by: Gary Horcher Updated:
SEATTLE - For people who live in Capitol Hill, outbursts of sudden violence—especially around popular nightspots--have become commonplace.
As reports of violent attacks, malicious harassment, and strong-arm robberies have increased in the last eight months, Capitol Hill's LGBT community feels it is being directly targeted by hate groups from outside the area.
"I have seen a massive shift in attitude here, and this is a very real thing," said Leigh Stone, who owns a recording studio in the heart of Capitol Hill, the historic epicenter of Seattle's LGBT community.
Stone said fear of hate-based attacks in the gay community is as high now as it was in the 1990s. "It's an under-reported story," Stone said. "I believe there is a gang that are hunting for gays, that specifically go out and search after hours for singled-out people."
Stone heard so many stories of friends and neighbors being harassed and beaten, she created and distributed posters speaking directly to Capitol Hill's visitors.
"Attention bigots and feeble-minded gay bashers," the poster reads, "we are sons and daughters, friends and lovers. You are not welcome here."
Ryan Olson, who was attacked and beaten while walking home recently, echoes Stone's message.
"I never thought in a million years living here, that one night walking home, this would happen," Olson said. "Until recently, I always felt safe and right at home in my community."
Olson believes his attacker—who was never caught---was motivated by hate and bias.
The beating left Olson with permanent nerve damage in his face.
He said his friends all know someone who has been attacked physically or verbally for being gay, and he said the fear of hate-based crimes started rising suddenly last spring.
"I could walk anywhere, at any time, without any troubles," Olson said. "For four years, that was the case, until I was attacked in September."
Seattle police report the growing fear of hate-based crimes is not backed by statistics.
SPD told KIRO 7 reports of violent crime do not show an increase in gay bashing; although, violent crimes overall in Capitol Hill seem to be on the rise.
Ryan Olson told KIRO 7 many LGBT people are not reporting hate crimes to police. "Especially with gay men, and lesbian women, there's a perception that you're not going to be taken seriously [by police]. If you're a man there's an even stronger perception that: 'you couldn't handle yourself? You got beat up?' There's a series of shaming that goes with it."
The rapidly rising fear of gay bashing motivated a wave of Capitol Hill voters to make a historic change in Seattle leadership. The city's first openly gay mayor-elect Ed Murray made gay bashing an issue in his campaign.
"I believe there is an increase in hate crimes targeted at LGBT people," Murray told KIRO 7. "I don't know the numbers. I certainly hear more stories than I've heard in 20 years."
Murray says 20 years ago, an organized group known as the Q-Patrol walked the streets of Capitol Hill, serving as "guardian angels" of the gay community.
They worked closely with Seattle police to stop hate crimes.
Murray believes part of the solution is a strong revival of the Q-Patrol and other community groups, working closely with a much larger police presence on the streets of Capitol Hill.
"We need to increase officers and we need to increase more officers who are actually on foot or on bike," Murray said.
Murray is also hoping to figure out who the gay bashers are and why attacks seem so common.
Ryan Olson believes it's political backlash.
"The electorate has certainly moved in the gay rights favor and these individuals, I believe, are now starting to think that their only recourse is to resort to violence, to go to a kind of a mob mentality," Olson said. "That mentality wasn't here before."
Gay activist Shaun Knittel, who leads Seattle Outreach, told KIRO 7 violence overall on Capitol Hill is a basic safety issue, which must be fixed.
"If it doesn't stop, and people continue to feel scared, join us," Knittel said. "Come out and show solidarity with us, we'll march through the streets at midnight banging on stuff to wake people up and call it 'wake up Seattle!'"
In the meantime, the LGBT community knows one of its own intends to solve the violent problem causing so much fear—from the mayor's office.
"I hope I can fulfill their concerns," Murray said.