CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — A lesbian couple in southeastern Missouri is recovering from an alleged attack by three neighborhood youths in what the couple claims is hate crime motivated by the sibling’s discrimination of their sexual orientation.
Jeana Terry and Lisa Lange of Cape Girardeau, Mo., said they were attacked on July 24, by three children who live in a house down the street from them, reported the Southeastern Missourian.
The suspects — two girls, ages 16 and 13, and their 11-year-old brother — were taken into custody in the Mississippi County Regional Juvenile Detention Center, and charged with assault and burglary.
Terry said she was resting in her living room with Lange when the incident began.
The couple say the teen began shouting slurs at them, as had happened on several other occasions, and they responded by telling her to get off their property. There have been other times in the past several months, the couple said, that they have told the children’s parents that they were concerned with anti-gay slurs coming from the children. But no physical threats had happened until now.
The couple say the 16-year-old girl brought her younger brother onto the couple’s porch and pulled Terry outside when she opened the door, then began hitting her. The fight was then joined, Terry said, by the 13-year-old sister and two friends, who neighbors say were summoned by the oldest girl by phone just before the commotion began. Neighbors said the two friends were able to get away before police arrived. They are not in custody.
Terry showed bruises on her arms from where she said the 16-year-old “grabbed me and swung me around,” resulting in Terry falling to the ground.
“Once I was down, it was pure chaos,” Terry said, as she described how she felt as she said she was repeatedly hit and kicked.
Cape Girardeau police spokesman Darin Hickey wouldn’t comment on the specific location where police made contact with the children in response to the call, but did say “they made contact with three juveniles in the area.”
The children’s mother, Nancy Harris, tells a conflicting account of the incident, and said it was the couple who came outside and began arguing with the children.
“Even before this happened they would nitpick at the kids,” Harris said. “Before this there was some arguments and the neighbors would try to provoke them to hit them.”
Missouri statutes define a hate crime as “a criminal offense committed against persons, property or society which is motivated, in whole or in part, by offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or ethnicity/national origin.”
Some misdemeanor offenses, assault included, can be can be raised to a felony under the state statutes. Additionally, the federal government amended the Hate Crime Statistics Act in 2009 to mandate that any crimes that are committed by or against juveniles based on a bias motivation must also be reported as a hate crime.
Andrew Shaughnessy, a spokesman for PROMO, a statewide LGBT advocacy organization, said that as more people throughout the state are coming out and becoming comfortable with who they are, there is a growing need for education about what it means to be LGBT.
The Cape Girardeau incident – if it is determined a hate crime – is a “breakdown in understanding,” Shaughnessy said.
“I think one thing to be said is that LGBT are everywhere,” he said. “They are our neighbors, our friends, our family, and we need to have a greater focus on what that means and how we can all live together.”
Lange said she is worried someone will attempt to make the issue about race — she and Terry are white, the children are black — but she and her partner’s desire to see justice served is not about that, she said.
“It’s about the fact that we are two women who live together and happen to love each other,” she said. “That’s it.”