Wake County News

After incident at Raleigh bar, LGBTQ advocates say assaults too common

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) - Advocates for the LGBTQ community are paying close attention to a criminal case involving the assault of a transgender woman in a bathroom at a Raleigh bar.

Court officials rescheduled Wednesday the first appearances for Jessica Fowler and Amber Harrell, who face battery and kidnapping charges following a December incident at Milk Bar on Glenwood Avenue. Fowler turned herself in Tuesday while Harrell made a trip to the county jail this weekend to surrender to law enforcement. Both posted bond.

Police reports and a 911 recording reveal a transgender woman said Fowler and Harrell made abusive comments about her appearance and also grabbed her multiple times.

"Incidents like (this) are really common, but unfortunately, many transgender and non-gender-conforming folks don't have the resources or the ability to actually pursue any sort of support through law enforcement," NC Equality executive director Kendra Johnson said.

"This is nothing new. It speaks very much to the need for protections for LGBT people in general. We can do better than this."

A 2015 survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality received responses from nearly 28,000 American adults. Nearly half of those surveyed, 47 percent, said they had been sexually assaulted at least once during their life.

One out of 10 of the respondents said they were victim of sexual assaults in the previous year alone, and 46 percent said they were verbally harassed during the previous year because they are transgender.

"Unfortunately it isn't (rare). We don't often hear about it, because sometimes it does go unreported," said Kori Hennessey, the office manager of the LGBT Center of Raleigh.

"At least in Raleigh we don't hear of too many things because it's a slightly more accepting area."

Hennessey said there are more people coming out as transgender, and while that means there are more targets for people who want to attack the marginalized, there are also more allies who discover they have friends or family members who are transgender. Hennessey said many people are not accepting until they have a connection with someone in the trans community.

Johnson said there have always been trans and non-gender-conforming people. She said there is a problem in the current political climate where people feel empowered to attack LGBTQ people.

"When we give a pass to hatred in country, these are the types of incidents that we see," Johnson said.

"One of the things that is most heartening about this time is that while some of the bigots are attacking, we are finding more and more allies that are willing to stand up and stand with us," she said.

"Don't be a bystander that grabs a phone to take a picture of something. Stand up for people who are being attacked because of their difference. That's the single most important thing that people can do as allies is to speak up so that people are not suffering because of their difference in the public sphere."

A bartender intervened in the abuse at Milk Bar, which is operated by Bunch of Fives Hospitality Company.

Jennifer Heasty, the company's director of operations, issued the following statement to CBS 17:

Bunch of 5s handles all matters that threatens our patrons in a timely fashion to ensure their safety and ability to enjoy themselves at all of our locations. This matter was handled with cooperation and full transparency with the Raleigh Police Department and the detective that was assigned this case. Bunch of 5s and Milk Bar seek to continue to welcome all patrons into a safe environment. 

We do not condone this type of behavior to any of our patrons or staff.  We pride ourselves on having fun, diverse, and safe environments at all of our locations.  It’s a shame that two women can do so much harm to a wonderful person. Once they came out of the restroom and it was made clear of what was happening, we immediately stepped in to stop the situation and make sure she was ok.  We have supported her ever since she started coming here and will continue to welcome her at all of our locations.


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