The MARYANN FINEGAN PROJECT was an assistance program and hotline for victims of anti-gay violence established by the LESBIAN/GAY COMMUNITY SERVICE CENTER OF GREATER CLEVELAND in June of 1989. The aim of the program was to provide a way for members of gay community to report acts of violence against them and access assistance at a time when many such crimes remained unreported, or, when reported, were met with indifference from law enforcement.
The project was named, with a slight misspelling, after Mary Ann Finegan, a victim of anti-gay violence in Cleveland. On June 4, 1982, Finegan drove to the popular gay bar Isis and ran into her former partner unexpectedly. After they sat down in her partner’s pickup truck to talk, they were confronted by a man with a gun who made comments about being aroused by the fact that they were lesbians and forced them to drive to a secluded location. Mary Ann was shot and killed. Her former partner was raped repeatedly before being shot and left to die, but she was found by a security guard the next day and survived. The project’s top priority was working to ensure that crimes like this would never occur again.
During the time it operated, the program documented and reported hundreds of instances of violence against gay people in Cleveland, helped victims access counseling, medical, and legal services, and worked with local government and law enforcement to improve relations between the gay community and the police.
The project began in 1989, but its activity increased significantly in its later years of operation. In December of 1990, the program was publicly announced at a news conference which received coverage on radio, television, and in local newspapers like the PLAIN DEALER, making its services known to a wider audience. In 1991, volunteers for the project’s hotline were fielding an average of two to three calls per week concerning instances of violence against members of the gay community. Complaints included instances of physical assault, verbal harassment, vandalism, blackmail, domestic abuse, property damage, and discrimination by local police. The statistics collected by the project were then reported to law enforcement, and victims were connected to free short-term counseling provided by the Cuyahoga County Witness/Victim Service Center, as well as medical care and legal support to secure compensation for damages from the attacks.
The data compiled by the Maryann Finegan Project also had value for national projects to combat anti-gay and anti-lesbian violence. In 1991, the project recorded 84 instances of harassment, threats of violence, and menacing; 22 physical assaults, including assaults with a weapon and assaults in which objects were thrown; 11 instances of police abuse; 14 instances of vandalism; and 1 instance of anti-gay homicide, totaling 82 instances of anti-gay violence. This data was used to support the 1993 funding authorization request for the Community Relations Service, an agency under the Department of Justice dedicated to responding to community conflicts and hate crimes.
Although the project worked closely with law enforcement to ensure that hate crimes were reported and investigated, it was also concerned with the treatment of the gay community by the police.
In 1991, the Cleveland Metroparks Police increased patrols at EDGEWATER PARK and began citing more gay men for public indecency, but some in the gay community argued that many of these reports were falsified as officers reported seeing indecent activity that they had not. Additionally, gay men who encountered law enforcement in this context reported verbal and physical abuse from the police, including being slammed against cars and being called “perverts.” The Maryann Finegan project increased support and outreach for members of the community who were impacted. Project leaders also met with officials from the Cleveland Metroparks Police to discuss reports of entrapment, harassment, and selective enforcement of indecency laws.
In order to combat discrimination from the police and improve community relations, the project engaged in educational efforts. These included leading mandatory sensitivity training for new members of the CLEVELAND POLICE DEPARTMENT in order to encourage them to protect victims of anti-gay violence, as well as initiating similar training sessions for the Cleveland Metroparks Police.
After five years of operation, the project ceased operation when its funding was cut in 1994. This was due in part to the perception that the project was not fielding enough calls to warrant continued operation, as well as the perception that relations between the police and the gay community were improving, reducing the need for the service to assist in reporting instances of anti-gay violence.
Although the project was short-lived, it is a significant example of grassroots efforts by Cleveland’s gay community to find ways to address anti-gay violence and discrimination at a time when community members were reluctant to go to the police for support while working to improve awareness of anti-gay violence within law enforcement agencies.
Last Updated: 4/5/2022
National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute. Anti-Gay/Lesbian Violence, Victimization & Defamation in 1991: Local Trends, Victimization Studies, Incident Descriptions, Official & Community Responses. Report prepared for the use of the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary, 102nd Cong., 2nd sess., 1993, Committee Print 84-317.