Over the past five months, eight separate cases of hate crimes against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the Dupont Circle neighborhood have been reported.
After hearing about the statistics, one GW student decided to fight back. Literally.
Junior Matt Wilson decided to use his martial arts and cage-fighting skills to launch the group OUTWatch in August, which teaches a self-defense class outside in Dupont Circle Sunday afternoons. The group seeks to teach both gay and straight members of the Dupont Circle community to protect themselves against violent hate crimes.
“Dupont is known for being one of the most diverse areas in D.C., and the fact that people are taking the time to go to a specific area to target a specific group, I just thought that was garbage,” Wilson said. “It just seemed like a good opportunity to get involved in the community and use skills that I had only really used for a competitive nature for a good thing.”
Along with his friend Erika Knepp, 30, and the activist organization GetEQUAL, Wilson offers 90-minute defense classes, where participants are walked through different attack scenarios and then taught the right defense maneuvers to use for each one.
“The main goal of the program is to instill confidence in people,” Wilson said. “To be honest, you can learn all of these cool moves but the chances of you actually using these exact moves on the street is very low. But the thing is, when you know what you are doing, you are less likely to freak out and curl in a ball and take a beating.”
Wilson said inspiration for the class came in part from his own experience of being accosted on campus.
“Last winter someone tried to mug me over by City Hall. If I didn’t have the experience I’ve had, I could have gotten hurt, but because I had that confidence instilled in me I was able to fight back,” Wilson said.
Although he started the class with the Dupont hate crimes in mind, both gay and straight students and community members are encouraged to attend.
“I think it’s important for anyone to defend himself or herself regardless of gender or sexual orientation,” said Michael Komo, president of GW’s LGBT student organization Allied in Pride. “We live in a city and we are a little bit more open than most people. And I think this class will give everyone both an extra tool to utilize and a sense of safety and security that they might otherwise not have.”
OUTWatch leaders hope to continue the weekly classes until the beginning of November, when cold weather would inhibit outdoor practices. By that point, Wilson hopes that the group will have a suitable indoor option.
“It really was a thing that I was suddenly inspired to do and I really want to keep it alive as long as possible.”