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In a climate of hate emboldened, the LGBTQ community practices self-defense

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Fourteen people watch while a Missoula Taekwondo Center instructor demonstrates how to fend off a rapist at the Worth the Fight seminar Dec. 3.

"If somebody is holding you down and they're in the mount position, and you do not want penetration to happen, you really only have to, on average, move your hips this far," says instructor Amanda Rosbarsky. She holds her hands about four inches apart. The group laughs. Rosbarsky lies down, bends her knees, lifts her hips and uses her heel to push herself sideways into a "shrimp" position on her side.

"And then if I'm no longer in mount position, I again have the ability to use my feet and legs to fend off an attacker," she says. She encourages the observers to practice the technique on their own, with the caveat that it might be upsetting or triggering for someone who's already experienced sexual assault.

Rosbarsky, a black belt in taekwondo and an undergraduate majoring in women's, gender and sexuality studies at the University of Montana, describes herself as a self-defense junkie. She's taught several seminars specifically for women, but the Worth the Fight class was the start, she hopes, of a series designed to boost the confidence of members of the local LGBTQ community. Rosbarsky says her goal is to help empower people by planning for assault scenarios. Aside from the lesson in deterring penetration, she led the group through practice yelling, striking and breaking free of an attacker's grasp.

UM women's and gender studies professor Elizabeth Hubble says she and Rosbarsky came up with the idea in a class discussion.

Self-defense instructor Amanda Rosbarsky displays self-defense techniques at a free “Worth the Fight” seminar on Dec. 3. - PHOTO BY KATE WHITTLE
  • photo by Kate Whittle
  • Self-defense instructor Amanda Rosbarsky displays self-defense techniques at a free “Worth the Fight” seminar on Dec. 3.

"After the election, my students were scared and upset," Hubble says. "And I looked at Amanda in class and went, 'Huh, Amanda does self-defense trainings. I wonder if my students would like that right now.'" Nationwide, queer advocates have expressed concern about the ramifications of a Trump administration. According to GLAAD, Trump has promised to rescind healthcare benefits for trans people, appoint anti-marriage-equality Supreme Court justices and roll back rules prohibiting federal contractors from LGBTQ discrimination.

Since the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported a rise in hate crimes against people of color, immigrants and the LGBTQ community. Trans people are historically among the most targeted groups for hate, and 2016 is already the deadliest year on record for trans people, with more than 20 trans people having died in violent attacks, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

At UM, the LGBTQ student group Lambda recently reported an incident involving a man repeatedly approaching the organization's table in the University Center and asking whether "transgender people are real." Lambda President Mason O'Kiernan says he registered a complaint with UM's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. Equal Opportunity Director Jessica Weltman won't discuss specific incidents due to confidentiality, but says she has seen an uptick in reports of discrimination following the election.

UM literature grad student Cris Jardon attended Rosbarsky's self-defense seminar. For Jardon, who identifies as a trans person, the self-defense class was an exercise in overcoming fear. After the demonstration on how to fend off a rapist, Jardon volunteered to lie down and practice with a pretend attacker. Jardon says practice seems like the best way to avoid panicking in an actual attack.

"I'd rather freeze here than if it was happening in real life," Jardon says. "It's been a pretty scary couple weeks after the election and stuff. I have not been feeling very safe."

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The original print version of this article was headlined "Fighting back"

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