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Hate crime training touches on bullying, bias

Apr 8, 2012 - By Joshua Scheer, Staff Writer

Learning about hate crime victims and how best to work with them was the focus of an all-day training session in Riverton.

Individuals from the FBI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of Justice and the Northern Arapaho Tribe attended the meeting March 29 in Central Wyoming College's Rural Justice Training Center.

The day included presentations that taught law enforcement how to respond to hate crimes, about the resources available to victims and what can be done to protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.

Two spirits

A couple of presentations focused on the LGBT individuals on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Layha Spoonhunter address participants about his research into "two-spirited people" that he is doing for his capstone course at Wind River Tribal College.

"Two-spirits have cross-gender roles," Spoonhunter said

He said that in some tribes, these people are regarded in high standing. He gave a brief overview of the history of two-spirited people in America and detailed the murders of Fred Martinez and Matthew Shepard.

Martinez was a 16-year-old Navajo boy who was murdered in 2001 in Cortez, Colo., for expressing a feminine nature. Shepard was a University of Wyoming student who died in 1998 after being brutally beaten.

He also spoke of the first few American Indian two-spirited people who served in politics and said two tribes in Oregon and Washington allow same-sex marriage.

In his research, Spoonhunter said he found evidence of two-spirits in the Northern Arapaho Tribe, but he hadn't been able to locate a history of them within the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.

The 2011 suicide of New York teen Jamey Rodemeyer inspired him to fight against hatred of the LGBT community.

"I cannot speak names, but I do know some are closeted due to shame," Spoonhunter said.

Safe zones

He said he wants to push the state to recognize sexual orientation when it comes to bullying and would like to see support groups and safe zones established on the reservation.

"This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart," he said.

Two students in CWC's Gay Straight Alliance also spoke during the training. Much of their talk involved domestic abuse situations between LGBT couples.

CWC student Chris Cesko said it's possible that law enforcement could respond to a call between two men that is actually a domestic abuse situation, but the men may deny they're in a relationship.

He added that there are no local shelters where an abused gay man can be taken, and CWC student Mikki Moriarity questioned whether an abused lesbian would be comfortable being sent to a battered women's shelter.

Cesko said he has been the victim of both emotionally and physically abusive relationships.

"It was very destructive," he said. "The cops were never called on us. I never stopped to think, 'I'm in an abusive relationship.'"

Cesko said same-sex domestic abuse attacks are often not reported because neither of the parties involved wants to be outed.

"It could end up in the newspaper," he said.

Earlier in the day, a sheriff's deputy from Colorado, Ezekiel Rankin, spoke on the same issue from a law enforcement perspective.

"Protect the victim's identity whenever possible," he said. "They don't want to call you anyway. Understand these people have suffered enough."

Cesko said law enforcement personnel who had questions about addressing LGBT individuals were welcome to attend GSA meetings.

"Despite whatever your personal preferences ... we are human beings," Cesko said.

Solutions

The final session of the day was used to brainstorm solutions to hate crime problems on the reservation.

"I think it would be positive to have programs in the schools," said one BIA officer, clarifying a group like GSA could be helpful.

One woman with connections to the Fort Washakie Charter High School said the students are very supportive of each other, but she doesn't see any administration member providing a safe zone for two-spirited people like a previous superintendent had.

Department of Justice representative Rosa Salamanca, leader of the discussion, said that often youth are afraid of being harassed when dealing with law enforcement.

A BIA officer said it has been difficult for the Wind River Police to do any outreach with the small staff they've had in recent years.

"Sometimes they feel we are not doing our job," he said.

He added that more officers have been able to make a more positive contact with youth.

A community member suggested that churches be approached for help designating safe zones, and Spoonhunter argued for creating a new youth organization.

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