SMASHING CONVERSATIONS

Race, Wealth, And Beau Breedlove: Three Questions About The Portland Gay Bashing

As Brad Forkner and Christopher Rosevear walked hand-in-hand Sunday evening through Portland’s Waterfront Park, they heard several men behind them talking, laughing and pointing. The two men continued minding their own business until the men pushed and punched Forkner and then hit Rosevear in the head, face, back and ribs before running off.

One of the victims left the ER “with 9 stitches in my lips, two black eyes, a dislodged jaw, some loose teeth, severe swelling where they hit me on my cheek, and scrapes and bruises on my head.” And as the Portland police continue searching for the assailants, we’re wondering how race, class, and the anti-gay undertones of the Beau Breedlove-Sam Adams mayoral sex scandal all played a role.

In article about a trans-bashing by a Minnesota mob earlier this week, one of our commenters said:

Flash mob beatings or anonymous mob assaults are becoming more common in the south and midwest. Witnesses said they were smiling and having fun. It’s a black thing, someone probably filmed it on their cell phone to upload it to Youtube, Facebook or Worldstarhiphop.

The commenter then referred to a New York Times article about “violent flash mobs” that added, “Most of the teenagers who have taken part in them are black and from poor neighborhoods.”

So we thought, huh… since the assailants haven’t been caught yet, we wonder if the news reports offer any racial clues. The Oregonian said:

“The suspects are in their 20s and all about 5-foot-11, police said. One was wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt, another was wearing a white or cream hooded sweatshirt and the third was wearing a brown hooded sweatshirt.”

Notice this description does not mention race, something curious seeing as it would certainly help readers report any suspects. But did the paper simply overlook this detail or did they intentionally omit it to avoid profiling by readers? FOX 12 in Oregon called the assailants white. And then OregonLive.com had this interesting tidbit:

Forkner said he couldn’t tell what the attackers were saying. He didn’t hear clearly anti-gay epithets. “They were yelling, I don’t know what,” he said, adding that they may have been speaking another language.

We asked a while ago, when should newspapers mention someone’s transgender status. We agreed that unless it had a bearing on the issue at hand, it should matter as someone’s race. Had the police arrested the Portland bashers, the press would likely have released their pictures just like they did with the 3 gay-faced gay-bashers arrested in Minnesota. Race would certainly matter in a racist attack or a longer article about racial violence, but outside of those two, we say let’s keep race out of it.

But how about class though? Responding to Forkner and Rosevear’s beating, many of the Portland commenters on Joe.My.God wrote things like:

“Portland has a lot of tweaker white trash that hang out in the parks.”

“They just hung out in the city parks, jobless and many were tweakers. Portland and the surrounding area is ground zero for meth use.”

“there are still plenty of slack jawed corn pipe smoking homophobic hicks still living here.”

“a waterfront carnival called the “Fun Center” — [is] also known as the Scum Center by locals because it’s a magnet for out-of-town low-lifes who instigate violence, sometimes even murders.”

Some of the other commenters blamed racist skinheads or defended the park’s homeless youth as peaceful. But the repeated mention of poor, uneducated, rural, drug users struck me as odd. Granted, these non-journalist commenters spoke only about their perceptions and nothing more, but have we started assuming that all gay bashers must be poor, uneducated? It’s not always the case and it’s a mistake to think so.

Lastly, you may remember the public scandal over current Portland Mayor Sam Adams’ sexual relationship with 18-year-old intern Beau Breedlove (gotta love that name). After the scandal broke some Portlanders began a recall effort with homophobic undertones of the “old-man-preying-on-young-boys” variety.

The idea of Adams as a predatory old man doesn’t hold up to the scolding, fatherly tone Sam Adams used in statement against the Portland gay-bashing he issued earlier this week:

We seek to be the city of the most equal opportunity, and we can only be that city if all people are safe and have a sense of safety on our streets and in our parks. Any two people in Portland should be able to take a walk, hand in hand, without fearing for their safety.

Ultimately the recall against Mayor Adams failed, though the recall petitioners say they’ll try to vote him out of office in 2012. Is Portland is still feeling the negative gay associations left behind by his scandal or is this merely proof that homophobic violence can happen anywhere, even in a liberal northwestern city?