An anti-gay attack against UCR students mobilizes the LGBT community off campus
By: Lynn Lieu
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has faced some of the toughest battles in California, most notably the passing of the anti-same-sex marriage Proposition 8 in 2008, which resulted in one of the most debated and expensive political campaigns in the nation—aside from the presidential contest. And while some California cities have accepted all members of their community, it seems Riverside may have not.
Students and faculty of one university are working to bring this to the attention of city officials.
Recently, two male UC Riverside students were assaulted off-campus, the apparent targets of anti-gay hate. While the crime was not a first in Riverside, for many students and those across the university community, it was a reality check.
“Incidents of this nature bring our community together,” says UCR Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jim Sandoval. “One of the things students fear is that it could happen to them. As the community and our staff began working with them, we all just came to recognize that it is something well beyond the University’s control. It just dawned upon the students that where it would be beneficial is to try to get some response out of the city.”
“Because the students were assaulted by non-UCR students, we realized that this was a Riverside community issue,” says Virginia Millacci, co-president of Queer People Of Color (QPOC), a student organization at UCR.
Sandoval and Millacci, along with two other LGBT students, met to discuss the incident and what actions to take to provide a safer community for everyone. What began as a brainstorm led to the potential drafting of a letter to Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge.
“The letter actually turned into a phone call with the mayor,” Sandoval says. And, according to Sandoval, a meeting is in the works with the mayor for sometime this month at UCR’s LGBT Resource Center. The meeting will be open to the public to address community concerns relating to anti-LGBT hate crimes and how to create a safer city.
“I think on campus it’s safe. I think UCR does a really amazing job of creating this really safe bubble: they’ve got a good community center, gender-neutral housing, training programs for professors and police on campus, [etc.],” says Cadyn Cathers, a former UCR student studying to be a LGBT therapist. “But, then you walk off campus, it’s a whole other world and the bubble just bursts. I’ve never felt safe in Riverside and I’ve been there since 2006.”
While Cathers no longer attends UCR, the same sentiment appears to echo throughout the community.
“The LGBT community feels safer on campus and they recognized that once they moved off-site things changed,” Sandoval says. “I actually can’t remember dealing with a hate crime like this and I’ve been on campus as the Vice Chancellor since 2001. But, I recognize there may have been incidents in the broader Riverside community.”
While some hate crimes amount to name-calling and heckling, others have resulted in hospitalization and even death as the infamous 2002 homicide case of Jeffery Owens, formerly of Moreno Valley, that took place downtown (An LGBT community center was named for him). Then there’s the psychological damage.
“I don’t have tangible advice like, ‘Do this and you’ll be safe,’ because I don’t think that such a thing exists,” Cathers says. “But being aware of your surroundings and staying in groups does help.” (Lynn Lieu)