WASHINGTON – On the night of June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed and 53 were injured in a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The shooting has since remained one of the deadliest mass shootings in United States history.
Six years later, efforts to curb gun violence in America and halt the country’s epidemic of mass shootings have reignited in the wake of more recent mass shootings.
Just before noon on Saturday, June 11, thousands of people carrying signs and clad in anti-gun-violence clothing flooded the north lawn of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. across from the White House.
One of those in the crowd was Jessica Mahoney, a young activist with ties to a national past littered with gun violence.
“My close family is from Sandy Hook and, as the sign references, I used this sign four years ago,” Mahoney said. “This has been a very personal issue for me since 2012 when I had to spend over an hour wondering if my cousins were alive or not. I just feel like it’s so important that people are out here that haven’t been personally touched by the issue because I just think that shows that there’s a real movement behind what’s going on.”
Mahoney and her fellow protesters in the crowd were some of the hundreds of thousands more protestors who marched in different cities across the country on that day calling on state and federal lawmakers to pass legislation reforming the nation’s gun laws.
The marches, organized in large part by the youth-led gun violence prevention organization March for Our Lives, were triggered by a sustained national outcry for action following the latest mass shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas and a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York, both in late May. The organization held similar nationwide rallies in 2018 following the Parkland school shooting that led to the group’s inception.
Mahoney described her feelings about having to return to another rally four years later in an effort to address the same issue.
“It’s frustrating and a bit maddening at times to be honest that we still have to do this,” Mahoney said. “But it just seems like there’s more energy every time and so I think that I’m also hopeful about it.”
The issue has been one plaguing Americans in various settings and from various walks of life and has affected those across a spectrum of identities, including the LGBTQ community.
Marking the six-year anniversary of the Pulse shooting in Orlando, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released a statement the day before the March for Our Lives rally.
“Gun violence remains an LGBTQ+ issue, with three-fourths of homicides against transgender people – including nearly eight in ten homicides of Black trans women – involving a gun,” HRC Interim President Joni Madison said in the statement. “Compounding this tragedy is the fact that in the six years since Pulse, we have been unable to advance meaningful federal gun reform legislation.”
But in an effort to prevent future mass killings like those in Parkland, Uvalde, Buffalo, and Orlando, prominent activists have since brought a spotlight to the issue of gun violence in America. Many such activists descended on the grounds of the Washington Monument in the nation’s capital on Saturday to speak to those gathered and amplify their message.
David Hogg, a survivor of the mass shooting on February 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and a founder and board member of March for Our Lives, spoke to the crowd.
“We need to stop these shooters before they get on campus and stop endangering the lives of our first responders, our students, our teachers because people on Capitol Hill don’t want to do their job and protect us,” Hogg said.
Alongside Hogg were a number of other activists and politicians who shared the goal of reducing gun violence in America, including Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush, D-MO 1st District.
Bush described her own proximity to gun violence in calling for action, sharing with the crowd her past escape from such as she ran from an abusive partner who kept firearms in their home.
“When I turned back for a moment, because, ‘Why isn’t he chasing me?’” Bush said. “I turned back, and I saw him standing still, ‘Why is he standing still?’ Next thing I knew, I heard shots.”
Bush believed the near-death experience to be “completely preventable.”
“Closing the boyfriend loophole could’ve saved me from a near-lethal encounter with gun violence,” Bush said. “A red flag law could’ve saved me from a nearly lethal encounter with gun violence.”
Hogg and others took aim at counterarguments from pro-gun entities that have advocated for mental health support rather than gun reform to solve the problem.
“We also must address the fact that mental health does have a role to play in stopping gun violence, but that racism is not a mental illness,” Hogg said. “Hatred, racism, radicalization, xenophobia are not mental illnesses.”
But even at an event meant to highlight what gatherers felt was a need to curb the nation’s scourge of gun violence, the specter of fear and violence remained ubiquitous.
