Update: 7/23/12: Lincoln police have now classified the attack as a hate crime due to the victim’s sexual orientation.
LINCOLN, Neb. — Over 500 people gathered on the steps of the Nebraska State Capitol Sunday night to hold a vigil for a lesbian woman brutalized early Sunday morning in what local LGBT activists are calling a hate crime.
According to Lincoln, Neb., Police Captain Joe Wright, patrol officers responded to an address two blocks south of Lincoln High School in the downtown area, for a reported assault and house fire.
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The victim, whose name has not been released, told officers that she had been attacked earlier that morning by three masked men who barged into her house, bound her wrists and ankles with zip ties, cut her all over her body and carved homophobic slurs into her skin before dumping gasoline on her floor and lighting it with a match.
A friend described the cuts as “things carved on her body that can only be described as hate, that somebody can only be taught and we need to stop teaching it.”
A source to LGBTQ Nation said “the words ‘cunt,’ ‘fag’ and ‘dyke’ were carved onto her face and body, and that the assailants tried to set her house on fire.”
Lincoln fire department arson investigator Damon Robbins, told the local media that there was evidence that a match flame ignited vapors from a pool of gasoline on the woman’s floor, but the flash fire did not continue to burn and caused no noticeable damage to the house.
Friends said the men who assaulted her also spray painted anti-gay words in her basement, including “We found u dyke.” Friends called the attack a hate crime because the woman assaulted is a lesbian.
“When someone takes the time to handcuff someone with a zip tie and carve derogatory comments or words into somebody else’s body, that’s sheer hate and at this point, this is a hate crime,” the friend said.
“Our hearts go out to the victim, her family and close friends,” said Tyler Richard, president of Outlinc, a group that supports LGBT people in Lincoln. “Many in our community are understandably experiencing a great deal of sadness, anger and confusion. We look to our entire community to pull together in this difficult time, ” he said.
The assault has sparked outrage in Lincoln’s LGBT community, which is already galvanized by the ongoing debate over the city’s fairness amendment — a proposal to ban discrimination in housing and employment based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The measure is now on a ballot referendum for this November.
Karen Bratton-Cranford, president of the LGBT advocacy group Star City Pride, took the microphone at Sunday night’s vigil to urge those gathered to act with respect and to refrain from seeking revenge, reported the Lincoln Star-Journal.
“Don’t go out and act on your own,” she said. “Don’t give them the power to control your actions.”
Police have not yet ruled the attack a hate crime, and Lincoln’s Police Chief Jim Peschong, refused to comment, citing an ongoing criminal investigation.
Officials told LGBTQ Nation late Sunday evening that no arrests had been made. The victim has been treated for her wounds and is staying with friends.
Nebraska has a hate crimes statute that covers crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation. Federal authorities also may have jurisdiction over the crime as a result of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Lincoln police have now classified the attack as a hate crime due to the victim’s sexual orientation.
“I don’t want to minimize this and make it a political issue, because it was a horrible thing that happened in our community, and it saddens me that this happened,” City Councilmen Carl Eskridge told LGBTQ Nation on Monday. “It is because of events like this we need to pass the fairness ordinance, and that is why I introduced it.”
“It’s critically important that we find a common voice, for all of us to come together to improve the community,” he said.
Fred Sainz, Vice President of Communications for the Human Rights Campaign, called the attack “a jarring reminder that we have much work to do in creating environments where all members of our community feel safe living honestly and openly, and where crimes motivated by one’s sexual orientation or gender identity are never tolerated.”