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The LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Lisa Craig

I have a confession to make. When we go out as a family, there’s a part of me that’s always at least a little on guard when I’m out with my family. Maybe it’s because I know that, depending on where we are and who’s around, as an openly gay couple we may be targets for harassment or even attack. That’s something that, while I refused to get used to it, as a gay man I’m accustomed to it. I’m accustomed to scanning my surroundings for people who might be a source of trouble, and avoiding them. It requires me to make snap judgments about people that might actually be wrong, but I’d rather err on the side of misjudging them than risking my safety.

That’s part of what hate crimes do to people. When you hear news of someone like yourself being killed or beaten just for being who they are, you absorb the message that the same thing can happen to you if you’re not careful. And not because of anything you might do, or because you might be “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” but because any place might be the wrong place and any time might be the wrong time simply because you are who or what you are. It’s a lesson learned by many different groups at different times; African Americans in the segregated South, for example, or women who’ve absorbed the reality that being women makes the vulnerable to violence at them specifically because they’re women.

You are not safe. And if you are not careful, if you don’t watch yourself — and not just that but watch what you say and do, and around whom — you might get hurt. That means there may also be times when you don’t stand up for yourself, even if you’re being verbally or physically harassed because of who you are, you either ignore it, just take it, or try to get away as quickly as possible. Standing up for yourself might make things worse, and unless someone like Matthew Ashcraft happens to be around, you might not have anyone to defend you.

That’s kind of what happened to Lisa Craig. But the stakes were a bit higher. Because she had her partner and her kids with her.

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And that’s why part of me is always on guard. Because it’s not me who’s a target, and not just the hubby and I as a couple, but our family. If you’re a gay couple with a kid, it’s hard to pretend to be anything else in public, even if you wanted to (which we don’t). constant refrains of “Daddy this” and “Papa that” make it easy for people to do the math. And there are people will attack and threaten our children as easily as they will us.

I’m a fairly mild mannered guy for the most part, but where my family is concerned I can sometimes morph into something like a mother bear. Especially if someone harasses my kid. I’ll probably say a few words to them. But I know that if I do, I might end up getting my head bashed in while my child looks on, screaming for me not to die, as happened to Lisa Craig and her family one fourth of July.

Lisa Craig, a lesbian mother, was attacked on July 4, 2003, by a group of four teenage girls in Boston, MA, who yelled anti-gay slurs during the attack. The attack took place in front of Craig’s partner and children, and caused her to need surgery and 200 stitches in her skull.

The Background

2000830806767945310 RsOn July 4, Craig, 35, and her family – her partner Debbie Riley, 37, and their five-year-old and nine-year-old daughters – went to Boston’s Piers Park to watch the fireworks.1) Around 9:00 p.m. an “intoxicated” teenager urinated in view of their children. Craig protested, and the teenager cursed and yelled anti-gay slurs at Craig.2) Later, Riley said, the teenagers continued to harass them throughout the evening.3) Riley said the teens followed them through the park taunting them with anti-gay slurs throughout the evening.4)

The Attack

After the fireworks, at about 10:40 p.m. Craig and Riley encountered the teenagers again, after buying ice cream for their daughters.5) The teenagers Began fighting and accidentally shoved Craig’s and Riley’s five-year-old into the ice cream truck.6)

Craig then turned and confronted the teenagers. One of them recognized the family and again started yelling anti-gay slurs. The teenage girl then punched Craig. The rest of the teenagers set upon Craig, knocking her to the ground punching and kicking her as she lay on the ground. Craig’s head hit the pavement and she was knocked unconscious.7) The teenagers punched and kicked her as she lay on the ground, with her partner and children watching.8) C

One of the teenagers grabbed Craig’s head and repeatedly slammed her head into the sidewalk, in an attack that lasted several minutes.9)

The teenagers grabbed Craig’s purse and ran off when a police officer told them to get leave before they were arrested. Riley criticized the officer for not arresting Craig’s attackers.10) Riley said Massaport police could have arrested the teenagers, but the officer yelled “Get the fuck out of here before I arrest you!”11)

The Aftermath

With Craig unconscious and an “orange-sized lump” growing on her head, Riley called for help, directing the crowd to call 911 and summon police. But, Craig would later say, “there were no police to be found.” As their daughters screamed “Don’t die, mommy!”, several men in the park helped Riley and Craig until a police officer arrived. The officer reported, “Approximately 20 teenage m12)ales and females were hostile and verbally threatening the victim, her children.”

Craig was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital, where doctors operated to slow the bleeding in her skull.13) Craig underwent two operations and received more than 200 stitches.14)

Over 150 members of Boston’s LGBT community15) held a rally in Piers Park on July 26, where speakers urged the crowed to take action in response to the hate crime against Craig and her family.16)


Anita Santiago, 15, was arrested and indicted for assault and battery. Santiago disputed Craig’s version of events in a civil case deposition. Santiago claimed she and Craig exchanged words over Craig’s daughter being pushed, but that Craig put her hands on her before she punched Craig.17)

On December 4, 2003, Santiago was indicted as a “youthful offender,” and charged with aggravated assault and battery. The Suffolk County district attorney decided not to prosecute Santiago for a hate crime in the attack on Craig. A spokesperson for the D.A.’s office said that prosecutors could not prove that Santiago made the anti-gay statements attributed to her.18)

Civil Suit

Craig and Riley filed a civil suit against the the Massachusetts Port Authority for reckless disregard of public safety, for failing to have sufficient police forces in the park. Depositions in the civil case showed that Massport planned to assign two officers to the park, however the lieutenant in charge of the East Boston patrols testified that he repeatedly warned against under staffing the park on a night when thousands of people would gather to watch fireworks.

Documents showed that Massport police were trying to reduce overtime costs. Captain Michael Grady, in charge of scheduling, declined to pay the $300 overtime costs that an additional officer would have cost

Massport spent $600,000 defending itself in the suit and then settled in the fall of 2006, for $205,000, under a confidentiality agreement with the plaintiffs.19)

On July 12, 2005, Santiago was sentenced to one year of probation after pleading guilty and admitting to having attacked Craig. Santiago was ordered to stay away from Craig, obtain her GED, to be evaluated for anger management counseling, and to pay Craig $65 per month during probation.20)

One Comment

  1. I understand the fear of being completely oneself in public with my family. We were recently in a restaurant in our town, and three early-20s men were drinking and talking loudly, bordering on crudely, at the next table. I kept half an eye on them all evening, because I was a little afraid of them starting anti-gay remarks or actions in front of my son. I’m 6’3″, 250+ lbs, so I’m generally not afraid of people, but I’m terrified of the idea of something happening to my son, or something happening to me that would prevent me from being able to care for him.

    After the fact, I felt bad that I’d internally accused and convicted them with no evidence of bad behavior.