Press

Task Force Asks Attorney General Reno To Take Action On Oregon Killings

Date: 
December 13, 1995

Citing the recent murders of two lesbian activists in Medford, OR, and a tragic history of violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in other states with anti-gay ballot initiatives, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) has asked U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to lend federal assistance in investigating and stopping homophobic homicides.

"We are writing to inform you of a situation which unfortunately is becoming too commonplace in our country and to seek your assistance in helping protect the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people," said the three-page letter, faxed to Reno's office today. "As you may be aware by now, two women were murdered 'execution style' in Medford, Oregon last week. While the specific circumstances of this case are not yet known, we are concerned that these seemingly calculated murders were motivated by hatred toward gays and lesbians."

Roxanne Ellis and Michelle Abdill, both openly lesbian activists and upstanding community citizens, were abducted on Monday, December 4. On Thursday, December 8, the bodies of Ellis, 54, and Abdill, 42, were found in a pick-up truck in Medford. Local media reports indicate the two were bound before being shot side-by-side in the head at close range.

Ellis and Abdill were prominently involved with the local chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and their community church. Both played highly visible leadership roles in the battle against Measure 13. The measure, sponsored by the Oregon Citizens Alliance, was defeated in November 1994. The police are investigating the killings as hate crimes but have not confirmed them as such yet. The murders have rocked the Medford/Ashland area, which lies near the California border.

"Our concern is that however the facts in this case turn out, hate crimes against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons continue to be an epidemic in this country," said the letter. "In the atmosphere of hatred and gay-baiting which are expected to be waged by the Far Right during next year's anti-gay ballot and legislative state initiatives, it is clear that such crimes will increase."

The letter went on to detail the rise in anti-gay violence, especially in states with homophobic initiatives. The ballot initiatives are designed to overturn existing protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and prohibit such protections in the future. Typically accompanying the measures is a wave of incendiary propaganda -- ranging from charges of child molestation to "special rights" to bestiality and "AIDS spreaders"-- disseminated by initiative sponsors to persuade voters to support the measures.

In the letter, signed by NGLTF executive director Melinda Paras, the Task Force asks the Department of Justice to monitor the situation in Medford and, if possible, "lend assistance to local law enforcement in assuring the collection of all information necessary to determine whether or not this was a hate crime." The letter also states, "We strongly urge you [Reno] to consider the possibility of having local FBI or other federal offices in states with anti-gay and lesbian initiatives or legislation be on alert for increased violence and civil rights violations against our communities."

The record of anti-gay hate violence in initiative states and nationwide includes:

From January 1992 to early December 1994, a total of 151 known anti-gay murders were reported to gay victim assistance groups nationwide. This includes 59 murders in 1994; 62 in 1993; and 30 in 1992. "One way to look at this data," said the letter to Reno, "is that in the years since anti-gay initiatives emerged on the scene in Oregon, Colorado, Idaho and Maine, and made national headlines, anti-gay murders have almost doubled.

In 1992, the Lesbian Community Project in Portland, OR, tallied 968 incidents of anti-gay violence, more than any other gay victim service agency in the U.S. in that year. Measure 9, defeated by voters, was introduced in Oregon in 1992 by the Oregon Citizens Alliance and included sensationalistic rhetoric such as bestiality and other homosexual "perversities." Hattie Mae Cohen, a lesbian, and Brian Mock, a gay man, were killed when their home in Oregon was firebombed during the 1992 ballot battle.

Reports of anti-gay violence in Colorado rose 129 percent from 1991, when 89 such incidents were documented, to 1992, with 204 reports recorded. Colorado's Amendment 2 passed in 1992. In November and December immediately following the vote, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Colorado received 40 percent of its bias violence reports for 1992. "The homophobic kindling laid during the [Amendment 2] campaign exploded into a series of violent incidents," explained the letter to Reno.

Most recently, the Maine Gay and Lesbian Political Alliance (MGLPA) reported at least 10 known anti-gay incidents between June and October 1995, the height of the anti-gay Measure One campaign. The measured was sponsored by Concerned Maine Families. By contrast, MGLPA reported only four such incidents in all of 1994. During the week after the initiative was defeated, yard signs by Maine Won't Discriminate, the group that fought the measure, were found with bullet holes in them.

We are concerned about the high incidence of hate crimes that continue to occur in this country," stated the letter to Reno. "We are especially concerned about the documented increase in such crimes that occur in connection with right-wing sponsored ballot initiatives. However the facts turn out in the [Oregon] case, these deaths are another wake up call, reminding us of the increased violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people which we can expect beginning next year as the Far Right begins initiative and legislative campaigns against our communities."

Activists expect ballot measures in at least Oregon, Idaho and Washington, among other possible states, in 1996. The U.S. Supreme Court held hearings on Colorado's Amendment 2 last autum and is expected to rule sometime early next year.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.