Violence against gay, lesbian residents sparks new group

Project Resistance members discuss ways to keep city safe

Lawrence has a reputation as a progressive and accepting community.

Organizers of the newly formed group Project Resistance agree with that description, and they want the city to stay that way.

The group was formed to focus on an issue organizers say has not received much attention in Lawrence: incidents of violence directed towards members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

The group met Aug. 7 at Lawrence Public Library to gauge interest in the Lawrence community for the project.

As the library conference room filled up and chairs were brought in from other rooms, it was clear that there was significant interest in Project Resistance.

Project Resistance organizer Ailecia Ruscin became involved after hearing about several violent incidents in the community.

“We wanted to react in some way,” Ruscin said. “We want people to know that Lawrence is a queer-friendly place.”

Ideas discussed to make Lawrence safer included patrols to ensure safety late at night and outreach to other community organizations.

Several at the meeting spoke of an assault earlier this summer on a man and a woman outside the Replay Lounge. The Journal-World was unable to reach the victims of the assault, and organizers said they did not want to speak publicly about the incident.

Not wanting to go public in such instances is not unique, said Beth Savitzky, who attended the meeting. Savitzky is the outreach and education coordinator for the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project, an organization that provides case management services to gay, bisexual and transgender persons who become victims of violence.

“(There is) a fear of repercussion,” said Savitzky about victims of violence based on perceived or actual sexual orientation.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, two crimes based on sexual orientation were reported for Lawrence since 2003 – one in 2003 and one in 2006.

Kansas University also keeps such statistics. It recorded one incident in 2005 and two in 2001.

Ryan Campbell, executive director of Kansas University’s Queers and Allies organization, said he doesn’t hear much about violence against students based on sexual orientation.

“Rarely do we hear about it,” said Campbell, who called Lawrence and KU a “very tolerant atmosphere” for the gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Nonetheless, Sonja Heath, another organizer of Project Resistance, said the group plans to send out a message that it has zero tolerance for such violence.

“We want a presence in the community that makes it clear we won’t tolerate (violence),” Heath said.

Project Resistance’s next meeting will be at 7 p.m. today at the Eastside People’s Market, 409 E. 12th St.