As many as 700 people turned out for a march through the streets of Washington, D.C., Tuesday night to take a stand against anti-LGBT violence following separate attacks against two gay men and a transgender woman during a two-day period earlier this month.
Friends of one of the two gay male victims, who organized the march, said they were astonished over the outpouring of support that emerged from the LGBT community and city officials, including D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier and four members of the City Council.
“It was a Facebook event and I expected maybe 15 to 50 people to show up,” said Patrick Pressman, one of the lead organizers. “And then from there it just exploded,” he said. “It got to where it was today, when it was estimated that about 700 people were going to attend.”
Pressman said he is a friend of a 29-year-old gay man who was robbed and badly beaten on March 12 by assailants who called him anti-gay names at Georgia Avenue and Irving Street, N.W.
The march started outside the International House of Pancakes restaurant at 14th and Irving streets, N.W., in Columbia Heights, where a 31-year-old gay man was shot about 6 a.m. Sunday, March 11, in what police say was an altercation with two men who called him anti-gay names.
Lanier, who spoke to the marchers as they gathered outside the IHOP restaurant, said she expects an arrest in the case soon, saying she is “very pleased” with the progress of the investigation.
“We have everybody working on this and I think everybody’s committed,” she said. “We kind of take it personally when people in our community are targeted.”
Police said the victim of the IHOP shooting was fortunate to have received a non-life threatening gunshot wound. His cousin, who was with him at the time of the shooting, said the victim was expected to be released from the hospital this week after being treated for a punctured liver.
Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who participated in the march, said he was especially concerned that two of the incidents took place in his ward. He said the large showing of support for the march demonstrates that the community is outraged over anti-LGBT violence.
From the IHOP, the march traveled east on Irving Street to Georgia Avenue, the site where the 29-year-old gay man was attacked and beaten about 9:30 p.m. on March 12.
Police said the transgender woman was attacked and knocked unconscious about 11:45 that same night at the intersection of West Virginia Avenue and Mt. Olivet Road, N.E. People who know the victim said she reported later that she was not robbed and thought the attack was motivated by anti-transgender bias.
But police say, unlike the other two incidents, they have not listed the case as a hate crime because they don’t have sufficient evidence for such a classification. Assistant D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham told a meeting of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club Monday night that investigators were looking for witnesses who might have heard whether the attackers hurled anti-trans names at the victim.
Newsham said investigators believe the three incidents were unrelated, with the attacks carried out by different groups of perpetrators.
The march paused when it reached the site where the 29-year-old gay man was attacked at Georgia Avenue and Irving Street.
“I want to say that this walk should never have to happen again in our city,” said D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown (D-At-Large). “We have to do more. We must do more,” he said. “And for those who know about this horrific situation that took place, I’m begging you to come forth. Give us information … to bring these folks to justice.”
Brown was referring to reports by police that many people were on the street in the vicinity of the attack at the time it occurred.
Council members Michael Brown (D-At-large) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) also participated in the march, saying they were in solidarity with the LGBT community in seeking ways to curtail hate violence against all city residents.
Also participating in the march was Jeffrey Richardson, director of Mayor Vincent Gray’s Office of LGBT Affairs, and Gustavo Velasquez, director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights. Richardson spoke at the gathering outside the IHOP restaurant.
Among those speaking at the Georgia Avenue and Irving Street site was A.J. Singletary, president of the D.C. group Gays and Lesbian Opposing Violence (GLOV). Singletary said he learned from the 29-year-old gay victim’s partner that the victim had been released from the hospital Tuesday, the day of the march.
“His jaw was shattered in two places,” said Singletary. “After two surgeries he now has permanent titanium plates holding his lower jaw together. In addition, his jaw is wired shut for the next four to six weeks.”
The march continued south on Georgia Avenue to U Street, where it turned right and traveled to 14th Street. From there, with spectators looking on from the sidewalks, it traveled south on 14th to R Street, where it turned right and continued to its termination at 17th Street next to the gay bar Cobalt. Many of the marchers entered Cobalt, which hosted a fundraiser for the victim attacked at Georgia Avenue and Irving Street.
Gay Democratic activist Cartwright Moore, a member of the staff of D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, said many of the march participants were young LGBT people who don’t ordinarily attend meetings of local LGBT organizations.
“It’s been great that the community has come together on an issue like this,” said D.C. resident Chris Shank, who said he learned about the march through a Facebook invitation.
“I marched the entire way,” he said. “I’m really glad it was organized. I think the response has been enormous.”
D.C. resident Phillip Pratt said he, too, learned of the event through Facebook. He said he became motivated to get involved after seeing that just a few days after organizers posted the event more than 500 people had committed to joining the march.
“I think it was very important to come out and march for this, to march with them and show our support,” he said.
Vic Suter said she wanted to take a stand against violence targeting her own community.
“Whether there be a thousand people marching down the street or five, it says that people are not going to tolerate such behavior and that we need to bring about tolerance and we need to teach the community that people are people regardless of who they love,” she said.
Asked if he thought the event would have an impact on the community, Singletary said he was hopeful that it would.
“We have a group of many hundreds walking down the middle of the street down major thoroughfares in D.C. where a lot of hate crimes have occurred,” he said while marching. “You’re talking about U Street, you’re talking about 14th Street. The street we’re on now is R. There have been a lot of attacks on this street itself. So the response by the community has been big and rightfully so.”