Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Alabama Lesbian Attacked by a Dozen, But She Alone Was Arrested

Laura Gilbert, lesbian injured in bar attack

Opelika, Alabama – A 25-year-old lesbian was assaulted by a dozen assailants outside a local bar after a birthday party last week in an alleged hate crime, but law enforcement officers arrested only her.  Laura Gilbert asserts that from the moment she went into The Villa, a bar on the outskirts of Opelika in Lee County, she felt uneasy. On February 2, Gilbert accompanied her friend from high school days, Sheila Siddall, to celebrate her birthday by singing karaoke.  Gilbert told WRBL News, “As soon as we walked in the bar, I felt uncomfortable, I felt everybody staring at us, but you know, it was her birthday, I didn’t want to ruin it for her.”  The victim says she had never been to the bar before, but had concerns that, as a lesbian, she would not be welcome there. Her fears were confirmed as the two women left the premises.  According to Gilbert and Sidall, a woman approached them and started a fight. The altercation grew to include a gang of ten women and two men.  One of the men shouted at Gilbert, “If you want to look like a man, you can get hit like a man!” Rather than being punched to the ground, Gilbert fought back to defend herself. Siddall immediately called 911, but the Lee County Sheriff’s Deputies who responded to the emergency call after the fight was over singled Gilbert out, arresting her for public intoxication and disorderly conduct. No one else has been charged or arrested. “They didn’t take our side of the story,” Gilbert told WRBL. “They took their side of the story, and then all of a sudden, they come up behind me and tell me to put my hands behind my back, that I’m going to jail.”  Though witnesses reported that many other participants in the attack were just as intoxicated as Gilbert, she was the only person charged and taken off to jail. The victim was badly bruised, and her eye was severely blackened in the assault, as photographs taken at the time attest. Now Gilbert and Siddall are pushing back, saying that the attack was motivated by anti-lesbian bias, and that this prejudice against Gilbert’s sexual orientation is the motive for law enforcement siding with the attackers.  Sidall, who is heterosexual, says that not only did the Lee County Sheriff’s Deputies neglect to take statements from her and her lesbian friend–the deputies were “laughing and cutting up” with the drunken perpetrators.  Sheriff Jay Jones says that the “hate crime box” was not checked off at the time of the incident, so that must mean that no hate crime occurred. Alabama, however, is one of only five states in the nation that has no hate crimes protections for LGBTQ people.  The Alabama hate crimes statute only recognizes bias against race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability.  Sexual orientation and gender identity and expression are not protected under Alabama law, so it is doubtful that law enforcement officers would have acknowledged an anti-gay or lesbian hate crime that would not count in the state.  Sheriff Jones, when questioned by WRBL reporters said that it was clear “something” had happened to the lesbian at The Villa, and belatedly offered to investigate further and issue warrants if he deems they are due. The Dallas Voice reports that both Siddall and Gilbert have since filed separate reports on the attack, but that no one in law enforcement has bothered to interview them. Gilbert,who is recovering from her injuries, summed up her situation to WRBL reporters: “I’m an American just like the rest of us are. I have rights. I have the same rights as y’all do, supposedly, but people from here don’t look at it that way.”  States without protections for LGBTQ people typically report far fewer hate crimes incidents than those that do have such hate crimes laws. Comparable states in population like Alabama and Connecticut illustrate the point.  In 2009, Alabama reported only nine hate crimes statewide. Connecticut, during the same period, recorded over 200.  The Opelika bar attack is stirring debate on the need for “Sweet Home Alabama” to expand its hate crimes protections so that its residents may be justly treated–finally.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Alabama, Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, gay bashing, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Slurs and epithets | , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments


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