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Gay rights activist: Anti-gay attacks could increase with push for marriage equality

A man was walking home the night of St. Patrick’s Day in Midtown, near D and 20th when one man approached him and made gay-bashing comments.

Then another man hit him with a bat while making anti-gay remarks.

This occurred only blocks away from Sacramento’s Lavender Heights, otherwise known as the gay-berhood, which is home to businesses, bars and clubs owned by those in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. Police have suspect descriptions, but no one has been arrested for the crime; the victim sustained minor injuries in the attack and is out of the hospital.

News of the attack spread Monday morning, and gay rights advocates were concerned for the overall safety of the community, given the fatal beating of Josiah Humphreys just hours earlier. But these types of hate-based crimes happen more than gets reported, says gay rights activist Ken Pierce, and are likely to increase as marriage equality gets closer to becoming reality.

"I’d be very concerned – I don’t care if you’re gay, straight or whatever – I’d be concerned that someone walks up and starts wailing because they think you’re gay," Pierce said. "I think it’s an excuse for a thug to go out and take his aggressions out on someone."

Pierce, public relations director for Sacramento’s Equality Action Now, said the victim’s sexuality is a moot point – a citizen of Sacramento was beat up on the street. But "the fact that they called him gay makes it a hate crime," he said.

His contention is that anti-gay rhetoric that’s amplified on religious radio, TV and in some churches, can be the excuse for people who want to go out and commit acts of violence. "It’s what fuels these people who are very violent to begin with," Pierce said.

And those acts of violence don’t always reach the point of being beaten up or injured, and therefore go under-reported. For example, a friend of Pierce’s was walking away from an ATM when someone called him a derogatory name and hit him in the face. "He went and got money out of the ATM, the guy saw that and wasn’t interested in the money, just saw he was walking a certain way and assumed he was gay," Pierce said. "And thought it’s OK to hit a gay guy."

"Most everyone knows that there are areas in Midtown that have gay bars and businesses that are gay run," Pierce said. "Anyone could be a target."

Which brings Pierce back to Humphrey’s death. "They may not have said anything, it could have been a drunken brawl, but it’s still another citizen being beat to death, someone thinking they have the right to beat up on someone," he said. "It’s all the same to me."

As California and the nation get closer to attaining marriage equality, Pierce believes these types of hate-fueled acts will surface even more. "They think it gives them permission, and there will be more as we get closer to marriage equality, as we get closer to equality as a whole, as we have more and more people come out, there’s going to be some people inundated with this hate speech," he said. "Again, they think it gives them permission."

Sacramento Police Department Spokeswoman Michelle Gigante said the felony assault unit is investigating Sunday night’s hate crime, and is asking that any witnesses to please come forward. "It’s just not tolerated, nor should it be," she said. "We take allegations of these types of cases very seriously."

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