By Angela D. Giampolo, original article appears in Philadelphia Gay News
YouTube videos of a Philadelphia gay man being forcefully subdued by Philadelphia Police started popping up shortly after the incident occurred at Philadelphia’s annual OutFest Oct. 13. The videos depict Anthony Reto, 23, being put in a headlock by police and held to the ground with a knee in his back. Reto can be heard shouting, “Help me! Help me!” to his boyfriend, Thomas Berner, and bystanders.
According to witnesses and police, Reto and Berner were walking through OutFest, around 12th and Locust streets, when the couple spotted protesters from a conservative religious group. Repent America had signs and were projecting antigay messages. The couple and two friends took a photo in front of the protestors, when police claim that they knocked down one of Repent America’s signs and pushed an officer from behind. Police tackled and held Reto to the ground for approximately two minutes before releasing him.
The couple faces charges of disorderly conduct and criminal conspiracy and are scheduled for a trial later this month. Reto and Berner’s experience is not an isolated incident. Somehow, Pride events have become targets for violent and hateful acts. Year after year, communities celebrating positivity and diversity face arbitrary and capricious enforcement of the law as well as attacks from malicious individuals.
Earlier this year, two men harassed a group of LGBTs on a subway car following New York City’s Pride. In 2010, a gay man was beaten and robbed following a Pride event in Albany, N.Y. In 2012, a lesbian couple was attacked and pushed to the ground at a Pride event in Atlanta. Also last year, police used pepper spray and arrested six LGBTs at a Pride event in Seattle.
When people target members of a specific demographic with such violence and brutality, it’s difficult to understand how the law fails to recognize this behavior as a hate crime. By FBI estimates, 12.8 percent of bias or hate crimes occur based on ethnicity, as opposed to 19.8 percent based on sexual orientation. However, in Pennsylvania and 19 other states, hate-crime statutes do not include protections for crimes biased by sexual orientation or gender identity. Proponents of protection for LGBT individuals under the hate-crime law face two major challenges.
The first is that law-enforcement officers can be the perpetrators of hate crimes against the very LGBT individuals seeking protection from the law. When an officer commits a crime, it can be a long, arduous process to justice, as the Fraternal Order of Police has a longstanding history of taking care of its own. This year, police used excessive force against an 18-year-old gay teen, strangling him at a Pride event in Sydney, Australia. In Barcelona, police beat and kicked a man at a World Pride event so brutally that he later died. In June 2013 police beat, handcuffed and then pepper-sprayed three openly gay men in Brooklyn. The attack was videotaped and is being used as evidence of the violent actions of these NYPD officers.
The second challenge is that Pennsylvania is a state that repeatedly denies equal protection of the laws to its LGBT citizens. For example, Pennsylvania state law does not protect LGBT individuals against employment discrimination, housing discrimination or hate crimes. A hate-crimes bill enacted in 2002 that added sexual orientation and gender identity as bases for a hate crime was later struck down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Bills to reinstate LGBT protections have repeatedly been introduced but failed to move in the state legislature. Antigay protestors continue to receive permits for LGBT Pride events, while elected officials issue partisan statements condemning same-sex marriage and religious schools with explicitly antigay codes of conduct receive public funds.
It has become blatantly obvious that a refusal to approve and enact laws to protect the LGBT community not only contributes to, but condones, bigotry. In short, discrimination and hatred are tacitly approved since a blind eye has been turned on the well-being and safety of our brothers and sisters in the community. Community outreach and political action are crucial to educate folks to the damage being done. If LGBT individuals cannot even feel safe and protected during a Pride event — one of the few days in the year where LGBT people can truly be themselves and celebrate being members of the incredible Philadelphia LGBT community — how are they supposed to do so the other 364 days of the year? Swift change must be brought about to end the cycle of violence and hatred that has overshadowed what these events stand for, and what lives on within all of us long after they end: Pride.