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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Man pleads guilty to hate crime at NYC gay bar

By Jennifer Peltz -

A man accused of spewing anti-gay and racist insults while attacking a patron at one of New York City’s oldest gay bars pleaded guilty Tuesday to hate-crime assault in an episode his lawyer said was spurred by drunkenness.

Frederick Giunta, 45, is expected to get a 3 1/2-year prison sentence for the October incident at Julius, a Manhattan tavern where a 1966 "sip-in" helped usher in the gay-rights movement.

The assault, which unfolded shortly after several other incidents authorities characterized as anti-gay attacks around the city, spurred an outcry from gay-rights advocates.

In Giunta’s case, police said the victim was trying to defuse a dispute between Giunta and another customer Oct. 11 when Giunta hit the victim in the face, disparaging his race and using an anti-gay epithet. The victim, whose name authorities did not disclose, is black.

Giunta’s lawyer, Hershel Katz, said Giunta’s behavior stemmed from inebriation, not malice.

"He was drunk as a skunk and, basically, his stupidity kicked in, more than anything else," Katz said after court Tuesday. "He doesn’t bear anyone ill will."

Giunta also pleaded guilty to attempted robbery for grabbing at another man’s wallet and punching him at another bar earlier that evening. He is jailed while awaiting his sentencing, set for March 8.

Julius’ website stresses that it welcomes "ALL visitors and locals" but notes that it has been a gay gathering place since the 1950s. In 1966, several gay-rights activists went to the Greenwich Village bar and ordered drinks - with journalists in tow - to protest liquor regulators’ policies against serving gays.

The "sip-in" contributed to changes that ultimately allowed gay bars to operate openly.

Current owner Helen Buford didn’t immediately return a call Tuesday but said after the October incident that staffers had been briefed on security.

The alleged attack at Julius unfolded little more than a week after two men were accused of a gay-bashing at the nearby Stonewall Inn, where patrons’ resistance to a 1969 police raid became a formative moment in the gay rights movement.

The same day as the Stonewall Inn incident this fall, Bronx gang members beat and tortured four people in an anti-gay rage, authorities said; seven people face charges in the Bronx violence.

A day earlier, a group of male friends bidding an affectionate good night to each other were attacked in an anti-gay assault in Manhattan’s gay-friendly Chelsea neighborhood, prosecutors said.

The incident at Julius amplified alarm at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which works to combat attacks on gays and others. A representative didn’t immediately respond to telephone and e-mail messages Tuesday evening.


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