By Jennifer Morales Special to Published Sep 15, 2007 at 4:48 PM

Have you heard about the lesbian gang epidemic? Recent interest in this "phenomenon" was piqued by the trial of a group of lesbian teens who were involved in a fight with a DVD salesman in New York last summer. Maybe you read about it under headlines like these:

"The Case of the Lesbian Beatdown"
"Lesbian wolf pack guilty: Jersey girl gang gets lockup in beatdown"
"Pack howls -- judge won't bend; Lesbians rip sentences in '06 attack"
"'I'm a man!' lesbian growled during fight"

I've been meaning to write about this for a long time but it's a hard story and it seems no one agrees on the facts. Agreement extends as far as this: A group of seven female friends from Newark were visiting Greenwich Village in the summer of 2006. As they walked past Dwayne Buckle, who was on the street selling DVDs, he said something to one of them, a romantic or sexual proposition of some sort, and the women told him they weren't interested.

Buckle persisted, at least verbally, and a physical altercation ensued. Eventually, two men jumped into the fray. When it was over, some of the women had sustained minor injuries and Buckle was taken to the hospital with stab wounds to his abdomen. The two men disappeared.

After almost a year of court proceedings, four of the young women were convicted of assaulting Buckle. Their sentences ranged from 3 1/2 to 11 years.

Bill O'Reilly followed up on the sentencing with a segment called "Violent Lesbian Gangs a Growing Problem" on his show, "The O'Reilly Factor." Among other homophobic falsehoods O'Reilly promoted in the show is that these women are packing pink pistols and raping children. You can do a quick internet search and find several point-by-point analyses of how this segment devolves into an almost pornographic misrepresentation of reality (e.g., the anti-hate group Southern Poverty Law Center has a very cogent rebuttal available online), so I won't do that here.

I do want to note, however, that the judge who sentenced the "New Jersey 4" to prison told them that they need to remember the old "sticks and stones" chant from childhood; they should have just walked away. Thing is, when Fox News and others make it their business to spread dangerous lies about lesbians, it fuels discrimination and violence against women, heterosexual or homosexual. Ultimately, the irresponsible media portrayals of this case -- the name calling -- will break bones because violence against us has been further legitimized.

Why am I thinking about this now? Last weekend I was walking down an east side street when a man whistled at me from a stoop and called out some comment on my body. I had just bought a bottle of wine to bring to a friend's dinner party and I had a brief fantasy of smashing it over the guy's head. Instead I stood at the corner waiting for the light to change and did some deep breathing. I seethed all the way home.

A woman, of any sexual orientation, age, race, size or shape should be able to walk down the street without getting harassed by anybody. I wish the Newark women had been able to just back away -- some versions of the story state that Buckle attacked them first and that he promised to "f**k them straight," so maybe they couldn't easily extract themselves from the situation. I don't know the facts of the assault, but I do understand how a woman could get to the boiling point after too much unwanted attention.

Jennifer Morales Special to

Jennifer Morales is an elected member of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, the first person of Latino descent to hold that position. She was first elected in 2001 and was unopposed for re-election in 2005. In 2004, she ran for a seat in the Wisconsin state senate, earning 43% of the vote against a 12-year incumbent.

Previously, she served as the editorial assistant at the educational journal Rethinking Schools; as assistant director of two education policy research centers at UW-Milwaukee; and as the development director for 9to5, National Association of Working Women.

She became the first person in her immediate family to graduate from college, earning a B.A. in Modern Languages and Literatures from Beloit College in 1991.

In addition to her work on the school board, she is a freelance editorial consultant and a mother.