Anti-Gay Bias Attack at Gay Landmark Stonewall Inn

By Tom Llamas
|  Tuesday, Oct 5, 2010  |  Updated 9:04 AM EDT
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Two men have been arrested for an alleged bias attack over the weekend at the Stonewall Inn.

Two men have been arrested for an alleged bias attack over the weekend at the Stonewall Inn.

A patron at the Stonewall Inn, a powerful symbol of the gay rights movement since protests over a 1969 police raid there, was tackled to the floor and beaten in an anti-gay bias attack over the weekend, authorities said Monday.

Two men were arrested in the early Sunday beating, which came little more than a day after a group of male friends bidding an affectionate good night to each other were attacked in another anti-gay assault elsewhere in Manhattan, prosecutors said.

The attacks came amid heightened attention to anti-gay bullying following a string of suicides attributed to it last month, including a New Jersey college student's Sept. 22 plunge off the George Washington Bridge after his sexual encounter with a man in his dorm room was secretly streamed online.

In New York City, hate crimes are up over 50 percent from this time last year, a fact NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne says should be looked at from a broader perspective.

"While one bias crime is one too many, the numbers still reflect a harmonious city considering the fact that New York is the nation's largest urban center and the world's most diverse one," he said.

But the attack prosecutors described at the Stonewall Inn especially galled and saddened gay rights advocates, some of whom wondered whether a place known for a defining moment in the history of gay rights might spur a new push for tolerance.

For Stonewall owner Bill Morgan, the episode was a sharp and upsetting contrast to its legacy.

"We at the Stonewall Inn are exceedingly troubled that hate crimes like this can and do still occur in this day and age. Obviously the impact of these men's violent actions is even deeper given that it occurred on the premises of the Stonewall Inn," he wrote in an e-mail.

The victim was using a restroom at the Greenwich Village bar around 2 a.m. Sunday when a man at the next urinal, Matthew Francis, asked what kind of an establishment it was, prosecutors said. On being told it was a gay bar, Francis used an anti-gay slur and told the victim to get away from him, assistant district attorney Kiran Singh said.

"I don't like gay people. Don't pee next to me," Francis added, according to the prosecutor.

Francis, 21, then demanded money, punched the victim in the face and continued beating him after a co-defendant blocked the door, tackled the victim and held him down, Singh said. The victim was treated at a hospital and was released, she said.

Francis said nothing at his arraignment Monday. A defense lawyer said that Francis wasn't the aggressor and that the episode wasn't motivated by bias.

"Mr. Francis is not a violent person. Nor did he try to rob anyone," said the attorney, Angel Soto. "There may have been a fight, but it certainly wasn't a hate crime."

Francis was held on $10,000 bond. His co-defendant was awaiting arraignment.

Just before midnight Friday, several male friends hugging and kissing each other good night in Manhattan's gay-friendly Chelsea neighborhood were confronted by a group of more than five people who used an anti-gay epithet and told them to go home because "this is our neighborhood," according to a court document filed by prosecutors. Two other men lashed out with fists as Andrew Jackson hurled a metal garbage can into one victim's head, prosecutors said.

Jackson, 20, was arraigned over the weekend on hate crime assault and other charges. His lawyer, Anne Costanzo, declined to comment Monday.

The Stonewall Inn became a rallying point for gay rights in June 1969, when a police raid sparked an uprising in an era when gay men and women were often in the shadows. Stonewall patrons fought with officers, and several days of demonstrations followed, in an outpouring that became a formative moment in the gay rights movement.

"The riots at Stonewall gave way to protests, and protests gave way to a movement, and the movement gave way to a transformation that continues to this day," President Barack Obama said at a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month reception at the White House in June 2009.

The Stonewall riots' influence also is reflected in the names of some gay resource organizations, including student groups at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.

For the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which works to combat attacks on gays and others, assaults like this weekend's remain all too common problems. But the attack at the Stonewall Inn reverberates with a particularly disturbing resonance, executive director Sharon Stapel said.

"Even in a bar like the Stonewall Inn, which started a huge part of the gay rights movement — even the Stonewall Inn is not immune to this sort of violence, despite all of the work that they do to create a safe and tolerant atmosphere," Stapel said. "It's incredibly sad."

But she said she hoped the incident and the atmosphere of concern about anti-gay harassment would spark new conversations about how to respond.

The Stonewall Inn has raised money for the Anti-Violence Project and other groups, and managers strive to make the bar inclusive, Morgan said.

"We do our best to run a nice, welcoming establishment where anyone can and should feel safe," he said.
 

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