During a moment of silence for the victims of America’s gun violence, a man toward the front of the crowd began to shout and attempted to breach the event’s main stage. A source close to the stage told the Blade that the man threw a megaphone into the crowd while shouting, “I am God.”
Those assembled feared the worst. Due to the size of the crowd that had assembled, rallygoers across the lawn perceived the disturbance to be an active gun threat. Hundreds dropped flat to the ground while others ran from the stage in an attempt to escape the potential violence.
After organizers and police were able to apprehend the disruptor, rally organizers attempted to reconvene the frightened crowd and push forward.
Alert: An individual interfered with a permitted event on the Washington Monument grounds. The individual was detained by officers. No weapons were involved and there is no risk to the public.— USPPNEWS (@usparkpolicepio) June 11, 2022
“Do not run, freeze, do not run,” an organizer said over the sounds of emerging police sirens. “There is no issue here, do not run.”
But the moment of fear clung to many who were present.
Rallygoer Kirsten Hiera witnessed the moment of mass confusion but was unable to flee the scene despite her own fear.
“I was scared but I didn’t want to run away because I’m with someone who’s elderly and I didn’t want to have her be abandoned,” Hiera said. “I felt scared and confused but I didn’t want to abandon my friend.”
As those gathered began to tepidly rise and return to the stage, the organizer proceeded to draw attention back to the focus of the rally, leading a chant exclaiming peace to be a lifestyle.
Exiting the stage toward the end of the rally after the crowd had reconvened, the organizer left them with advice that touched to the core of the movement’s mission – one that, in the wake of tens of thousands of gun deaths in shootings like Orlando, organizers like Hogg have described as not pro-gun or anti-gun, but pro-peace.
“The other thing that I want to say is let’s not give into the hate,” she said. “Let’s not give into the hate. There’s more people who are about love than there is that is about hate.”
D.C.’s Duke Ellington arts school theater not renamed after Chappelle
The renaming was postponed after anti-transgender jokes in Chappelle’s Netflix special “The Closer” sparked controversy
WASHINGTON – The Duke Ellington School for the Arts on Monday officially renamed its theater, but not after Dave Chappelle, the school’s most famous alumni, as had been expected.
The renaming was initially scheduled for Nov. 23, 2021, it was postponed after anti-transgender jokes in Chappelle’s Netflix special “The Closer” sparked controversy. Chappelle himself eventually helped choose a different name for the theater, saying that he did not want students to feel upset with his name being on it, since “the idea that my name will be turned into an instrument of someone else’s perceived oppression is untenable to me.”
The theater is now called the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression, and in an interview with NBC4, Chappelle said that he chose to highlight artistic freedom because “that’s what I would want for myself, and that’s what I want for every student that goes to this school.”
“And I do feel like if that’s threatened, then the society at large is threatened,” Chappelle said. “If artists feel stifled, then everyone’s stifled. And I feel like artists have a responsibility to really be true to their art right now.”
Chappelle has previously included anti-trans jokes in his comedic repertoire.
He has previously made jokes about former President Trump’s decision to ban trans service members from the military and the possibility of Caitlyn Jenner posing nude on the cover of Sports Illustrated. However, in a one-on-one interview with the Washington Blade in August 2017, Chappelle denied being transphobic.
“I wouldn’t consider myself that because I’m not even sure what the term means,” Chappelle said. “I’m not an obstructionist of anybody’s lifestyle, as long as it doesn’t hurt me or people I love and I don’t believe that lifestyle does.”
Chappelle also called North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which prohibited trans people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity as “fucking absurd” and “clearly a mean-spirited law” designed to deny trans people their basic humanity.
While Chappelle has at times defended the LGBTQ community and has denied being transphobic, trans activists and students at the Ellington School alike have expressed discomfort with his apparent lack of understanding and empathy about the ways his jokes harm trans people.
