3 LGBT Community Centers Vandalized in Disturbing New Trend

by Chris Johnson, Washington Blade

Photo:

Anti-LGBT attacks have included this vandalism at Garden State Equality headquarters. (Photo courtesy Facebook)

At least three LGBT community centers have been vandalized in recent attacks that could be part of a national trend of rising hate seen since President Trump's election.

In the last few weeks, vandals smashed a window at the office of Equality Florida in Orlando, the city where last year a shooter took the lives of 49 people and wounded 53 others at a gay nightclub, and windows were smashed at the headquarters in Asbury Park of the New Jersey LGBT Garden State Equality.

In Tulsa, Okla., 13 shots were fired from a pellet gun at the Equality Center on Monday just hours before a man came into the lobby yelling profanities and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric at front-desk staff. According to Tulsa World, the Equality Center had never been the target of vandalism in the 12 years since Oklahomans for Equality moved into the building.

"We're getting reports like this from all over the country," Toby Jenkins, the Equality Center's executive director, was quoted as saying. "Gay community centers being vandalized; welcoming churches being vandalized; gay businesses being vandalized. Now it's happened in Tulsa."

The trend of attacks on LGBT centers echoes anti-Semitic attacks since the inauguration of President Trump, who ran a campaign rooted in animosity toward minority groups, such as Muslims and immigrants. Trump also won with the support of white nationalists like David Duke, who as former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan has advocated anti-Semitic and racist ideology.

The anti-Semitic attacks have been especially prominent in recent weeks. Last month, bomb threats forced evacuations at Jewish schools and community centers on a single day in 11 states. Within the course of one week, nearly 100 tombstones were found overturned at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia and more than 150 tombstones were vandalized at a St. Louis Jewish cemetery.

Other minority groups are also facing attacks. Just this week in Washington State, a man still not apprehended by law enforcement shot a Sikh man in his driveway after telling him to "go back to your country." The incident is being investigated as a hate crime.

Accompanying the vandalism at the LGBT community centers is ongoing violence against transgender people, which has existed long before Trump took office. At least seven transgender women, six black, have been murdered so far in 2017.

Daniel Pinello, a political scientist at the City University of New York, said the attacks on LGBT centers as well as mosques and synagogues are "no surprise" because the nation is so deeply divided after Trump's election.

Pinello said the Women's March on Washington "marked a high point of overt opposition to the new president" and demonstrations continue on the left, such as the newly formed anti-Trump Indivisible movement. But these progressive demonstrations, Pinello said, could "provoke their own backlash on the right."

"As a result, mosques and synagogues and LGBT centers provide ready targets for whatever rage flares up among ultra-conservatives," Pinello said. "Their retaliation is particularly rife when the opportunity for significant policy changes by the new administration seems on the verge of being squandered because of too many daily hiccups by Donald Trump and the White House. In truth, I wouldn't be surprised if these homophobic and anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks continue at a brisk pace as the Indivisible and related movements openly progress in response to the current regime."

Facing calls to denounce the anti-Semitic attacks, Trump has repudiated them on repeated occasions, most notably last late month at the beginning of his speech before a joint session of Congress.

"Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms," Trump said.

Kelly Love, a White House spokesperson, said in response to the Washington Blade's request for comment on the attacks on LGBT centers Trump's condemnation of bigotry extends to this vandalism.

"President Trump condemns hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms, including attacks against the LGBT community," Love said.

Amid the attacks on LGBT centers, Jewish cemeteries and mosques, a Quinnipiac poll published Thursday found Americans believe hate is on the rise in the United States since the election of President Trump. The poll found 63 percent of American voters believe the level of hatred and prejudice has increased and 77 percent of voters think prejudice against minority groups in the U.S. is a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem.

The poll found concern about anti-Semitism in particular has jumped in the last month. The poll found 70 percent of American voters believe the specific issue of prejudice against Jewish people is a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem. That's up from 49 percent in a Feb. 8 Quinnipiac University Poll.

American voters, the poll found, are divided on President Donald Trump's response to bomb threats against Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries. The poll found 37 percent of Americans approve and 38 percent disapprove.

"Americans are concerned that the dark forces of prejudice and anti-Semitism are rearing their ugly heads,"Assistant Director of the Quinnipiac University Poll Tim Malloy said in a statement. "Voters are less than confident with the new administration's response."

It remains to be seen whether the anti-LGBT attacks will continue. Such violence would be a blow to the LGBT community, which is still recovering from the tragedy of the Orlando shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

JoDee Winterhof, the Human Rights Campaign senior vice president for policy and political affairs, said Trump must not only condemn the violence, but give assurances he won't discriminate against LGBT people.

"Whether it's against Jewish Americans, women, Muslims, immigrants or LGBTQ people, there's no room for hate in our country," Winterhof said. "Many LGBTQ Americans are scared right now -- they're scared of their rights being taken away, scared for their families, and scared that they may no longer be protected in the country they live in. The president has done little to calm those nerves. He owes it to the LGBTQ community to not only disavow these acts of hate, but also to restore protections for transgender kids and totally rule out his license to discriminate executive order."

Winterhof was referring to the draft "religious freedom" executive order circulating among federal advocacy groups that would enable discrimination on the basis of religious objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion and transgender identity. Media reports indicated Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner convinced Trump not to sign the order, but White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has said the administration will soon "have something" on the issue.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association.This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Media Association.
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