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Wave of Vandalism, Violence Hits LGBTQ Centers Across Nation

From community centers to churches, nonprofits and even schools, the LGBTQ community is dealing with a wave of vandalism and attacks.

by Mary Emily O'Hara /
Casa Ruby LGBT Community Center, located in Washington, D.C., was vandalized and a staff assaulted two days after Mayor Muriel Bowser reported a 100 percent increase in hate crimes against the transgender community.Casa Ruby LGBT Community Center

When Ruby Corado arrived at her office on Sunday, she found broken glass everywhere, a door ripped off its frame and a shaken staffer.

Corado told NBC News a man had burst into Casa Ruby — the Washington, D.C. drop-in center and advocacy organization for transgender women she founded in 2004 — and demolished a door and physically attacked a trans woman working at the center.

 Casa Ruby, located in Washington, D.C., was vandalized and a staff member assaulted two days after Mayor Muriel Bowser reported a 100 percent increase in hate crimes against the transgender community. Casa Ruby LGBT Community Center

"He grabbed something and threw it at her. It hit her on the arm. Then [he] walked toward her and said, 'I'm gonna kill you, faggot,'" Corado said. "Everyone was trying to control him. He goes to the door and leaves, then a brick comes flying through the door from the outside."

This is the third time in just two weeks that men have come to Casa Ruby to harass and attack the transgender women that meet there for support and companionship. And D.C. is not the only city to see its local LGBTQ community center hit by violence or vandalism in recent weeks.

In February and March, a spate of hate incidents occurred at LGBTQ community centers and similar venues across the nation, in a trend that has gone underreported.

On March 6, a drive-by shooting targeted the Tulsa, Oklahoma headquarters of Oklahomans for Equality. The very next day, a man entered the center harassing and threatening staff, reportedly saying "I wish you all would die." The center's executive director, Toby Jenkins, told The Tulsa World it was the most serious incident he'd seen in 12 years.

LGBTQ community centers in Los Angeles and Milwaukee were hit with hate graffiti in February, with workers in L.A. arriving to see "F**k Trannies" spray-painted across the walls. Milwaukee's Diverse & Resilient center was covered in paint reading "Fag."

 Graffiti is seen painted across an exterior wall of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Los Angeles LGBT Center

The vandalism incidents do not appear to be connected to each other, but several similar attacks occurred at LGBTQ nonprofit offices, bars and at schools.

Churchgoers in New Orleans were startled on Sunday morning when a brick flew through a stained-glass window. Members of the LGBTQ-affirming First Unitarian Church had held a widely publicized town hall on anti-transgender violence less than 48 hours prior to the attack. Rev. Deanna Vandiver told The Times-Picayune the town hall may have "stirred up hate mongering."

The offices of New Jersey's Garden State Equality and Orlando's Equality Florida were both vandalized about a week apart. On February 24, someone smashed the windows at Equality Florida, and two men kicked at the front door of Garden State Equality until it shattered on March 4.

Last Wednesday, police arrested an Indiana man they said threatened to carry out a Pulse-style shooting at a local gay bar. Police said the man entered Olly's Bar in Indianapolis and told an employee, "I'm going to hold all of you hostage." He also told police he had a Glock, a machete and a derringer.

Even schools have encountered anti-LGBTQ vandalism. A progressive Portland, Oregon high school found death threats scrawled inside its gender-neutral bathroom, causing some students with the school's Queer Straight Alliance Club to stay home out of fear. The message read, "The faggots who use this restroom are going to burn in hell. Your gay ass is gonna get shot."

New York's Anti-Violence Project (AVP) cited a "surge" of hate violence and incidents since the 2016 election, tying together recent threats called into Jewish community centers with the attacks on LGBTQ spaces.

AVP Communications Director Sue Yacka told NBC News she sees a connection between direct attacks on LGBTQ community venues and the more than 100 pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation that have been proposed in just the first few weeks of 2017.

“It’s a message that we shouldn’t be in public, that we should be hidden away, that we should hide our identities," Yacka said. "You use legislation and intimidation and violence to make this happen, to try and make people go away. But we are not going away.”

Along with a number of groups like Muslim Advocates, Transgender Law Center and Hollaback, AVP is launching a new initiative called Communities Against Hate, which allows people to directly report incidents. Typically, data comes from the FBI's annual Hate Crimes reports and from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, but many advocates believe vulnerable communities tend to underreport due to strained relationships with police.

Ruby Corado understands firsthand why those relationships are strained. She told NBC News she called the police immediately after Sunday's attack, and when they arrived she described the perpetrator in detail and informed them he was still lurking nearby. She said they made no effort to find him, instead telling her, "Oh, we'll see you next week" before they left.

Luckily, Corado has been fiercely advocating for transgender women in D.C. for more than 20 years. She's made many connections over those years, including with the chief of police — who she said showed up within an hour after she texted him and mobilized an investigation.

Early this year, Newsham took over a police office that looks into anti-LGBTQ crimes, signaling the effort is a top priority in the city. The acting chief spoke at a press conference Friday about the rise of hate crimes in D.C., noting that attacks based on gender identity were up 90 percent while those based on sexual orientation were up 48 percent.

"We will not accept this as the new norm," Newsham told reporters on Friday, as Corado stood near him on stage at a local synagogue.

The FBI told NBC News that national Hate Crimes data for 2016 is not yet available.

 Ruby Corado (seated) with LGBTQ community members who frequent Casa Ruby, an outreach center for LGBTQ people in Washington, D.C. on July 19, 2016. Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Transgender women, especially the women of color that frequent Casa Ruby to the tune of roughly 200 visits per week, face disproportionately high rates of violence. Already this year, seven transgender women of color have been murdered nationwide. But the community is so small (about 0.6 percent of the adult population in the U.S. is estimated to be transgender) that every killing reverberates throughout the transgender networks, causing fear and trauma.

Corado said she is still "in shock" over the attacks. It's not that Casa Ruby has never been hit with harassment — the center gets so many threatening and harassing calls, she says, they gave up answering the phone long ago — but she's not used to seeing outright violence on her own turf.

"Most of the time, crimes happen and we always get blamed like, 'You were in the wrong place at the wrong time,'" Corado explained. "But we are at our center, where we belong, and they come here to prey, and they come with so much hate."

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