“I appreciate a good joke as much as anyone. But when jokes lead to dehumanization, violence and death aimed at trans people, that’s when a line has been crossed and it has to be called out,” the late-Monica Roberts, a trans activist of color from Houston, said in response to Chappelle’s comments to the Blade.
In light of this controversy, which has only gained more airtime since “The Closer” premiered in 2021, Chappelle chose to take the focus off of himself by supporting an alternate name for the Ellington School’s theater. Currently, students at Duke Ellington — many of whom are LGBTQ — have access to “listening sessions” planned by the administration in which they can air their thoughts about the theater’s renaming.
Vice-President Kamala Harris addresses Capital Pride in D.C.
“We should not have to be dealing with 300 laws in states around our country that are attacking our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters”
WASHINGTON – In a surprise appearance, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke from the main stage of D.C.’s Capital Pride Festival late Sunday afternoon before a crowd of as many as a thousand people who had been watching the Capital Pride concert that had been taking place prior to Harris’ unannounced appearance.
To the delight of the crowd, Ryan Bos, executive director of the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C. Pride events, introduced Harris and her husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, on the stage, drawing thunderous applause.
“Happy Pride everyone!” Harris told the crowd. “Oh, what a glorious day. Listen, we have so much to celebrate, and we celebrate each other every day,” she said.
“We celebrate the progress we have made,” she continued. “And we celebrate the fact that we are in this to stand for what we stand for and fight for what we stand for,” she said.
Also making an unannounced appearance on the festival stage about an hour before Harris’ appearance was D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who expressed her strong support for LGBTQ Pride.
Harris’ appearance at the Capital Pride Festival on Sunday came exactly one year after she and Emhoff joined hundreds of LGBTQ participants in D.C.’s Capital Pride Walk as it reached 13th Street, N.W., near Freedom Plaza, becoming the first U.S. vice president to participate in an LGBTQ Pride event.
Her unannounced appearance in last year’s Pride Walk came as a surprise to the Capital Pride organizers as well as to the delighted onlookers who saw Harris and her husband join the walk, which was an abridged version of the Capital Pride Parade that had been cancelled in 2021 as it had in 2020 due to the pandemic.
In her short speech on Sunday, Harris referred to the Pulse nightclub shooting exactly six years ago in Orlando, Fla., which took the lives of 49 mostly LGBTQ people, saying, “no one should fear going to a nightclub for fear that a terrorist might try to take them down.”
She also referred to the nearly 300 anti-LGBTQ laws under consideration or that have passed in states around the country.
“We will always be fueled by knowing we have so much more in common than what separates us,” she told the cheering crowd. “We will be fueled by saying no one will be made to fight alone. We will be fueled by knowing we are all in this together,” she said. “And we will fight with pride. Happy Pride everyone!”
Observers familiar with D.C.’s Capital Pride Festival, which was held this year for the first time since 2019 due to pandemic restrictions, said it appeared to have attracted one of the largest turnouts ever, with several hundred thousand people in attendance throughout the day. Like past years, the festival took place on a four-block section of Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., between Third and Seventh Streets.
More than 270 organizations or businesses registered to set up a booth at the festival, according to a list released by Capital Pride Alliance. Many of the organizations and businesses participating in the festival had also marched or road in vehicles or on floats in the Capital Pride Parade one day earlier.
Bos said there were about 245 contingents in the parade on Saturday, about the same number that participated in the 2019 Capital Pride Parade, the last one held since this year. But those familiar with the 2019 parade and those held in earlier years said they believed this year’s parade attracted more spectators than in past years, most likely because LGBTQ people, like so many others, wanted to join the celebration after the two-year hiatus brought about by COVID.
Full text of Harris’s remarks:
“Happy Pride everyone! Oh, what a glorious day. Listen, we have so much to celebrate, and we celebrate each other every day. We celebrate the progress we have made. And we celebrate the fact that we are in this to stand for what we stand for and fight for what we stand for.
