The attitudes and behavior of homophobes - people who hate gay men and lesbian women - forms the subtext of a detailed survey issued today by the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force.
The survey of gay and lesbian people in Philadelphia and 28 other counties in Pennsylvania catalogs a level of violence and discrimination that soars above the experience of heterosexual Pennsylvanians, according to Task Force co-chair Larry Gross.
Gay men in Philadelphia experienced criminal violence at rates 12 times higher and lesbian women nine times higher than the comparable national
average, the report says.
It also states that about 62 percent of the Philadelphia men surveyed have been threatened, 41 percent have had objects thrown at them, 43 percent have been chased and 24 percent have been beaten. In all, 73 percent of the men and 42 percent of the women have experienced criminal violence in one form or another.
Those statistics are based on 721 responses to 3,300 questionnaires distributed in Philadelphia and nearby counties between June 1987 and January 1988. More than 500 of the responses were from Philadelphians.
"These people," Gross said today, "were attacked merely because they are known to be, or considered to be, gay." He added that the survey group was not random but had a disproportionate number of highly educated persons - "people who should have been more protected, not more vulnerable," according to Gross.
The report suggests that an AIDS "hysteria" might help explain an apparent sharp increase in the anti-gay violence since a 1984 study. Gross noted, however, that the previous study was smaller in size and may not have tapped the depth of the problem.
To address the job and housing discrimination and violence, the task force is calling for civil rights protections through changes in state and federal laws; for example, making "sexual orientation" a protected category in the way that race and religion are included in bias crime laws.
"Most lesbian and gay Pennsylvanians have no civil rights protections, and in the few cities where there are local protections, they are largely ineffective," the report notes.
But the big job will be changing attitudes, and that can be done only by changing the institutions that form attitudes - like public schools, Gross said.
"If Connie Clayton just went into the boys' rooms and read the graffiti on the walls, she'd see the depth of the problem," he said.
The task force said police also need more sensitivity training: 26 percent of the men and 15 percent of the women in the survey said they were harassed or experienced violence at the hands of police.