I am working on a new book to document hate crimes committed against gays and lesbians. Initially, I was only going to cover lesbians, particularly butch lesbians. I’ve revisited this, having taken a hard look at the way gay men have been abused and victimized by society.
The GLBTQ community has enough division. I felt that including everyone in this book would serve them all the same justice and dignity. My goal is to give a voice to the victims so that they may move on to becoming survivors. This story is just one of thousands and thousands of sickening acts perpetrated against a class of people, just because they are who they are.
In actuality, this is no different from the lynchings and burning crosses that happened when African-Americans were seeking to have equal rights in this country as well. The time has come for America to move on and accept that change is coming. We are not going to take these vicious acts lying down anymore.
Here is one story from an interview that I’ve done. Her name has been changed for obvious reasons.
She was only 29 years old. She identified as butch, wore her hair short and had never been with a man in her life. Going to a Christmas party one night would change her life forever.
“Tamara” was from out-of-town. Her friend, a straight male, had invited her to attend a Christmas party that his workplace was throwing for the holidays. Like most Christmas parties, there was dancing, laughter and a little bit of alcohol involved.
Most women know that men can become overly flirtatious when they drink too much. On this night, two young men were flirting with Tamara quite a bit. “At first I didn’t think much of it…I even danced with them”, she recalls. As the evening wore on, their advances become more and more inappropriate.
“They started talking about a threesome and trying to get me interested in that with them. I didn’t really know what else to do, so I finally told them that I was a lesbian”, Tamara’s voice trails off momentarily. Obviously the memories are filling her mind and she’s trying to control her voice.
With a deep breath she goes on to explain that the two men went on about their partying and left her alone after that. “I really didn’t give them another thought”, she states.
At midnight, Tamara left the party to walk to where she was staying. She only needed to go just a short distance down the road and imagined it would only take ten minutes to get there. She hadn’t taken into account that it had been snowing and the snow made some spots impassable. Tamara found herself walking on the next street over.
Not being all that familiar with New Jersey, she came to an area of warehouses that probably would not have been anyone’s choice to be walking past at such an hour. “I saw headlights from a car coming up the road behind me. I didn’t think anything of it, but I noticed that they weren’t passing me. Then I heard the car stop and I heard footsteps. I pretty much knew what was happening.”
The two men from the party had followed her by car. The more aggressive of the two men came around in front of her and stopped her. “He called me a ‘fucking dyke’ and said ‘what are you too good to sleep with me?’” I can hear her voice begin to break as she continues telling me her story and my heart is heavy, for I know what is coming. I almost want to spare her. It seems too much.
“I said ‘please, let me walk by’ and as I tried to keep walking, he punched me in the face.” It was then that she fell backwards into the snow and the second man then knelt down and pinned her arms and shoulders to the ground.
The first man ripped open the button-down shirt that she was wearing, sending buttons flying. As he did so she recalls that he said, “Ya’ shoulda’ just said yes.” He then removed her pants and her shirt, all this while she is on the freezing, snow-covered ground. He pulled the boxer shorts that she was wearing off, but he chose to pull a knife from his pocket and cut away the sports bra that she was wearing.
It was then that he forced himself onto her, carrying out his act as she tried to pretend that it wasn’t happening to her. He was rough and violent, seeming to intentionally be inflicting as much pain upon her as he could. As he ‘finished’ he moved to switch places with the other man, but before they switched, he punched her in the face again, viciously. His intent was to make her as senseless and helpless as possible. There would be no running or escape.
As the second man now began raping her, the more aggressive man with the knife was hovering over her face telling her, “If you scream, you’re gonna die.”
Tamara’s voice is changing and it is obvious that this is very difficult for her. Quietly she states almost matter of factly, “You know, when they switched places and he got off me, I could actually smell blood. I knew I was bleeding.”
When the second assailant had finished, she was punched in the face for the third time. “They took my clothes and left me in the bloody snow. I stayed there until I was found about 7 to 7 ½ hours later”, she is telling the story now as if she is outside of it, looking in. “A warehouse owner found me the next morning and called an ambulance. He thought I was dead at first, because I was actually blue. I was laying in a patch of red, blood-covered snow. When he walked to me, he bent and touched my shoulder and I flinched. He immediately took his coat off and covered me while he called an ambulance.”
Tamara then recalls that, “He was a nice, older man. He even came to visit me in the hospital.” She goes on to tell me that she spent one month in the hospital recovering from her wounds. She had a broken nose, a fractured jaw, three cracked ribs and so much internal damage that she had to have internal stitches. She also had second degree frostbite that she was treated for as well.
I was amazed at the horribly long time in the hospital and she made it clear that, “I was scared to leave”. She goes on, “I couldn’t have any male doctors or nurses. I would start screaming. It was a long time before I could even be around a man at all, even out in public. I’d shake, sweat and even throw-up.”
This is not even close to the end of Tamara’s story. While in the hospital, the rape kit also confirmed that she was pregnant on top of everything else. “I carried the baby full-term but had to have a c-section because of all the vaginal tearing. I couldn’t have a normal delivery.”
She put the child up for adoption. He was adopted in an open adoption and now has two lesbian parents. “I chose the parents. I get pictures every six months and a letter.” Tamara sees him and he knows who she is, referring to her as his “Tummy Mommy”.
I asked her what I though would be a difficult question, “Is it hard for you to look at him?”
“No!” she shot right back, “He looks just like me. He’s a clone. When I look at him, I see me. Besides, it isn’t his fault what happened. I do not see anybody else but me.” My respect for her has grown immensely by this point, as I wonder if I’d be able to handle myself as well in this same situation.
I pushed a little further and said, “And if he hadn’t looked like you?”
“I’d love him just the same! It wasn’t HIS fault.”, she says with absolute certainty in her voice. Yes, my respect for her is great.
The two men, thanks to surveillance cameras at the warehouses, were caught and prosecuted. Each man received a 30 year sentence because the entire act was caught on video and the knife was used to charge them with attempted murder. The charges were aggravated rape and attempted first degree murder. Because of Tamara’s own painful testimony of the party happenings, it was found that what they did was also premeditated.
The men are eligible for parole in 10 years. They have already served 3 years. To me, this seems like a drop in the bucket for what these animals did to her. I cannot help but ask her, “Are you okay with that? I mean…how does that make you feel?”
Once again, she shows me what true human dignity is about and responds, “I think they got a fair sentence. I’m a practicing Buddhist and by forgiving them I am taking the power away from them. I realize that holding on to the pain and hate would only hurt me more.”
To make her story even more touching, she’s only told 3 people this story. Her own family doesn’t know that this happened to her. She has never received any therapy for the incident and even, in fact, thanked me for letting her tell her secret. “It feels better, like a weight is coming off of me.”
Tamara – you know who you really are – you are a class act. I am in awe of your ability to heal and continue forward with your life. I’m inspired at your ability to forgive. Thank you for allowing me to tell your story.
This was an interview done for an upcoming book by author Jesse MacGregor-Jones. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the victim. I am still seeking more stories and interviews with people who have been victims of hate crimes. Please, contact me at one of the sources below. Thanks for reading and sharing this important message about hate.
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