Reports of harassment and violence directed at gay people reached a record high last year, according to a survey released yesterday by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

But a spokesman said the survey, which found 7,008 incidents in 1987 or an increase of 42 percent over 1986, could not determine to what extent the rise reflects an increase in victimization, an increase in reporting, or both. The incidents included in the study were those directed against people because they are lesbian or gay or perceived to be so, and included verbal harassment, intimidation, assault, police abuse, vandalism, arson, bomb threats and homicide.

"One thing is clear: that antigay harassment and violence remain a widespread problem," Kevin Berrill, the task force's antiviolence project director, said at a news conference in the Russell Senate Office Building.

Berrill, who said attacks seem to have escalated as gay people have become more visible, added, "In view of this violence, gay people have two choices: to return to the isolation and self-hatred of the closet or to organize and demand that action be taken."

This is the third year the complaints have been gathered from 64 local groups in 32 states and the District. Local community groups obtained information from victims who came to them for assistance. North Carolina led in the number of reported incidents with 1,985, more than three times the number found in California, which was second with 561 attacks.

The District was 10th with 243 incidents -- 147 of them verbal attacks, 54 physical assaults, 41 police-related acts and one homicide.

"When it comes to antigay violence, the District is no different than the rest of the nation," said Herb Schultz, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, a gay political group. "There has been an increase in antigay and lesbian violence, from verbal abuse to robberies and more serious crimes. There have been a lot of incidents in the P Street {NW} area, but also some in Southeast and other parts of the city."

District police said yesterday they do not keep separate statistics on antigay crimes, so they would not comment on the report.

Virginia ranked fourth with a total of 462 incidents. Of those, 423 were verbal attacks. Virginia included Alexandria, Charlottesville, Blacksburg and Richmond. There were no incidents reported in Maryland.

Berrill said low rates of reporting by gay victims and the lack of a system of collecting data according to sexual preference hinders measuring the full scope of violence against gay people. "Gay and lesbian victims are the least likely to report violent crimes because they risk losing jobs, homes and families," he said.

The problem of discrimination and harassment against gays is starting to be acknowledged in concrete ways, he said. Some major communities have added special units to police departments to monitor and investigate antigay violent crimes.

On May 18, the House of Representatives passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act, which would require the federal collection of statistics on violence and other types of bias crime directed against gay people. But the Department of Justice remains hostile toward the gay and lesbian community, Berrill contended.

The survey also showed that 15 percent of all incidents reported last year included verbal references to AIDS by the perpetrators, or abuses against people with AIDS. The disease has "added another layer of stigma" to the gay community "because the perception is, it is a gay disease," he said. "It has legitimized antigay violence for some people. We are a community under siege now, battling AIDS and a second epidemic of violence."

-------------GAY PEOPLE---------------

-------REPORTED IN THE DISTRICT-------

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Incidents----------------1986-----1987

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Harassment/Threats.........75......147

Physical Assaults..........12...... 54

Vandalism..................75....... 0

Police-related/ & Other.... 0...... 41

Bomb Threats...............26....... 0

Homicides.................. 7....... 1

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Total.....................195......243

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SOURCE: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.