Because no one should fear going to a nightclub for fear that a terrorist might try to take them down. No one should fear going to a Pride celebration because of a white supremacist. No one should fear loving who they love. Our children in Texas and Florida should not fear who they are. Black and brown and women of color, transgender women cannot fear for their lives.
We should not have to be dealing with 300 laws in states around our country that are attacking our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. For we know what we stand for and therefore we know what we will fight for. And we will do what we have always done in this movement, in this community, which is collectively, we will continue to build unity. We will continue to build coalitions.
We will always be fueled by knowing we have so much more in common than what separates us. We will be fueled by saying no one will be made to fight alone. We will be fueled by knowing we are all in this together. And we will fight with pride. Happy Pride everyone.”
Plea bargain: 7 month sentence in homophobic attack in Washington D.C.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office thoroughly investigated and analyzed the facts and provided what we determined to be an appropriate plea offer”
WASHINGTON – A D.C. Superior Court judge on Thursday sentenced District resident Patrick Trebat, 39, to seven months in jail following a dramatic court hearing in which a gay Asian man, Sean Lai, described how Trebat assaulted him and his parents while shouting homophobic and anti-Asian slurs in an unprovoked attack last August on a Northwest D.C. street.
The sentencing came after Trebat pleaded guilty during the same hearing to three counts of misdemeanor simple assault, with one of the counts designated as a hate crime based on the victim’s ethnicity. The guilty plea was part of a plea bargain offer by prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C.
In exchange for Trebat accepting the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop two earlier felony charges of bias-related assault with significant bodily injury brought against Trebat in connection with the attack on Lai and his parents.
Judge Michael O’Keefe officially sentenced Trebat to 21 months of incarceration for the three charges, but suspended all but seven months of the sentence. O’Keefe also sentenced Trebat to three years of supervised probation upon his release, with the stipulation that he will be required to serve the full 21 months if he violates the terms of his probation.
Trebat, who had been released on a partial home detention order shortly after his arrest just under 10 months ago, was placed in immediate custody and escorted out of the courtroom by U.S. marshals after the conclusion of the sentencing part of the hearing to begin serving his sentence.
In delivering a victim’s impact statement in the courtroom, Lai told O’Keefe that in addition to inflicting physical injuries on him and his parents that required emergency treatment at a hospital, Trebat’s attack on his family caused deep emotional scars that continues to haunt all three of them.
He said he objects to the plea bargain deal on grounds, among other things, that it does not designate Trebat’s violent attack as a hate crime based on Lai’s sexual orientation, only on his and his parents’ ethnicity.
Court records show that Trebat attacked Lai and his elderly parents, who are of Chinese ancestry, as they were walking on a street in the city’s Observatory Circle neighborhood near where they were living and within sight of the Washington National Cathedral.
Police charging documents filed in court state that Trebat called the three victims “faggots” and shouted, “You are not Americans” as he approached them while they were walking along the 3700 block of Fulton Street, N.W. at about 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 7, 2021. One of the documents says Trebat punched and shoved the three victims, knocking each of them to the ground, after initially punching Lai’s father in the head from behind while shouting, “Get out of my country.”
“As painful as it is to relive this moment when this atrocious attack took place, I choose to be here today because I wanted you to hear my own voice and perspective, as well as the perspective from my parents,” Lai told the judge. “The defendant attacked me and my elderly parents without provocation, motivated simply by his hatred toward our race and my sexual orientation,” Lai continued.
“But what breaks my heart the most is what was done to my parents,” he said. “I had to take them each to several orthopedics appointments over the following months. I secretly cried in my bed each night after seeing the pain that was inflicted on them and the psychological trauma that they experienced.”
Gay D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Mike Silverstein followed Lai by delivering an LGBTQ community impact statement before the court on behalf of the city’s ANC LGBTQ Rainbow Caucus, the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, and what Silverstein said was Lai’s request that he speak on behalf of the Asian and Pacific Islander community.
