Threats, fear and uncertainty plague LGBT people in St. Louis after the election
Every day, Amber Winingham walks around her south St. Louis neighborhood with her dog Gus, a Pointer-mix rescue dog who’s about a year old. When Amber and her wife adopted Gus, he was skittish. Now he has a new reason to be on edge.
The day after the Nov. 8 election, Winingham and Gus had just stepped out onto Magnolia Avenue at Louisiana Street, when she saw a man in a truck, barreling toward her.
“As soon as he saw us, he gunned it and rolled down his windows and was yelling, ‘Trump’s going to kill all you dykes,’” Winingham said. “[He was] trying to swerve over and hit me.”
Winingham is among a number of people in St. Louis and across the nation who have been harassed or threatened following the presidential election. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls these occurrences “hate incidents."
Such verbal and other assaults can be based on sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, race, immigration status or other factors. During the 10 days following the victory of Donald Trump, the organization cited nearly 900 such incidents nationwide – 11 of them in Missouri and 25 in Illinois.
In St. Louis, many LGBT people are reporting these incidents and other concerns to the statewide organization for equality called PROMO, according to Steph Perkins, the organization’s executive director.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in phone calls and emails,” Perkins said. “Mostly [from] people not knowing what comes next, feeling really uncertain and unsafe and kind of desperate for some answers.”
'I was really scared'
Nearly 10 percent of the nationwide hate incidents involve LGBT people like Winingham.
On Nov. 9, she said, Gus took off as the truck veered toward them. They ran the entire four blocks home.
“I was really scared,” Winingham said.
She immediately sent her wife a message.
“I knew she’d be coming home from work soon and so I made sure that she was going to park in our garage,” Winingham said. “And I said, ‘Wait until the garage door is completely closed before you get out of the car.’”
Winingham did not file charges because it all happened so fast. She didn't even take in the color of the truck, much less the license plate number.
"I was just trying to get away," she said.
‘No space for them’
Jaimie Hileman and her wife also are worried about their safety.
Hileman, a transgender woman, began receiving phone calls from other transgender people on the night of the presidential election, as the winner became clear. The callers were distressed and fearful about how transgender people might fare in a nation that elected Donald Trump. One talked about suicide.
“They said they didn’t want to live in a world with this America,” Hileman said. “This wasn’t their America; this wasn’t their world and there was no space for them.”
Hileman posted something on Facebook about how a Trump presidency might affect the LGBT population. People responded with dozens of hateful messages including insulting slurs and violent threats.
She read one of the messages out loud:
“This person says, ‘Jaimie Hileman, if you really are a ‘trannie,’ just shoot yourself; no one would care.’"
After a series of such messages, Hileman took a break from Facebook. But 10 days later, she returned.
“I guess I just have this idea if I could share something humanizing about being a trans person, that maybe, someone later might sometime think about it,” she said.
Reason for optimism?
Local residents are worried about losing marriage equality and whether it will be harder to change gender identity on official documents, said Perkins, of PROMO.
President Barack Obama’s executive orders have simplified the process of changing gender identity on a federal identification documents. President-elect Trump has promised to overturn many of those orders.
St. Louis-area residents are also concerned about a bill called MONA—the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act — that would ban firing or refusing to rent or sell homes to LGBT people. It was first introduced 16 years ago. It passed in the State Senate in 2013 but failed in the House.
”We do still see a lot of support from both sides of the aisle for MONA,” Perkins said. “But we also anticipate there to be a lot of anti-LGBT bills filed again this year.”
Like last year, the bills would be about allowing businesses to refuse LGBT customers and preventing transgender people from using certain restrooms, Perkins said. Time spent against those efforts, she said, takes away time that could be used to promote MONA.
PROMO is offering an online post-election guide to help people with questions ranging from marriage to military service.
On the whole, Perkins is optimistic. He points to the Supreme Court ruling that nullified Missouri’s amendment outlawing same-sex marriage.
“I know that if we can get through things like a Constitutional amendment in 2004 all the way to marriage 10 years later, then we can move forward and we can keep doing this work.”
Amber Winingham also hopes to see progress. But she still plans to be cautious for a while when she walks her dog Gus, staying within just a few blocks of her home.
Hileman, never a gun owner, is thinking about arming herself. “I never thought I'd live in a house with a gun,” she wrote on Facebook. “Now I'm not sure we can avoid it.”
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