Columbus, Ohio USA
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BRAVO Moves into Short North
by Karen Edwards
Photo by Gus Brunsman III
BRAVO Executive Director Gloria McCauley with staff members
Gary Heath and Dean Hindenlang (seated).
BRAVO, the acronym for the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization, left its Clintonville office last month, and moved to the Short North – 870 N. Pearl Street to be precise. The new Short North office is wheelchair accessible, there is off-street parking, and the High Street bus line is just a short block away. There’s even a small front yard garden enclosed by a white picket fence. But it’s the Short North neighborhood that makes BRAVO Executive Director Gloria McCauley especially pleased about the new location.
“We’ve looked in this area for as long as BRAVO has been around,” she says. That’s nine years this year, says McCauley – and she should know. She founded BRAVO in 1996. BRAVO, in turn, was one of the founding members of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). Think of it as BRAVO on a national level.
Both organizations serve the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transsexual (LGBT) community by offering the following services:
• Reporting and documenting hate crimes
• Supporting domestic violence victims inside the LGBT community
• Supporting sexual assault survivors
• Assisting victims who want to work with the police
• Accompanying and advocating for victims in court settings
• Serving as advocates in hospital settings
• Developing safety plans with victims
• Providing emergency housing
• Developing support groups.
“We’re very excited about moving to the Short North,” says McCauley. “It’s the heart of our community, so this puts us closer to our clients and volunteers.”
But BRAVO’s proximity to the Short North is more than just convenience. Numerous reports of “incidents” in and around the Short North reach BRAVO every year. “The organization’s increased visibility in the area will be a big help,” McCauley notes.
The young man leaving the well-known Columbus gay bar is 25 years old. It’s just before closing time, but as he walks toward his car, he’s taunted by a group of 20 to 30-year old men, obviously inebriated, who follow behind him, shouting“faggot.” He reaches his car and climbs in, but the safety it promises is short-lived. Hands reach in and grab him, pulling him out of the car and shoving him down, onto the street. Later, he’s found several blocks away, severely beaten. A police report is filed.
According to the 2005 report issued by the NCAVP, there were 209 bias motivated incidents in Columbus last year, up slightly from the 202 reported in 2003. The total number of victims affected by these incidents rose by 9% – from 257 in 2003 to 280 in 2004. Offenders, too, are on the rise, with a 33% increase over 2003 totals. The total of African-American offenders climbed to 35%, a significant demographic change, says the report.
There is a bright side to Columbus’s statistics, however. The city’s law enforcement officers seem to be responding more courteously to hate-crime victims. Almost three-quarters of the victims who reported to the police said they were treated with respect. Reports of abusive behavior fell to 25%, many of those outside Columbus. Columbus is also fortunate that its city prosecutor has demonstrated a willingness to prosecute hate-crime victims. As a result, says McCauley, Ohio is fifth in the nation in reporting hate crimes – “but nationally, we still have a long way to go.”
And as proud as BRAVO is of its reporting statistics, there is no doubt in McCauley’s mind that there are still plenty of crimes in Ohio and in Columbus that go unreported. Passage of two recent laws – the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits gay marriages in Ohio, and Issue 1, which eliminated many rights for Ohio’s unmarried couples (homosexual and heterosexual) – hasn’t helped, says McCauley, Yet, as troublesome as the new laws are, it’s the inflammatory rhetoric surrounding them that’s causing the greatest problem, she says. Harassment has increased as a result.
“One of our goals is to do more outreach,” she says. “We need to educate our own community about what we do, and the services we offer. We need to let victims know they’re not alone.”
A 24-year old, multi-racial, bisexual maintenance man is harassed at his workplace. He discovers an office voicemail from someone whose message is: “keep that faggot…maintenance man away from me.” The employee expresses concern for his safety to his direct supervisor. The supervisor, who may be struggling with his own anti-gay feelings, is not supportive, and the situation remains unresolved.
The problem with BRAVO’s outreach effort is that their staff is small – just three members in addition to McCauley – and it serves a seven-county area as well as Columbus. That keeps BRAVO pretty busy, yet McCauley and her staff still find time to speak to groups, schools, businesses, churches, and others in the LGBT community, as well as the heterosexual community, about hate crimes, and BRAVO’s role in helping its victims. Victims, incidentally, may just as easily be victims of their own community. Domestic abuse is as prevalent in the LGBT community as it is in the heterosexual community.
“It has become one of the single biggest issues we deal with,” says McCauley.
