Community Groups Respond to Assault on Lesbian Woman in Grand Junction

Community Forum on hate violence to be held at Colorado Mesa University

Grand Junction, CO – Just after midnight on the morning of February 17, 20-year old Colorado Mesa University college football player Shane Williams physically assaulted Chelsea Gallagher, a lesbian woman, outside of a local Grand Junction bar due to his alleged homophobic bias. Gallagher, who was knocked out cold when Williams threw her to the ground, suffered severe injuries including a fractured skull and bleeding from the ear resulting in an ICU stay over the weekend. Witnesses reported the initial altercation started when Williams’ friend shouted homophobic slurs at Gallagher, Gallagher’s girlfriend, and their two friends. The Mesa County District Attorney’s Office is considering a bias-motivated crime enhancement to Williams’ second-degree assault, underage drinking, and fake I.D. charges.

Unfortunately, the attack on Gallagher is not an isolated incident. A 2010 survey of 4,600 lesbians, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Coloradans, conducted by One Colorado Education Fund, found that 63 percent of LGBT people living in Mesa County have experienced verbal abuse as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Twelve percent have experienced physical abuse simply because of who they are.

Additionally, in 2010, the Colorado Anti-Violence Program (CAVP) received 87 reports of anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) violence from across the state. “Bias-motivated crimes are different from other crimes in that they are meant to send a message to an entire community, in this case, the LGBTQ community, that we do not have a right to be safe in our own town. Pervasive and deep homophobia in our culture creates the conditions for this type of violence. We all need to do the work of creating a shift in eliminating the root causes of bias-motivated violence,” stated Nicole Hurt, CAVP Board Member.

Despite Colorado’s inclusive state hate crimes laws, LGBTQ people continue to be targeted, often with life-threatening violence. “Given this reality, it’s critical we commit adequate time, resources and money towards hate violence prevention strategies that center the leadership and experiences of the LGBTQ community as well as ensure victim service agencies are responsive to the needs of LGBTQ survivors,” stated Jerry Shelton, Western Equality Board President

Western Equality, now in its 20th year, has a long history of working within and around the Grand Valley community to support the LGBT communities. It supports numerous special and monthly events through various organizations under its umbrella such as Transcend, Men’s Group, Women’s Social Network, PFLAG and Maneuvers, the recently formed youth group. They support the community by working with other organizations in Grand Valley to combat homelessness and violence. “We work very hard to reach out to our community and larger Grand Valley community to foster an environment of acceptance and support,” said Jerry Shelton, Western Equality Board President.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ (NCAVP) 2010 Anti-LGBTQ Hate Violence report showed a 13% increase in anti-LGBTQ hate violence incidents from 2009 to 2010, as well as a much greater increase in the severity of violence. NCAVP documented 27 known murders in 2010, the second highest rate ever recorded by the coalition (Full report available at www.avp.org).

Many in Grand Junction and the greater LGBT communities in Colorado are working to organize a community response to the assault. Faculty, staff and student leaders are hosting a community forum next Tuesday, March 6 from 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm to start the conversation about hate crimes and anti-violence on campus. The forum will include a panel of speakers from the campus, LGBT community and LGBT advocacy groups. The event will be held at Colorado Mesa University in Houston 204. The campus is located at 1100 North Avenue in Grand Junction. For more information contact Dr. Sarah L. Swedberg, Campus Gay Straight Alliance Advisor at 970-248-1024 or sswedber@coloradomesa.edu.

“Everyone should feel safe in their community. All Coloradans, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, should be free to live their lives without the fear of violence. Going forward, we must work together to send a message, across Mesa County and our state, that violence against our neighbors is never acceptable,” said Heidi Hess, Western Slope Organizer for One Colorado, a statewide LGBT advocacy organization.