"There seems to be an uptick with people who feel like they have carte blanche to go and act more violently toward people they don't agree with," Kmetz said. He said he took the class so that he could defend either himself or his husband, who is disabled.
Incidents such as the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., last summer, or the torturing of a disabled youth in Chicago this month have raised the visibility of hate crimes across the country.
"We know statistically, people will be impacted by street violence at some point in their lives," Bishop said of vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community.
In 2015, more than a fifth of the 5,818 single-bias hate crimes reported to the FBI were because of the target's sexual orientation or gender identity.
"I think people are looking around and thinking now is the time to get stronger," Bishop said. "It's more of a 'let's get powerful' than 'let's be afraid' kind of place."
Tarighi asked attendees whether they were a sheep, wolf or sheepdog.
"Most of us are a sheep," she said. "There's nothing wrong with sheep," she said.
She demonstrated how "the sheep" can protect themselves by keeping their distance from strangers, or by pretending to cough or sneeze loudly and then elbowing a suspicious person approaching them from behind.
Tarighi described how she got out of a potentially dangerous situation inside a New York City subway car. When two men approached her, she said, she jumped up, pointed to her subway seat and yelled, "You're sitting on George!" and then repeated, "You're sitting on George!" pretending to be crazy.
Tarighi, a third-degree black belt in Kenpo karate, said improvisation is often the name of the game if someone gets too close.
She said besides faking "crazy," one can also pretend to have an asthma attack or use other methods to draw the attention of others or deflect the attention of a predator.
But if possible, she said, the first thing anyone should do is to "get the hell out of there." If that can't be done, she said, they need to inflict harm. "The one who creates the injury is the one who walks away."
Participants laughed as they practiced techniques such as "the finger," which involves pushing two fingers against the lower section of an attacker's throat, or kneeing someone in the groin.
Tarighi encouraged them to get over the fear of using physical force.
"If people are more comfortable with it, they'll be less afraid to use it," she said.
Passalacqua and Kmetz said the class left them in a better spot.
"I feel more empowered," Kmetz said. "If I were to get into a situation, I feel like I would have more options." Passalacqua agreed: “I feel way more comfortable."
Catherine RentzThe Baltimore Sun