Wednesday, July 23, 2008

We All Became Victims That Night

Joshua Collier is a nonprofit fundraiser in Dallas for an organization that works with homeless teenagers, many who identify as LGBT. An active member of the Dallas LGBT community, Collier is a member of the DFW Gay Professionals, marketing director for OUT TAKES Dallas and secretary for the Dallas Chapter of PFLAG, where he serves with his mother Kathy, who is co-president, and his father Gary, who is treasurer.

On July 16, Jimmy Lee Dean was walking home in the predominately gay neighborhood in Dallas, Texas, known as Oak Lawn. Just a block away from the main strip where hundreds of LGBT men and women were enjoying a night out, Jimmy was robbed, punched, beaten with the butt of a 9mm gun and kicked in the head, face and body. In what could have been the last moments of his life, the last things he would hear were anti-gay slurs being yelled at him. The two men who did this said they targeted him because they thought Jimmy would make an easier target as a gay man.

Upon hearing the news of this attack, I was overwhelmed with fear. After all, Jimmy was attacked on a street I have parked my car on multiple times to walk to the main strip. It could have just as easily been me in Jimmy’s situation. I immediately flashbacked to the fear I felt as a 19-year-old who had just come out of the closet watching the news of the tragic beating and subsequent death of Matthew Shepard. It could have been me.

My fear quickly turned to anger as it was reported that the Dallas Police Department was not immediately filing hate crimes charges against Jimmy’s attackers when their own confession statements clearly showed that Jimmy was attacked because he was gay. How could this be? In the ten years since Matthew’s murder had we really made this little progress?

Jimmy was not the only victim on the night of July 16. I was also a victim because of the fear invoked by the attack in the one neighborhood where I should feel the freest to express who I am without fear. Every gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person who has ever been to Oak Lawn became a victim that night. This is the essence of hate crimes legislation. This incident, like all the others, shows why crimes perpetuated against a person because of their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, age, nationality or any other social group must be treated differently and have more severe punishments.

This past Monday, five days after Jimmy’s attack, the Dallas Police Department announced that hate crimes charges were being filed against both perpetrators. And though their trial has not taken place for what they did to Jimmy, I feel a sense of justice has been served to the GLBT community and every multicultural community. The Dallas Police Department has taken a courageous step in the right direction to let it be known across Dallas that the victimization of an entire community will not be tolerated. I laud them for their efforts.

As for Jimmy, he remains in intensive care following emergency surgery to save his life. Doctors are hopeful that he will make a full recovery. The thoughts, prayers and concerns of his community, his gay family, are with him.

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