“Thank you, Your Honor, for the opportunity to give this victim’s impact statement,” Silverstein said. “And please forgive me for the next 13 words, which were not mine,” he said.
“’Fuck you bitch!’ ‘Faggot!’ ‘You are not Americans! Get out of this country!’”
“Those were the 13 words Patrick Trebat shouted at Sean Lai and his elderly mother and father just before Mr. Trebat physically attacked them without provocation,” said Silverstein as courtroom spectators listened intently.
“As members of the LGBT+ community, we feel this was an attack on every one of us,” Silverstein continued. “It was a direct attack on our right to exist and to live openly in the District of Columbia. We respectfully ask the court to issue the maximum jail sentence so that our community can feel that we are protected, and that we need not live in fear that those who would do us harm will get off easy,” he said.
After asking Trebat to confirm that he fully understands and agrees to the terms of the plea offer, O’Keefe invited Trebat to give his own statement just prior to the sentencing.
Trebat, who was dressed in a suit and tie, offered his “deepest apologies” to Lai and Lai’s parents, who were not present in the courtroom. Trebat said he was intoxicated on alcohol and drugs at the time of the incident and had no recollection of what happened.
“I was legitimately out of my mind that night,” the told the judge. He said alcohol and prescription drugs caused him to engage in “stupid” acts. “I am sorry for the shame I brought to my parents, to American University, and to the victims,” he added.
He was referring to his status as a graduate student at American University at the time of his arrest. The university later expelled him from his enrollment there after American University students protested that he had initially been allowed to continue his studies following a hate crime arrest.
“This event was not personal. I ’m not a racist,” he said. “I take full accountability for what happened. I’m a changed person.”
Trebat’s attorney, Brandi Harden, asked O’Keefe to sentence Trebat to only a suspended jail term and a stringent term of probation rather than incarceration, saying that he suffers from and has long been treated for mental health issues, which would be worsened if he were to be sent to jail.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Platt, the lead prosecutor in the case, expressed opposition to Harden’s request, telling the judge that Trebat was already receiving a “significant benefit” from the plea offer.
“We don’t dispute that the defendant was intoxicated,” Platt said. But he added that the plea deal includes a provision for mental health and substance abuse treatment and that Trebat needs to be held responsible for his actions.
“This was part of hate crimes against Asians across the country,” Platt told O’Keefe before providing statistics of the violent hate crime attacks against Asian Americans nationwide. “This type of attack will not be tolerated,” he said.
Although Platt acknowledged that Trebat also hurled homophobic slurs at Lai and his parents during the attack, he did not explain why prosecutors chose not to include a hate crime designation pertaining to sexual orientation in the plea bargain offer.
“I believe he is remorseful,” O’Keefe said in handing down his sentence. “But there has to be some punishment,” he said. “You have been shamed, and that is part of the penalty,” O’Keefe added. “It was your own actions that brought this on … I think this sentence strikes a good balance.”
In response to a request by the Washington Blade for comment on why prosecutors decided to reduce the severity of the charges against Trebat through the plea agreement and did not include sexual orientation in the hate crime designation, U.S. Attorney spokesperson William Miller sent a brief statement to the Blade.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office thoroughly investigated and analyzed the facts and circumstances of this case and provided what we determined to be an appropriate plea offer,” the statement says. “We extend a plea offer in almost every case charged in Superior Court,” it says.
“The plea offer extended in this case included a bias enhancement,” the statement continues. “Our office is committed to fully prosecuting bias-related crimes and held this defendant accountable for his appalling conduct.”
The texts of the victim’s impact statement delivered in court by Lai and the community impact statement given by Silverstein can be viewed below:
U.S. v. Trebat
Victim Impact Statement
By: Sean Xiangwen Lai
Thank you for the opportunity to give my victim impact statement. I have gathered the courage to stand before you today at this hearing, to tell the court and my community about the defendant’s assault on me and my elderly parents, and the suffering we have endured as a result of his horrific actions. As painful as it is to relive the moment when this atrocious attack took place, I choose to be here today because I wanted you to hear my own voice and perspective, as well as the perspective from my parents.
