PA Offers Little Protection for Gay Victims of Hate Crimes

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 7 | Posted Feb. 29, 2012

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Troubled Waters: Edward “Blaze” says he’s been driven out of his house.

Photo by RYAN STRAND GREENBERG

Edward “Blaze” Waters has been living in his house on Orthodox Street in the city’s Frankford section for 20 years, and has been sharing it with his boyfriend, 34-year-old Justin Benoit, for the last two.

They say a couple weeks ago, they came home to find a homemade sign, a slab of wood bigger than a door, propped up on the porch of their neighbor’s house. Since the houses are only about a foot apart, the sign—which had “MOVE FAGS” spray-painted on it—towered over the couple’s front porch space.

“I was just mortified,” says Benoit, a transplant originally from Louisiana. “I’ve never encountered anything like this.”

The sign was the final straw. Benoit left the house and is crashing with friends in South Philly. Waters, 48, who’s staying with other friends nearby, alleges that the sign is just the latest stunt in what he describes as years of ongoing harassment from his neighbor, Jose Roman.

Waters claims the trouble started when Roman purchased the house next door several years ago. Waters says he and Benoit have been called “faggots” and “homos” and told they were living “in a house of Sodom and Gomorrah” by Roman, who was employed as a counselor by the Philadelphia School District at the time. He was suspended after being arrested for criminal mischief and harassment last September. A former tenant of Roman’s who asked to remain anonymous claims he witnessed Roman use slurs against Waters. “It started out slowly,” says Waters. “Then became drastic.”

It seems no one saw who put up the sign. But it brings up an interesting point: Even if it becomes known who put up the sign, the charges can’t be legally considered a hate crime under Pennsylvania law.

Like the police told Waters, if he were a minority and called a racial slur in the context of another crime being committed against him, that’d be a different story.

Even though the FBI’s most recent statistics show more bias-motivated crimes are committed due to sexual orientation (19.3 percent) than ethnicity (12.8 percent), Pennsylvania law recognizes race, but not gender and sexual orientation, as a category of bias crime.

The list of grievances Waters and Benoit have against Roman is long. They say on top of the name-calling, he’s thrown dog shit on their front door and inexplicably dug up their backyard. Both men say they witnessed him kick their cat Mary in the face, who died soon after the attack.

Last fall, the couple installed surveillance cameras around their home. The camera rolled as a man who appears to be Roman leaned over his backyard fence, smashing furniture that Waters had temporarily stored on a tarp in the backyard with what looks like a pipe or stick. The couple burned a DVD of the footage and called Fox 29 news reporters.

“If he can do this to an innocent gay man who lives next door, what can he do to poor innocent children that might be gay or transgender growing up in the school system?” Waters asked the news crew.

On top of the Roman’s arrest and job suspension, Waters was also granted a stay-away order.

At the time, Roman denied to Fox 29 reporters that he did anything to Waters’ property. “I don’t do that,” he insisted on camera. “No, sir.”

Then Roman, who also works as a contractor, got in more trouble when Fox 29 followed up on the story to report that he had been illegally renting out the house in question without the proper license. A former tenant says many of the boarders are temporary, roaming in and out.

While it’s still unclear exactly what is going on down at the end of Orthodox Street and the motivations behind it all, it’s clear that this is a feud gone berserk: Between the two houses, records show the police responded to disturbances or calls 36 times since January 2011.

Waters says his health is suffering from the stress.

“I’ve had a lot of internal problems. I’m on nerve medicine,” says Waters. “A lot of this stuff has taken a toll on me. I’m like, I’ve got to move to get away from this insanity.”

He’s conflicted. Waters says he feels pressure to “represent the gay community” by not backing down, but he’s scared. He served time after being convicted for arson in 2003 (he says he is innocent) and isn’t about to go back. He fears that if he stays in the house any longer, he’ll be forced into a physical confrontation.

“I’m not staying at my house because I know that I’m going to have to go to jail if I have to protect myself,” says Waters. “But everyone’s telling me ‘don’t move.’”

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 7 of 7
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1. Gary H said... on Mar 1, 2012 at 06:19AM

“My heart goes out to this couple. Being a gay man myself and live openly, this is beyond wrong and hateful. There has to be something on the legal books in some context to arrest this unkind, hateful, mean, obviously mentally unstable and most likely a self professed christian man.

While I can understand his reasoning of leaving the house, I personally, would not back down. I would invite all my gay friends to move in, keep a constant watch around the property complete with guns in hand and when he stepped foot on the property, you guessed it. Where is the gay community gathering in force in this neighborhood for this couple?

As usual, the law enforcement world doesn't want to do anything really for the gay community. To protect and serve? Obviously NOT! What does the mayor have to say about this? One last comment, ask for his green card and see what happens!”

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2. irony jones said... on Mar 1, 2012 at 08:14AM

“so you go to prison for arson and come out with the nickname "Blaze"?

he does get a lot of press ill say that. check PGN. always the victim.

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3. tcinphilly said... on Mar 1, 2012 at 10:36AM

“Why do we need a hate-crime law to prosecute someone for bullying for *any* reason? This offense should be taken seriously regardless of the motive of the perpetrator!”

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4. queer said... on Mar 2, 2012 at 09:14AM

“Let's hope that Brian Sims, the lawyer challenging Rep. Babette Josephs (D-Philadelphia) for the 182nd District,doesn't win. Rep. Josephs has been one of the strongest supports of LGBT equality and protection in the state. Sims might look good getting sworn in, but he isn't likely to work as strongly on our behalf as Babette has and will do.”

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5. Paul Reese said... on Mar 7, 2012 at 06:04AM

“Every Person we meet everyday is differant in some way. Including this fool causing the problems. He is fresh off the boat from somewhere. Which is cool. But to persecute someone for whom they love is Unacceptable. I have to say Mr Walters is Much Nicer and more controled than I think I could ever be.”

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6. None Mangini Fan said... on Mar 11, 2012 at 04:40PM

“Irony Jones You sound like a Stalker Hiding behind made up names !It sad that you have this hiden anger as one of our PPL are attacked yes we feel we know exactly who you are Your a circus Star lol or want to be go back under the rock you smoke through a car antena and give us all peace! Thanks next time be a man and write under your real facebook name...... TA!TA!”

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7. Steven Roberts said... on Mar 13, 2012 at 03:44AM

“Lets all stick together and Help Blaze Waters & His BF this is not right in any WAY!”

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