Anti-gay violence is always horrible news. So when The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCVAP) reported an increase in “robberies, druggings, [and] sexual violence” among persons who met others on hook-up services like Craigslist and Grindr, I wanted to find a silver lining. The data suggests anti-gay attackers are becoming more tech-savvy (a scary thought), but it also suggests the gay community and our allies are becoming smarter about online cruising, making it safer to find a no-strings hook-up. In fact, there are at least three ways the increase in anti-gay cyber-bashing could be good news for everyone.
But let me get this out of the way: By no means are these attacks a good thing. Given that they happen regardless of how we feel about them, there are ways to turn them into teaching moments.
It’s understandable gay men might not want to report anti-gay crimes to cops, especially when some police still ignore gay bashings, cruise porn shops to arrest gay men, and scream “faggot” outside of gay bars. When the fuzz come off as homophobic as our attackers, it’s no wonder queers might keep quiet about assaults, especially ones involving hook-ups that could make them seem like willing victims.
So while the increase in reported assaults may appear troubling, it signifies gay men are less willing to remain silent victims of hate; they are reporting the attacks.
The increase in reports also means police departments are recording sexual orientation as the motivation on crime reports, and that the media and NCAVP are both reporting these incidents more regularly. Those stats, in coordination with the Matthew Shepard Act, help raise public awareness of homophobic crime and let gay men know they have advocates if they’re ever a victim.
After police tracked down John Katehis the 16-year-old knife fetishist who stabbed 48-year-old WABC reporter George Weber to death, they were able to collect web pages, text messages, and e-mails between the two men that will undoubtedly help prosecute Katehis. All web criminals, like Amazon.com shoppers, leave behind digital trails and with each investigation, detectives become more aware of how these cyber-scum operate.
It is disturbing to think that the 21st century digital gay bashers are much more methodical, premeditated, and tech-savvy than their random-drunk-on-the-street counterparts. After all, anti-gay web assailants know where gay surfers go to cruise, they play gay to lure their victims, and can handpick their targets based on stats. But the more we learn about their MO, the more we will be able to spot and prevent potential attacks and hunt down and prosecute future ones.
As our gayborhoods vanish, young gays continue spending more time chatting and cruising online than they will ever will at Oil Can Harry’s. As gay men take their socializing online, we’re learning that it comes with its own risks.
The rise in reported hook-up crimes could encourage local LGBT community centers and groups to start campaigns to help make online lovers more web-savvy. The NCVAP already has some excellent tips on safe online hooking-up, but boiled down into several easy-to-remember pieces of advice—get his photo, Google his name, tell a friend your plans, meet in public, never give out personal information, etc.—these common sense tips could further empower LGBT surfers to have smarter, safer hook-ups where both partners get off scot-free.