local bloggers and students at the University of Cincinnati.

Jamie Royce of the blog Stuff Queer People Need to Know and Donald Caster of Cincinnati Blog have searched court records to identify the alleged perpetrators of the attack as 19-year-old Ethan Kirkwood and 20-year-old Matthew Kafagolis. Kirkwood's identification has been confirmed by a local news desk summarizing Kirkwood's arraignment as "Kirkwood attacked a man for being homosexual. Kirkwood then punched and kicked a friend of the victim who was trying to defend him." Both Kirkwood and Kafagolis have been charged with felonious assault, although other news sources suggest that police are still in search of the suspects and the email report from Captain Patterson references three, not two, suspects. If there is a third attacker, he has not been identified to the community nor is there word on what charges, if any, he may be facing. Kirkwood faces a grand jury on March 20 and Kafagolis on March 23.

The victims of this attack have asked that their names not be published, but reportedly are doing well following the assault.

It's only since the case caught the attention of local queer bloggers that information has begun to become forthcoming. Both the UCPD and the local mainstream media have seemed reluctant to inform the public about this crime until they were virtually forced to action.

Floore contacted local news stations asking why there was no coverage. He writes:

A snoop inside of one of the news offices gave us this heads up on why it has not been covered: neither have been charged with a hate crime, and, therefore, reporting it as such would be illegal. ... Hence, it's "just another assault."

Although Cincinnati has passed hate crime legislation inclusive of sexual orientation (but not gender identity), it appears to only be applicable in misdemeanor offenses, meanwhile Ohio state law doesn't include any hate crime legislation that recognizes sexual orientation or gender identity as suspect classes. Needless to say, confusion reigns. Why doesn't the local hate crime enhancement apply in what seems an obvious case of bias-motivated crime? What good does a city-wide ordinance do if the bulk of the criminal code is set at the state level? Why hasn't Ohio joined with the majority of other states (32) who recognize sexual orientation in the hate crime provisions or the growing number (11) who recognize gender identity?

Cinciprotest3.jpgRegardless, the dismissal of the case as "just another assault" when all the available information clearly indicates that sexual orientation was the primary motivating cause of this attack is insulting and indicative of the local media's disinterest in covering queer issues. As all of us know, the media has never been shy to report a story (if it suits their audience) by saying, "news tonight of an attack that some are saying should be considered a hate crime because the victim was attacked for being gay." No legal conundrum there, plus a chance to scoop up some ratings by bringing on the controversy around whether or not Ohio should pass a hate crimes bill.

Only after bloggers like Floore and Royce began their investigations, and several UC students complained to the administration, the UC Police Department finally sent out an email to students about the attack. Asks Royce:

And let's see, the assaults happened on March 6, and 12 days later they are just now getting around to telling us? And this was only after an outcry from several students to the administration that something actually got sent out (because they send out notices via e-mail about all major crime on UC property and around UC to students).

Royce also wonders why the charges against the men don't include an additional misdemeanor of criminal intimidation, which would be included under the local city-wide hate crime code. In response to the apparent lack of concern, several UC students who recently launched the Cincinnati Guerilla Queer Bar project called for a protest at the location of the alleged crime. Some ____(watch Barry's twitter feed for the #) people, including students and neighborhood community members, turned out to raise their voices against the silence and the apparent ineffectiveness of our hate crime laws.

It may have taken police and local media 12 days to acknowledge the attack, by utilizing the online tools of the past year's revitalized grassroots activism, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and email, organizers were able to organize a protest in less than 48 hours.

The persistence of local queer bloggers and the local community have finally shamed the mainstream media into acknowledging the crime and tonight's protest will only help to draw attention to the lack of statewide hate crime laws. If there is ever a lesson to be learned from physical attacks we receive simply because of our sexual orientation or gender identity, in this case, the lesson is that we cannot rely on police and media to draw attention to the violence we endure. Throughout many parts of the country, we are still on our own to raise our voices and make our fight heard.

---

"Did you see that fag?" local writer/blogger and photographer, Montgomery Maxton and I heard as we walked away from the protest. "Dude, they're gay."

Monty and I walked up to the protest on the corner of Clifton and Calhoun around 5:10pm as yet unsure of the outcome. Both of us admitted that, though potentially powerful, the ability of social media sources like Facebook and local bloggers was sometimes unpredictable. The e-mail had circulated a dozen times in the last 24 hours, us local bloggers were getting hits from Google searches of the incident right and left, four Facebook mass mailings had gone out, and there had more than a few text bombs from friends and acquaintances.

That said, this was an event planned in less than 24 hours with almost no logistical no-how or consultation with local organizations, the city, or the police. And it was being driven by social media.

"This could go either way," was our two-man consensus.

We needed a pitstop for coffee on the way, and we dropped in a coffee shop. We were among family from the moment we entered the door. People were talking about the protest, asking the local barista if he was going -- "I get off at 6:15," he said, "I hope it's still going on. I'll text you." I jumped into the conversation.

Cinciprotest2.jpgAround the corner, the crowd was growing alongside a smaller anti-war protest. The media was there. We counted three, possibly four, television news stations, and I was approached by two local newspapers for interviews. Some people, mistakenly, believed it was my baby and I had organized it simply because I had promoted it.

By the time the rally started walking, which is technically illegal without a parade permit but the local police said and did nothing except move alongside the crowd, there were well over 200 people there. The average age? Probably around 21, yet there were notable locals involved. Representatives from PFLAG, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, and a few local rights group popped in, some with signs, to show their support.