The defendant attacked me and my elderly parents without provocation, motivated simply by his hatred toward our race and my sexual orientation. We were walking on the streets of our neighborhood, enjoying our time outdoors during this unprecedented time when being outside of our home was a small joy of which we could take advantage. We were defenseless, feeling what we thought was secure so close to our home, when he assaulted us, beating up my parents and me. I am here today to tell the court in person that a man who would do this to an innocent family deserves the maximum prison sentence and does not deserve the leniency he has already received from the plea bargain offered by the prosecutors, which my family and I have expressed is very disappointing.
Last August, my parents and I were taking a walk in our neighborhood, very near our home. It was a beautiful Saturday night, but little did we know that our lives would be changed forever that night. “Fuck you bitch! Faggot! You are not Americans! Get out of this country!” were the words the defendant yelled at us before he punched my dad in his head with a closed fist from behind causing him to fall to the ground. When my mom and I hurried over to help my dad, the defendant attacked us as well. As a result of the fall my dad took when the defendant attacked him, my dad suffered a fracture to the bone of his left wrist and both of his knees were injured; my right pinky finger was fractured; and my mom’s right shoulder muscle was torn. All of us had bruises and cuts on all over our bodies. He appeared to get scared as I started yelling loudly for help on our quiet neighborhood street. He stopped attacking us and attempted to leave. As he was trying to flee the scene, I yelled at him: “This is a hate crime. You are not getting away with this.” He stopped, turned around and smirked at me saying “Oh, I will!”
This frightening image of his maliciousness and remorselessness has played repeatedly in my worst nightmares ever since. And he remained unrepentant, even after he was arrested. With blood dripping from my mouth, I tried to explain what happened to the responding police officer at the scene. Handcuffed and detained, this man was still yelling at me saying “Shut the fuck up. Drama queen!” right in front of the police officer.
Not a day goes by that what my parents and I suffered does not interfere with our lives. I had to take several weeks away from work and lost countless nights of sleep. I spoke to a therapist for several months and I am still working through the trauma inflicted on me. Even now I can feel the pain in my right pinky finger, which serves an enduring reminder I cannot ignore. I continue to live in fear for being who I am: An openly gay Asian man.
But, what breaks my heart the most is what was done to my parents. I had to take them each to several orthopedics appointments over the following months. I secretly cried in my bed each night after seeing the pain that was inflicted on them and the psychological trauma that they experienced. For a long time, my mom was afraid to even walk on the street in the middle of the day, still afraid an attack could happen at any time. My dad still has pain in his wrist and both his knees.
I strongly believe that the attacker thought that he could easily get away with what he did, avoiding any severe punishment, based on his unrepentant words and behaviors following the attack and his arrest. And the plea deal proves that it was just a slap on the wrist for the hate crime he committed against me and my elderly parents. We have repeatedly expressed the frustration on the plea deal to the prosecutors. Three counts of simple assault with only one hate crime enhancement on national origin are simply unacceptable.
Therefore, I respectfully request that the court serve justice and issue the maximum jail sentence, which I believe is the right thing to do and will show the community that unprovoked violence against defenseless members of the community will not be tolerated, and that no one in the District of Columbia should live in fear of being targeted simply because of who they are.
U.S. v. Trebat
Community Impact Statement
By: Mike Silverstein, ANC Commissioner
I am offering this on behalf of 16 other openly LGBT+ elected D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, and on behalf of the DC Center for LGBT. Sean Lai has asked me to speak for our community, and the AAPI community. As someone who was Bar Mitzvah at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, this takes on a special urgency to me.
Thank you, Your Honor, for the opportunity to give this victim impact statement. And please forgive me for the next 13 words, for they were not mine….
“Fuck you bitch!”
“You are not Americans! Get out of this country!”
