Gathering at Tacoma’s Rainbow Center offers solidarity to LGBT community in wake of brutal attack

Members of Tacoma’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities vowed Saturday not to be intimidated by a vicious attack in East Tacoma last week.

Dozens of community leaders and politicians joined about 150 of the victim’s supporters at the Rainbow Center on Pacific Avenue in a show of support and solidarity after the Feb. 8 attack, which police have labeled a hate crime.

“Our trust has been taken away from us, but we cannot allow ourselves to be taken over by despair,” said the Rev. David Strong, a local minister and director of the AIDS Housing Association of Tacoma. “Hate is not a value of God, and it’s not a value of our community.”

According to police, a man used a pocketknife, a black marker and a dog leash to attack a 45-year-old lesbian while she was out looking for her dog shortly before 3 a.m. last Sunday.

Supporters of the victim filled all available chairs at the Rainbow Center, a support center for the LGBT community in downtown Tacoma. Latecomers lined the walls.

Representatives of many of the area’s civic and political organizations attended, including state and federal legislators and members of the Tacoma City Council, the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s office, the Tacoma School Board and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber.

The U.S. Department of Justice sent a conciliation specialist, John Yasutake.

U.S. Representatives Denny Heck and Derek Kilmer attended and spoke briefly, expressing shock at the attack and promising support.

“One of our neighbors has been the victim of a vicious and ugly hate crime,” Heck said. “If that is tolerated, we are all diminished.”

The forum was co-hosted by state Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, Tacoma city councilmembers Marty Campbell and Ryan Mello and Tacoma School Board director Catherine Ushka.

John Cummings, president of the Rainbow Center board of directors and a Pierce County deputy prosecuting attorney, likened the LGBT community to a family and called that cohesion “our greatest gift.”

“Like any family, we stick together when violence strikes,” Cummings said. “We will not be hidden; we will not be closeted by violence. Today in this room we are driving out fear and hate and violence.”

Tacoma assistant police chief Kathy McAlpine said investigators so far have had no success locating the suspect, described by the victim as a white male, possibly Hispanic, “slightly chubby in the face” and wearing a dark, hooded Seahawks sweatshirt.

“It appears at this moment to be a random act,” McAlpine said, noting that no similar attacks occurred in the city during 2014.

“This does not appear at this point to be a patternistic type crime,” she said.

Even so, McAlpine encouraged members of the LGBT community to travel in pairs or groups when they go out late at night. “It’s the same thing I would tell my own daughter,” she said.

McAlpine promised that the Police Department will continue to make the case a priority.

“We will do everything we can to resolve this case,” she said.

After an hour of short speeches, members of the audience met in smaller groups with 10 facilitators for “healing dialogue.”

The victim, whom speakers identified only as “Chris,” did not attend Saturday’s gathering, but Michelle Douglas, executive director of the Rainbow Center, read a letter from her.

In the letter, the woman said she felt lucky that, while growing up, she never experienced shame or judgment “for being who I am.”

“It never occurred to me that I would experience hatred on this level,” she said.

According to police, the woman was attacked after her dog slipped out of her house and she went looking for him, carrying a leash.

As she walked in the 900 block of East 51st Street, she said, she passed a man and asked if he’d seen a dog run by. The man pointed in the opposite direction.

The woman followed his directions, she said, and then heard footsteps behind her just before being knocked to the ground.

She said the man asked “Are you a dyke?” and repeatedly said, “God hates fags.”

The man used a pocketknife to stab the woman in her breast, jaw, left forearm and left thigh. He also stripped off the woman’s clothes and wrote the word “dyke” with a black marker and ballpoint pen on her left buttock and back, police said.

Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said the suspect placed the dog leash around the woman’s neck and dragged her across the ground.

Cool said detectives believe the attacker was scared off when the dog appeared and began barking or tried to defend the woman. The dog was at the scene when police arrived and found the woman lying in the street.

Neighbors who heard the woman screaming and a dog barking had called 911.