When we made it to the corner of Clifton Avenue and Martin Luther King, Jr., we took up an entire street corner. Montgomery and I, noting that this would go on much longer than 6:30pm decided we would make our graceful exit.

It could have gone either way. It could have been violent, but it turned out peaceful. It could have been a real downer, but it turned out to be thrilling. It could have been dead, but it turned out to be busy. There could have been counterprotesters, hate mongers, pie throwers, aggressive attackers... there could have been anything.

But there wasn't.

There was only a crowd of 250 or so gay people, mostly students, asking that people recognize a hate crime occurred, and that it was important that we remember that violence against LGBT folk still exists. Cars honked, people joined, and couples pulled over to ask insightful, intelligent questions and show their support.

In an age where we are inundated with media and social connections, I am proud of my little community did more than post angry comments on my blog and curse the name of the attackers.

And the commentary of the young guys who called us all fags as we walked away -- Montgomery and I pulled aside to let them pass -- tells us one thing: there's a lot more work to be done. There's room, I think, for the hard work as well as the rallies and the Facebooking. It all matters; it is all equal.

Congratulations, Cincinnati, you always have the capability to amaze me. Thank you for honking, and thank you for cheering.


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Ethan Philbrick | March 19, 2009 10:37 PM

Dear Barry--

Once again, thank you for representing us well. Thank you also for being one of the subtle organizers of this decentralized demonstration. This event was no one's "baby". It was a child of every person who sent an email, posted it on a blog, joined a facebook group, and showed up with their beautiful shining face. I am worried that your criticisms of the spontaneous nature of the event and the kind of organizing that occurs over (extremely powerful) online social networks is unproductive. It sends a message that limits our voices as individuals trying to enact change in our communities.

would love to talk sometime about it,

ethan

Oh, darling, you know I love you and have such faith that social media can do great things -- and you proved it :-).

I hear there's this thing going on in town tonight -- some guy organized this Guerrilla Queer Bar thing to support underutilized gay bars -- maybe you've heard of it, you fierce little organizer you :-).

beachcomberT | March 20, 2009 7:41 AM

Thanks for taking an interest in your local police department and media, and I'm glad you searched court records to get the basic facts. As a retired reporter from "mainstream media," let me offer a couple of comments. Like it or not, "just another assault" may well have been the reason this fight was ignored. Keep in mind in a city the size of Cincinnati dozens of fistfights occur every day, especially between young men. Only a few might make it into the media because of unusual circumstances, such as inciting a riot, or in this case, a demonstration, or involving a celebrity, or disrupting a public event. We have no information on how serious the injuries were, so I have to assume they were minor. Did anyone actually talk directly with the Enquirer or other media to get their rationale on how they handled the incident. And did you read the initial police report, which is what a police reporter would do to make a decision about newsworthiness? Unless that report included a reference to the gay angle, a reporter might not recognize this as a "hate crime." I am also bothered by the refusal of the victims to identify themselves, and this blog's decision to shield them. A basic principle of our justice system is that a defendant has the right to know who accuses him and the specifics of the charges. The media generally follows this rule in reporting, making only a few exceptions, such as crimes involving minors or rape victims. If the victims are seeking publicity for the attacks, they have to be willing to sacrifice confidentiality. Some may consider that a double burden for victims, but it's how our system works.

Hey beachcomberT!

Actually, I got ahold of one of the newsstations, which is where we got most of our information -- they were the ones who informed us of their reasoning. Another newsstation did not comment, but posted the story a day later... and the Enquirer ended up showing up at the event and doing a great job covering it.

As for the victims... we, the joint LGBT bloggers of Cincinnati, are shielding the victims. They will be in court, as far as I understand. One of my contributers -- Cody G. -- knows the victims and we could post the names, but we feel that it's not our place, at least until they tell us that we can roll with it (which will likely happen if the media takes it up beyond yesterday).

Thanks!
QueerCincinnati.com

beachcomberT | March 20, 2009 11:14 AM

Thanks for the additional details. This is a great example of how a blog can let the public know about things the mainstream media considers "minor" or "unnewsworthy." While most cities no longer have competing newspapers, they at least face aggressive blogs to keep them on their toes.

I be honest, I think the fact that this has gotten more coverage from the bloggers than all of the media combined shows the sad state of mainstream media. I searched all of the local news stations for the stories they covered, and while I couldn't find protest coverage on Channel 12, I found Friday Dance Party featured on the site. Clearly that is more important than a hate crime. The situation is quite frankly ridiculous and I am glad that the queer and allied communities came through on this one.

Jere and Barry -

I love you both. Jere I know from the comments section. Barry and I talk on Twitter (and he's on the blogroll!)

Two of my favorite guys doing a blog post together and changing Cincinnati's LGBT community for the better? F--king awesome.

So when are you guys coming to Indy so we can meet?

The Cincinnati Enquirer is fairly conservative for the single newspaper serving a medium-sized city / metro advertising area - but the metro area is quite conservative. The TV stations are also conservative and market-driven in reporting local news (d'oh!). The assumption is that the majority of viewers and readers either don't care about anti-gay violent incidents because it doesn't affect them personally, or that they think that the victims had it coming to them and don't want to see news reports stating that the straight alleged assailants are the problem.

Making noise about an incident, and packaging up information for the reporter, is the best way to get your 15 seconds of coverage.

Great keeping this story alive.