The head of the conservative gay Republican group GOProud was attacked on a secluded street behind Union Station while riding home from work on his bicycle on July 15 by a male teenager who called him a “faggot.”
Jimmy LaSalvia, GOProud’s executive director, said the unidentified youth punched him in the chest about 8:30 p.m. as he rode past the youth and six or seven other male teenagers who were with the person that struck him on 2nd Street, N.E. just north of L Street.
“I was on my bike when I approached them,” LaSalvia told the Blade in an e-mail. “Just as I got up to them, the assailant lunged off the sidewalk toward me on the street and delivered a punch across my chest. The momentum of my bicycling driving me into his fist and arm caused a shocking pain like I’ve never felt before,” he said.
“Just as I began to realize what was happening, I heard it. The words are still ringing in my ears as I write this today – ‘F____ faggot!’ LaSalvia said in his e-mail. “It was clear to me in that moment that my sexual orientation had motivated this attack.”
LaSalvia said that after barely catching himself from falling to the ground, he reached into his backpack for his cell phone, with the thought of calling the police. That action prompted one of the teenagers accompanying the attacker to say, “Does he have a gun?” LaSalvia told the Blade.
The attacker and a few of the others with him “puffed up their chests and were clearly ready to continue the attack,” he said. But seconds later, the group fled the scene after he kept his hand inside his backpack, “allowing them to wonder if I was reaching for a gun.”
He said he then rode home and called the police non-emergency number. A receptionist taking the call instructed him to call 911, saying an officer would come to his house to take a report. But LaSalvia said he didn’t feel it necessary to take up police time for what was no longer an emergency. He said he chose instead to wait until morning to file a police report.
According to LaSalvia, on Saturday morning, July 16, he went to the headquarters office of the police Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit, which is located in the Sun Trust Bank building on Dupont Circle. Upon his arrival, no one answered the doorbell, said LaSalvia, even though he noticed people were inside the office. He said a sign on the door advised visitors to call the GLLU’s pager number, which he did, he said. However, as of Monday morning, no one from the GLLU returned his message.
Sgt. Carlos Mejia, the GLLU’s supervisor, told the Blade on Monday that the unit is phasing out the pager number, which he said is part of an “antiquated” system that sometimes malfunctions. Mejia said the GLLU and the police department have distributed literature and public notices advising citizens to contact the unit on its new 24-hour smart phone number of 202-506-0714.
LaSalia, in a phone interview, said he later reached the GLLU and that one of its members, Sgt. Joe Morquecho, interviewed him about the incident and made a report that lists the incident as a hate crime.
“He gave me the name of the detective handling the case and I was just contacted by a victims’ services representative,” LaSalvia said. “So the police department’s been very good to follow up with me and talk to me about this.”
LaSalvia informed friends about the attack in a message on his Facebook page.
Mejia said the GLLU office is not staffed 24 hours a day. One police source said civilian volunteers sometimes work in the office when the officers are out in the field. The volunteers are instructed not to answer the door since they are not trained to work directly with the public, the source said.
“I realize now that this is something that should be reported,” LaSalvia said.
LaSalvia described his attacker as a black male appearing about 17 or 18 years old, about 5 feet 11 inches tall, and weighing about 145 pounds. He said the attacker was wearing gym shorts and had his shirt off, exposing a slim but “muscular” build. LaSalvia said the attacker had a medium skin complexion and “very short hair – almost like a shaved head.”
GOProud describes itself on its website as an organization representing “gay conservatives and their allies…committed to a traditional conservative agenda that emphasizes limited government, individual liberty, free markets and a confident foreign policy.”
Although D.C. police have listed the assault against him as a hate crime, LaSalvia acknowledged that he and GOProud have emerged as critics of the federal and state hate crimes laws.
“We do not oppose hate crimes laws but I happen to think they’re a waste of time because they don’t do anything to prevent violent crimes from occurring and they have outlasted their usefulness,” he said.
According to LaSalvia, hate crimes laws would have been useful in the past, when state and federal law enforcement officials often did not prosecute crimes targeting gays and other minorities such as blacks. He said those days are all but gone, and authorities now routinely prosecute crimes against gays and other groups, even if they are not officially classified as hate crimes in states that don’t have hate crimes laws.
The Obama administration and a coalition of Democratic and Republican members of Congress that voted to pass the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Prevention Act in 2009 said the law could act as a deterrent to hate crimes by drawing attention to such crimes and building strong opposition to hate violence in society.
Activists supporting the federal hate crimes law also noted that it includes protections for transgender people. Activists said the transgender community, along with gays and lesbians, could now rely on the federal government to prosecute anti-LGBT hate crimes if a state or local law enforcement agency declines to prosecute such crimes against them.
LaSalvia said he is aware that D.C.’s hate crimes law, as well as similar laws in other states, allow judges to hand down a stricter sentence to criminals convicted of committing a hate crime.
“My argument is I’m fine with that but it didn’t do anything to deter him from doing it,” he said of the youth who attacked him. “And that’s my whole point about why did we spend so much political capital for [the federal hate crimes law] when, OK, it’s retribution, but it still does nothing to prevent hate crimes.”