BRAVO screens its domestic violence victims carefully.“We have a specific assessment program that helps us determine who the batterer is and isn’t, because we don’t provide services to abusers, only their victims,” she says. While McCauley says her group will work occasionally with CHOICES, Columbus’s shelter for battered and abused women, BRAVO typically provides LGBT victims with its own emergency housing and support. An on-going support group for LGBT survivors is co-sponsored by BRAVO and CHOICES.“I don’t know of any domestic violence shelters locally that take men,” says McCauley, “and some lesbians who have gone to heterosexual shelters usually find they have to play straight in order to fit in.” In addition to emergency housing, BRAVO also provides domestic violence victims with access to counseling as well as support groups.“We don’t do counseling here because we don’t have the staff, but we have a referral system with Mt. Carmel’s crime and trauma assistance team, and that works out well for us,” says McCauley.
An HIV-positive, gay Latino is experiencing numerous incidents of verbal harassment from children who live in the same Columbus apartment complex. They have knocked down the handicapped sign where he parks, and have thrown litter about. The man has reported the trouble to his landlord on numerous occasions, and has filed numerous police reports, but the police say they can’t do anything unless the victim catches the kids in their destructive acts. The man would like to move out, but he has a month left on his lease, and his landlord won’t release him from it, nor will he give the man back his security deposit. The victim is pursuing a legal remedy.
Once someone arrives at BRAVO – whether as a victim of domestic violence victim or a hate-crime – McCauley and her staff swing into action.“First we’ll determine their immediate safety needs,” says McCauley. When the client’s safety is secured, the BRAVO team meets with him or her to look at the various options available. Victims will be asked if they wish to file a police report, for example.“It’s not required,” McCauley emphasizes. Some clients will; some won’t. Some will only file a report if they can do so from BRAVO’s office.“Not everyone wants to have a police car pull up in front of their home,” McCauley explains, “so we make that option available to them.” Next, BRAVO will talk to the victim about safety planning. What things can clients do to make themselves feel safer?“Maybe it’s adding a security system to their home, or taking a self-defense class,” says McCauley. If victims need counseling, they’ll be referred. And if they’ve filed a police report, and need to go to court, BRAVO will help walk clients through the whole procedure.
“Courtrooms can be an overwhelming experience,” McCauley says – and that’s especially true for LGBT victims who can’t be sure that a judge will even issue a restraining order against their abuser. BRAVO, however, has access to a number of attorneys, and frequently works with Capital University’s law school, and Legal Aid Society to ensure clients are treated fairly. That applies outside of the courtroom as well.
The 2005 NCVAP report provides a couple of “case narratives” that show the full scope of BRAVO’s ability to step in and provide the necessary resources to help its clients:
One narrative describes the case of a six-year old elementary school student in Columbus who was repeatedly harassed by her classmates because her mother was a lesbian. Although the school was contacted about the harassment by both the girl’s mother and the mother’s partner, the school refused to believe that any harassment was taking place. The girl has been beaten up at her bus stop and on the bus, and even though the assistant superintendent was notified, still no help was offered. The young girl said she’d rather die than continue going to school. The mother and a BRAVO advocate went to the school and persuaded the principal that intervention was called for. BRAVO also sent resource materials to the school should a similar incident arise in the future.
Another narrative describes a female caller who was attacked and stabbed by a boyfriend of a friend. The caller was referred to BRAVO by the prosecutor on the case. BRAVO referred the caller to a victims’ crime support group, a common pleas advocate, a local food pantry, and BRAVO has provided advocacy throughout the criminal proceedings.
Any help that BRAVO provides has a cost attached to it – not for the client but for the organization itself. BRAVO is funded in part by both government and private grants, and by private and corporate donations.“Our board consists of 15 very active, hands-on individuals who help with our outreach and fund-raising efforts,” says McCauley. That level of commitment is what will allow BRAVO to grow into the organization McCauley envisions – one with field offices around the state, and a staff large enough to handle all the work that BRAVO does.“We have to grow in measured steps,” says McCauley. “If we say we offer outreach services across the state, then we need to have the staff on hand to handle that activity.”
So far, BRAVO has been able to handle all that it does, and to do it well. With its move to the Short North, McCauley dreams of even greater effectiveness, and greater visibility along the way. And, eventually, growth. Of course, the ultimate dream is for there to be no need for BRAVO, no need for a victims service or a violence prevention organization serving the LGBT community.
A gay white male is severely beaten and sent to the hospital by two males who “happened” to be in the same Columbus gay bar as the victim. By the end of the evening, the two men are calling the victim a “fag” and they push him outside the bar, where they continue to beat the victim with liquor bottles. Since the beating, the victim has had his tires slashed and he received a letter stating “watch your back, faggot.” A police report has been filed. No arrests have been made.
Unfortunately, as shown by the examples throughout this story – all drawn from the 2005 NCAVP report – the dream isn’t likely to be realized anytime soon. Even, and maybe especially, in the Short North, BRAVO still has its work cut out for it.
For more information about BRAVO or any of its services, call (614) 294-7867 e-mail email@example.com or visit BRAVO online at www.BRAVO-OHIO.org
©2005 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.