PRIZM News / March 1, 2018 /
Victims of Hate
(Illustration by Christian Cimoroni)

‘I remember being called a faggot. I remember immense crashing pain in my face.’

 

By Tommy Wilcox

I made the decision to go when I heard that Bretz was closing. I will question whether that decision was the right one for the rest of my life.

 

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On Thursday, Dec. 21, the iconic gay bar in Toledo was opening its doors for the last time. Bretz was the first gay bar I had ever been to. It was where I met my first serious boyfriend, Dennis, who has since passed on. It was where I learned how to DJ, how to play billiards, where I found myself and the freedom to be an open and out gay man without fear of ridicule.

I had a few drinks, talked to some friends, watched the drag show and took a bunch of selfies. I had a good time. And by 12:30, I had had enough and left.

Alone, I began to walk the four blocks to where my husband was waiting for me. The line to get into Bretz was a block long. It was good to see this beloved place have such an amazing sendoff. There were people everywhere, it seemed, and it was crowded.

I crossed the street to avoid a majority of the crowd. Continuing down the block, I suddenly had a strange feeling. Something felt wrong. I pulled my phone out to call someone or record my surroundings. I don’t know why I didn’t just call my husband, who was down the street waiting for me.

Then everything went black.

The next thing I remember is being on my back. I remember kicking and getting someone in the crotch. I remember being called a faggot. I remember immense crashing pain in my face.

The next thing I remember is rolling onto my hands and knees and begging anyone for help. I repeated my husband’s phone number, which I only know by heart because of Apple’s security levels.

I don’t remember much else very vividly until I woke up the next morning, except I remember talking to police officers and a detective. I don’t remember much about them, but I remember I told them the exact same thing and that I felt like I was the target of a gay-bashing.

I spent the next three days in the hospital undergoing multiple CT scans, immense pain, unbelievable dizziness, constant vomiting, desert-like dry mouth and so many different injections of medications that I’m surprised I’m not addicted to something. I suffered multiple fractures: one at the base of my skull that could have killed me, and one in my nose.

There were multiple bleeds in my brain: a large one behind my right eye that I still will have for a few months, and a rather bad subdural hematoma. My brain had been knocked out of place by four millimeters.

All of this because of what reason? I will be honest: I do not know.

Was I was attacked because I’m gay? Was I attacked because of my phone? Or was I an easy, drunk target?

I don’t know what my attacker looked like, what race he is, or where he comes from. Yes, it might have just been a random robbery and not about being gay. But I do know that his bias was introduced to the situation, and in my opinion, once you introduce bias into a criminal situation—specifically bias against people who often are targeted simply because of who they are—it’s a hate crime.

This is not the case in my situation, though, because Ohio does not have a state hate-crimes law that covers a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Toledo does, but our local law only covers misdemeanor crimes.

Police departments in Ohio aren’t required to—or fail to—report anti- LGBTQ hate-crime statistics to the FBI. It hurts a little knowing that I moved back here from Oregon, where sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes and where I would have had more legal protection. It feels sort of like being victimized all over again.

I went home on Christmas Eve from the hospital and began the long road to recovery and healing. I feel like a prisoner now; I was put in a jail of sorts by someone with a sickness. I haven’t done much since late December except try to not fall down when I’m walking.

I still have a long way before I’m back at 100 percent. Headaches are constant. If I move too fast I get dizzy, and I can’t sleep a full night without waking up. I still have an occluded left nasal passage that I can’t breathe out of, and I can’t really taste food at all.

I’m constantly in fear about everything and still have to look forward to new issues with post-traumatic stress, in addition to what I already suffer from.

For the second time in my life, I survived a gay-bashing. I’m happy that I’m here, because there’s a purpose yet for me. I’m lucky to be alive, because the fracture at the base of my skull was bad enough that one more hit would have severed a major artery.

Did I make some mistakes that night? Yeah, it could probably be argued that I did. Maybe I was too drunk or shouldn’t have been walking alone. But as a 46-year-old veteran of the U.S. Navy, I have more than earned my right to do pretty much what I want.

There are more than 1,000 reasons—the number of hate crimes against LGBT people that were reported to the FBI in 2016—why we need legal protections at the local, state and federal levels. Actually, there are many more reasons than that, given the number of hate-crime victims who are too frightened or humiliated to tell police. Police also don’t classify many crimes as motivated by the perpetrator’s hate, and a number of jurisdictions simply don’t report statistics to the federal government.

It is because of hate that 77 LGBTQ people were murdered in the United States in 2016, the latest year analyzed by the National Coalition of Anti- Violence Programs. The total includes victims of the mass shooting
at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

It is because of hate that LGBTQ people of color, transgender and gender-nonconforming people, and trans women of color are by far the most-often targeted among our community.

It is because of hate that nine transgender and gender nonconforming Ohioans—Cece Dove, Betty Skinner and Brittany-Nicole Kidd-Stergis of Cleveland (2013); Tiffany Edwards of Cincinnati (2014); Brian Golec of Akron (2015); Rae’Lynn Thomas of Columbus (2016); Brandi Bledsoe of Cleveland (2016); JoJoStriker of Toledo (2017); and Phylicia Mitchell of Cleveland (February)–have been killed in the last five years.

Whether or not Toledo police ever classify what happened to me as a hate crime, I am now one more reason that hate-crimes laws need to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

Until police and politicians recognize that LGBT people are targeted simply because of who we are, true equality will continue to elude not only the city of Toledo, but the state of Ohio and the United States as well.

Tommy Wilcox is a Toledo native who has lived around the country and the world. In 2017, he helped raise money for Autism Society and personally organized a food and toy drive to benefit homeless children and families in Toledo. He serves as vice president of the Promise House Project, a charity to benefit homeless youth.

The lllustration by Christian Cimoroni depicts Tommy Wilcox (top right) and the four transgender Americans who have been killed in 2018: Viccky Gutierrez of Los Angeles; Christa Leigh Steele- Knudslien of North Adams, Mass.; Tonya Harvey of Buffalo, N.Y.; and Celine Walker of Brandon, Fla.

 

 

 

 

Bob Vitale
Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm. A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, he has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield. Contact: BobVitale@prizmnews.com