Those were the 13 words Patrick Trebat shouted at Sean Lai and his elderly mother and father just before Mr. Trebat physically attacked them without provocation.
As they were out for a walk, the Lai family was beaten for no reason other than their race and Sean’s sexual orientation.
As members of the LGBT+ community, we feel this was an attack on every one of us. It was a direct attack on our right to exist and to live openly in the District of Columbia.
We respectfully ask the court to issue the maximum jail sentence so that our community can feel that we are protected, and that we need not live in fear that those who would do us harm will get off easy. The maximum sentence will deter others from committing this brutal crime on our community and it will show the community that it is never open season on Asian Americans or LGBT+ people or anyone.
What happened to Sean and his parents reminds our community that violence against us — for being ourselves — can happen anywhere at any time: San Francisco City Hall, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the Atlanta shooting targeting Asians, an arson fire at a queer nightclub in New York City a month ago and all those unprovoked attacks on streets and subways against Asian Americans in the past two years.
Violent hate crimes are a plague upon our nation. What’s next? The defendants’ assault on Sean and his family is part of this ongoing horror.
Despite the progress we have made as a community, the LGBT+ community is still at risk, especially minorities. Murders of trans people have reached epic proportions. And here, this unspeakable attack on an Asian American and his family began with homophobic slurs.
Sean Lai is openly and proudly gay. He is proud of his Asian heritage.
He was attacked because of who he is — and that is who we are: Members of a minority, supposedly protected by law against discrimination and violence.
This brutal attack has deeply impacted and harmed us in many ways:
What happened to Sean brought back bad memories to nearly all of us, and fear and nightmares to some of us. So many of us spent years hiding who we are for fear of rejection and out of fear for our safety. Those of us who were in the closet kept silent as members of our community were bullied or attacked.
Those who have been bullied or attacked will always remember what happened to us. It becomes a part of us. Some in our community — especially our trans siblings — often do not walk alone in parts of D.C. or at certain times of the day because they don’t feel safe unless they are with someone else. Each of us must deal with the emotional harm individually — and attacks like this one — out of the blue, on a pleasant summer evening — in the shadow of the National Cathedral — triggers us in so many ways.
We are sickened and angered by the incidents of physical violence against our community and we are tired of being overlooked or silenced. We are especially angered by the process of the criminal justice system.
To begin, this was an irrational, unprovoked attack on Sean and his family – and the community is extremely disappointed that the defendant was not detained pending the outcome of this case.
Sean and the LGBT+ community have waited months for closure in this criminal case, only to be here today to listen to a plea deal on misdemeanor charges. A victim of another hate crime in DC several years ago may have put it best, when she said, “when you bargain away the hate crime enhancement, you bargain away part of my soul.”
I also want to address the fact that, with respect to the crimes against Sean, the defendant was never charged with a hate crime enhancement with respect to sexual orientation; and, the crime that the defendant pled guilty to did not include any hate crime enhancement at all – just simple assault. Sean has repeatedly expressed to the prosecutors how important it is that the hate crime enhancements be included for both national origin and sexual orientation. Our community is disappointed that the defendant was not charged with a hate crime based on sexual orientation because a gay person was called “bitch” and “faggot,” physically assaulted, injured. If that’s not a hate crime based on sexual orientation, what is?
A sentence without significant jail time will leave members of the LGBT+ and Asian American community even more victimized, vulnerable and distrustful of the criminal justice system.
We are here today to implore the court to impose a sentence that will send a clear message that violence against people for who they are will not be tolerated.
We must stop Asian hate. We must stop violence against the LGBT+ community. We must stop violence against all people who are attacked because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or whatever. This epidemic of hatred and madness and violence is tearing our nation and our community apart. We must not live in fear, one of another.
We request a long jail sentence that shows that this court affirms the right of every person in the District of Columbia to live honestly, openly, and without fear.
We ask that the court provide justice for Sean and his family, the Asian-Pacific community, and the LGBT+ community. Thank you.
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