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Fringe Benefits: party till it's safe

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Two years ago, on my first and only date with Marco, we walked briskly along Cornelia from Broadway to Halsted, a block where several gay men had been attacked the previous week. Except for a porchload of frat boys hurling insults as we passed, the walk was without incident. A year later I walked down the same block to a friend's house, following a trail of blood from Halsted right to his doorstep, where a gay man had been stabbed the night before.

Just how prevalent is antigay violence in Chicago? It depends on whom you ask. The Chicago Police Department reported 38 hate crimes based on sexual orientation during 1993, the most recent year for which statistics are available (they also rank Lakeview first among the "Top Communities for Hate Crimes"). For the same period, the Anti-Violence Project at Horizons Community Services, one of Chicago's largest gay social service agencies, reported 204 incidents. It's no surprise that victims of antigay violence are often reluctant to go public, but Horizons hints at an unexpected reason for their reticence: 14 percent of the incidents reported to the Anti-Violence Project involved the police.

"We shouldn't have to live like this," says Derek Perrigo of the new Safely Foundation, which he started to combat the problem. "In fact, I just came from seeing a friend who had half his teeth knocked out last week. That should not happen."

Perrigo is known in the gay community as the chief promoter behind the Boyz Club, a party-throwing social organization. Their last party drew over a thousand people to the Vortex nightclub on Halsted. Perrigo, who also sells college textbooks during the day, says he initially plans to install security lighting in certain alleys and other areas that are notorious for gay bashing. He's also putting together pamphlets with public safety tips. Taking a long view, Perrigo says he wants to establish a safe sex education program and hopes to one day buy and renovate buildings, turning them into "safe houses" where people trapped in physically abusive relationships can find temporary safe havens.

While the Safely Foundation is doing most of its fund-raising in the gay community, Perrigo is quick to point out that it does not have an exclusively gay agenda. "Gay this, gay that, we're only part of the world," Perrigo says. "What am I going to do when a woman shows up on our doorstep with a black eye and a baby in her arms? Tell her, 'No, I'm sorry, you're not gay?"'

The Safely Foundation throws its first fund-raising dance, Heart Throb, this Friday night at the Bismarck Hotel, 171 W. Randolph. It's part of the eighth annual Bringing Our Hearts Together, a series of events this weekend benefiting local AIDS service organizations. Heart Throb will feature DJ Mark Tarbox, who spins at the Probe in Los Angeles, and shirtless hunky men, if the invitation is to be believed. Doors open at 10 PM; tickets cost $20 ($30 at the door). For reservations or information on other events this weekend, call 528-2528.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Nathan Mandell.

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