HERE IS a story about two ladies who are clearly bad-asses.
The story begins with police officers responding to a report of a disturbance at NW 2nd and Burnside on the night of Tuesday, June 26. There they found 50-year-old Reginald McGhee, who complained that he'd been pepper-sprayed.
According to the police account, that's when 30-year-old Mya Rose Wolf-Black and 23-year-old Jacqueline Adams came up to the officers and told them what had happened: They'd been passing McGhee on the sidewalk when he started yelling anti-gay slurs and profanity at them. He then whipped off his belt and started swinging its big metal buckle at the pair, both of whom are transgender. The belt hit Wolf-Black before the ladies pepper-sprayed McGhee.
Upon hearing this story, McGhee bolted—police caught him a few blocks away and booked him on charges of assault and intimidation.
So just to recap: This (alleged) jerk starts harassing two transgender ladies, they fight back, he complains about them to police, and winds up arrested himself. Justice is rarely so sweet. And it's sweet in large part because Wolf-Black and Adams were proactive, lucky, and brave. They were carrying pepper-spray and walking together. They were able to actually use the pepper-spray when things got dicey. Then they had the guts to approach the police officers and trusted them enough to tell their story, instead of walking away and brushing off the ugly incident.
However, ideally even LGBT people who aren't proactive, lucky, and brave should be free from violence. McGhee isn't just one anti-trans dude strolling down the street. Stats show that about 2,500 people were involved in anti-LGBT violence nationwide in 2010—that's a 13 percent jump over 2009. A disproportionately large number of these people were transgender.
Pepper-spray in a purse is good. But there's clearly a larger problem here.
"My reaction when I hear about these things is always sad at first. I'm like, 'Oh God, this is still happening?'" says Logan Lynn, who has the best job title ever: "public relations and innovations manager" of Portland's Q Center. "But that kind of behavior to me is a sign of mental illness and someone who needs services, and that knows no borders." True. Arrest shouldn't be the only way to reform the behavior of violently anti-gay folks.
But now for the good news: Reports of hate crimes in Portland are down this year, from 16 reported this time last year to 10 so far in 2012. Plus, it looks like the relationship between the Portland police and members of the queer community is improving. In 2010, the Q Center hosted a packed forum on hate crimes that let loose a wave of stories from LGBT people who were scared to report crimes against them to police ["Hate Comes out of the Closet," News, June 10, 2010]. Since then, the police have worked with a queer/ally team called the Q Patrol to keep an eye out for violence in downtown, and this spring the police made an "It Gets Better" YouTube video that made me cry not once, but twice, at my desk. Those are not revolutionary steps, of course, but good and necessary ones.
While Portland is a progressive haven in many ways, anti-queer violence isn't some statistical fluke that just affects people elsewhere. That means we need to work extra hard to make sure our streets and systems are safe for anyone who encounters a hostile dude sporting a giant belt buckle. Even softies like me who cry at YouTube videos.