Lesbian Couple In Kalamazoo See Home Ruined

AJ Trager

KALAMAZOO - A West Michigan lesbian couple came home to a hate crime coating their house. The Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center (KGLRC) reminds the Kalamazoo community that a state amendment to the Elliott-Larsen Act is imperative and forms a hate crimes Awareness Coalition.

"Move Or Die." That is what a Katrina and Marashette Burks came home to on July 16, spray-painted all around their North side residence. Thieves broke into their house, stole items, destroyed their belongings and coated the walls with hateful and vulgar graffiti.

"They didn't even have the decency to bring their own spray paint, they got the stuff off my back porch, so its really ridiculous," said Katrina.

Their wedding photo that hung in the living room was smashed - their wedding album-gone. The couple cannot go anywhere in their home without seeing messages of hate.

"There's been gay people since the beginning of time. We're not going away. Regardless of how you feel about lesbians or homosexuals in general, keep them to yourself," said Marashette.

Despite the threats, the Burks say they aren't moving.

Kalamazoo Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley said that the force will continue to investigate the crime, but there are currently no suspects. Hadley also stated that his department cannot seek a hate crime charge because of Michigan's statute which protects individuals against crimes due to "race, color, religion, gender, or national origin," but not sexual orientation and gender identity.

"It's a problem, because the LGBT community is a vulnerable population that is target of a specific hate, and crimes like that go along with that hate, and to not have us as a protected class is a huge issue," KLGRC Executive Director Jay Maddock said.

There have been several incidences of hate targeted at the Kalamazoo LGBT community in the past month, most of which have gone unreported to media due to fear, Maddock says, "And that's a problem."

Over 50 percent of LGBT individuals live in fear of targeted violence. Michigan is one of 18 states which does not include sexual orientation in its hate crime legislation and one of 22 states that does not include gender identity in state hate crime legislation.

"When a hate crime happens to an individual or family in our community, it affects us all. The realization that it could have been any one of us quickly rises to the surface," Maddock said. He believes there is no doubt that the couple was targeted for their sexual orientation.

"They broke into the home, stole items, but then they went the extra mile and included a message of hate," Maddock said. "I saw the graffiti on the walls...This was a targeted crime."

The KGLRC has called for community action to stay informed and keep others informed; to always be alert and look out for one another, to get involved in LGBT community events and to donate to the KGLRC.

A community forum will be held on August 13. Check the KGLRC website for more information.

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