An angry response to a Nebraska hate crime

Charles Holm and Nicole Colson report on a savage attack against a woman in Lincoln, Neb.--and the outpouring of anger the crime provoked.

Hundreds of people gathered in Lincoln, Neb., for a candlelight vigil for a hate crime victim (Ricardo Hernandez)Hundreds of people gathered in Lincoln, Neb., for a candlelight vigil for a hate crime victim (Ricardo Hernandez)

UPDATE: In August, it was reported that doubt had been cast on the victim's claims, with police alleging the victim's injuries may have been self-inflicted.

A BRUTAL anti-gay hate crime in Lincoln, Neb., drew out more than 500 people to a vigil on the evening of July 22 to stand in defense of the victim and against anti-LGBT bigotry.

In the early morning hours of July 22, the victim, whose name is being withheld, was tortured and mutilated in her home by three masked men. A friend of the victim told the Lincoln Journal Star that the attackers barged in, bound her wrists and ankles with zip ties, cut her all over her body and carved homophobic slurs into her skin, before dumping gasoline on her floor and lighting it with a match.

There is speculation that the men intended to set the victim on fire, but the gasoline didn't keep burning. The attackers also spray painted "We found u Dyke" on a wall inside the woman's house.

The victim, naked and bleeding, with her hands still bound, was able to escape and crawl to a neighbor's house, where paramedics and police were called. "I was in shock," the neighbor told CNN. "She was naked, her hands were tied with zip ties. All I could see was a cut across her forehead and blood running down."

The woman had recently lost her job and was spending time volunteering with children, the neighbor said--but "through that job someone let her know that she had no business working with children because she was a lesbian."

The attack has been classified by police as a hate crime.

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IN LESS than 24 hours, community activists organized a vigil through Facebook that was shared with more than 10,000 people online. Even before the planned start time, more than 100 people had gathered at the Nebraska Capitol building in Lincoln to stand in solidarity with the victim and against homophobia. Activists were stunned to see such a turnout, with the crowd growing so large that it spilled out into the street.

The feeling of the crowd was empowering. Attendees--many of whom carried rainbow flags and candles--spoke of plans for a march, or building an organization to raise national awareness of this crime. Clergy, students, downtown employees and members of Nebraska's LGBT activist community came together and are now ready to continue fighting for justice and equality.

"All of us have a sister who is now hurting, whether you know her or not," activist Beth Rigatuso, told the crowd. "It's not right. And it will never, ever...be right."

In her comments to the crowd, Rigatuso also recalled the case of Brandon Teena--a transgender man from Lincoln who was raped and murdered for being transgender in 1993.

Tyler Richard, president of Outlinc, an LGBT community center, told KVNO News, "I hope that people walk away and know that...we are not going to stand around and be bullied, not by politicians, not by people who live in the community. We are a community that will come together, that will rise up and that we will be strong and we will stay strong."

The outpouring of support and anger at the vigil comes on the heels of Lincoln's recent Pride festival, Star City Pride, and the passage by the City Council two months ago of a "fairness amendment" that would ban discrimination in housing and employment based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

During the debate over the amendment, former Lincoln Police Chief Tom Casady, who spoke in favor of the amendment, cited 34 reported hate crimes against LGBT people in the previous five years and alluded to others that had likely gone unreported. Casady stated that passage of the ordinance would help define the "limits of behavior this community finds tolerable."

Despite passage by the City Council, however, the right wing organized a petition drive that obtained enough signatures to put the measure up for a vote. The bigots hope to overturn the measure in November.

Homophobia and discrimination have been the status quo in Nebraska politics for a long time. Now it has resulted in an attack motivated by a hate crime so brutal it is hard to imagine. But there is a fightback brewing, and we can hope that the large turnout at the recent vigil is a sign of things to come.