GLAAD's Media Field Strategy team gets phone calls and emails every day, from people all over the country. Often times, and unfortunately, they are related to hate crimes and violence against LGBT folks.
We here at GLAAD are often called upon when someone in their community endures anti-LGBT violence and they and their family hit a wall trying to get local officials to investigate or even the local newspaper to make mention of the incident. Unfortunately, the media tend to pay attention only when a hate crime is sensational or fatal.
While we honor those who have lost their lives due to anti-LGBT crimes, we also remember and share the stories of those who survived their attacks. Those who fought to find justice and those who are still fighting.
Stories of those like Anthony Hergesheimer's of Pueblo, CO.
Anthony's story is one familiar to many who are the victim of a hate crime. After a long day of being teased and even receiving a threatening email, the openly gay 15 year old packed up his things and began his walk home from school. It was a typical Thursday in April of 2007.
Then, the unthinkable happened. A car filled with six fellow high school students drove up beside Anthony and slowly followed him down the street. They taunted and yelled slurs out the windows. The name-calling quickly turned to violence when the boys jumped out of the car and began to beat Anthony.
"One of the boys got out and he hit me on my eye, right on my face with a full can of Lysol," Hergesheimer said. "My nose just started gushing everywhere."
The attackers caused so much injury to Anthony's face and head, he required facial reconstructive surgery.
Also familiar to many who are victims of a hate crime, Anthony's attack was followed by several days of inaction by both the local police and the school district. Frustrated by the lack of response and seeking justice, Anthony’s mother reached out to GLAAD.
GLAAD’s Media Field Strategy staff worked with both Anthony and his mother, preparing them for media interviews, issuing a press release about the incident and contacting local media outlets to inform them of Anthony's attack and how authorities were refusing to take any action.
Anthony's story became a prime example of how the media, taking their responsibilities seriously, can play a vital role in determining community and law enforcement response to hate-motivated attacks and help bring about justice and some sort of closure.
After GLAAD's outreach efforts, local TV stations and newspapers began reporting Anthony's story. Local authorities, under the spotlight and pressure of their hometown media, were forced to take responsible action. The result - the Pueblo District Attorney filed criminal charges against all six attackers and the school district suspended them as well.
Working with Anthony and his family, we were able generate a public conversation about a serious hate crime. This conversation, which began in the media and spread throughout the community, helped spur local authorities into action, while also raising awareness about anti-gay sentiment and anti-gay violence in Pueblo, CO.
Hate crimes still occur far too often in our country, and they often don't get the kind of media coverage that's needed to move discussion about the pervasive problem forward. That's why every day at GLAAD we work with survivors, victim's families, community organizations and local media outlets in order to get these stories told.
Helping to highlight the stories of and find justice for people like Matthew Shepard and Anthony Hergesheimer is a sad, but critical, part of our advocacy work.