Kalamazoo gay community discusses issue of hate crimes

Posted at 9:39 PM, Aug 14, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-14 23:17:09-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- The issue of hate crimes and tolerance is on the minds of the LGBT community in Kalamazoo following the death of Bryan Higgins.

LGBT supporters gathered for a forum on hate crime awareness on Thursday evening.

Catrina Burks and her wife Marashette attended the forum to tell their own story. The Burks said that they moved from Muskegon to Kalamazoo in January. The couple said that neighbors would harass them by putting garbage in their mailbox.

The Burks said that things hit a breaking point July 16, when their home was broken into.

"Once I went to the trash can in the back of the house, I noticed that the back door was wide open. I told her to come out of the car and we called the police," said Marashette Burks.

Burks said that the culprits wrote anti-gay statements on their walls with spray paint, including "move or die."

Yvonne Siferd with Equality Michigan said that unless it can be proven that an assailant knew their victim was a homosexual, Michigan law won't allow for a hate crime charge.

"A lot of people think that, you know for example if I'm gay, and I'm walking down the street and somebody comes and attacks me, that that's automatically a hate crime because I'm gay and I was attacked. But that's not a hate crime. Right, that's just an assault," said Siferd.

Siferd said that with recent events pulling the Kalamazoo gay community together, it's important for them to know they aren't alone.

"There have actually been quite a few incidents this summer sprinkled around Michigan. We have a lot of different Michigan communities reacting in very different ways to a lot of hate violence situations," said Siferd.​

Taking a stand to tell their story, the Burks said that as a proud lesbian couple, they won't be backing down to their critics anytime soon.

"Keep on going. Stand up. You are not alone. There is support out here for all of us. I mean you just have to speak. You are not alone. We found that out," said Marashette Burks.

The group said that it's important for homosexuals to know the resources available if they feel they've been a victim of a hate crime.