The beating of a gay man outside the Missoula Club, where he’d gone to celebrate his 22nd birthday, early Sunday morning has spurred renewed calls to add sexual orientation to bias crimes laws in Montana.
“It’s time, regardless of what side of the aisle you sit on,” said state Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, who said she’ll introduce such a bill in the January 2013 legislative session. “What occurred over the weekend in Missoula evidences it.”
The man indicated to police he was assaulted because of his sexual orientation, Missoula Police Lt. Scott Brodie said Monday.
The man told police he’d asked people at the Mo Club about the location of a gay bar, when someone asked him to step outside for a cigarette, Brodie said.
But the man said that when he left the bar, someone hit him, and then two more people joined in, Brodie said. The incident happened at 1:30 a.m. Sunday and the man reported it to police at 4:30 a.m., after he got home, Brodie said.
The man’s face was badly bruised. Images are displayed on the Wipe Out Homophobia page on Facebook, which has 480,000 “likes.”
“Nobody deserves this, especially not just because of your sexuality,” Wipe Out Homophobia’s message says. “Stay strong … half a million of us are on your side.”
In addition, people are organizing an event called “Proposition Gay Downtown Missoula Pub Crawl,” on Aug. 31. “We are encouraging gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual people (and their straight friends) to show up en masse at any and all Missoula downtown bars on Friday, August 31, to raise awareness while having a rockin’ good time!” according to the group’s Facebook post.
Missoula City Councilwoman Caitlin Copple expressed concern that the widespread outrage being expressed on the Internet had not taken into consideration how the victim might wish to handle the incident.
“I think people overwhelmingly have good intentions,” she said, “but it’s important to think about the unintended consequences.”
In 2010, the Missoula City Council passed an ordinance forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Copple said Monday that while the ordinance doesn’t apply to an assault, “it was an important first step in feeding what kind of culture we aspire to. If it’s not OK to fire someone because they’re lesbian, gay, transsexual, bisexual or transgender, it’s certainly not OK to beat someone up.”
Jamee Greer of the Montana Human Rights Network is now based in Helena, but lived in Missoula for years.
“Missoula has definitely had profound and meaningful reactions to violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” Greer said Monday. “I’m expecting this weekend’s events to spur similar reactions.”
Such violence, he said, can intimidate the entire gay community.
“It sends a message that some people are not welcome and that anyone in that group can be the next target. ... It’s more than just one person being beaten up. It’s about targeting and silencing an entire community, and it has got to change.”
Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, firstname.lastname@example.org or @CopsAndCourts.