Town hall addressing violence against Kenai Peninsula LGBTQ community draws large crowd
Following a recent string of harassment that culminated in an attack on a Sterling woman, Kenai leaders organized a town hall at the Soldotna library to address violence toward members of the LGBTQ community.
The event was the first time Tammie Willis spoke in public since revealing her story on social media. Willis, who is gay, said someone attacked her with a knife in her home on Dec. 9. She said Saturday that she continues to improve.
"My wounds have healed on the outside and they're starting to heal on the inside," Willis said.
The assault was the third incident in less than a month. She said someone left a note with homophobic comments and a threat on her truck Nov. 14. Eight days later, someone threw a rock that shattered her windshield.
"I don't have a great description of the person who did this," recounted Willis. "Three incidences — [during] one I never saw someone, [during another] I saw a shadowy figure, and [during another] I saw a blurry, shadowy figure."
Willis believes her sexual orientation is why someone targeted her.
"I had hoped to keep this matter somewhat private. The idea I could try to move on, put my life back together and give as little attention to hate as possible," Willis said.
Since the attack, Willis said she has another safe place to live. She hopes that sharing her story will illuminate the need for to make the community safe for everyone.
At the event Saturday, Willis was joined by others who shared stories of intolerance.
"When I came out to my family, my life changed. My relationships with them changed. I'll never forget when my dad said 'You married a woman, why did you come out? Why are you telling us this,'" said one man who did not give his name.
Others in attendance also declined to state their names publicly while speaking.
"More of my fellow students came to me informing me of walks in the park, where they were harassed for their clothing, for the fact that they were seen wearing pride gear and supporting pride events,'" said a student who identified himself only as Kaegan. He went on to describe how young people had been told to kill themselves or that they shouldn't have been born.
Organizers, like Michele Vasquez, felt they had to do something in the wake of the harassment and attack.
"I've heard the stories too much. There are more stories than just Tammie's — there are other stories, there are teenagers, there are young people, there are older people that I've heard their stories too," Vasquez said.
One of the goals of Saturday's event was to raise awareness of the need to strengthen Alaska's laws to address hate crimes regarding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. In an updated post on Facebook, Willis said she had been in conversation with state lawmakers Rep. Geran Tarr and Sen. Peter Micciche about the incidents.
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