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Monday, March 21, 2011

NYC Gay Man Brutally Assaulted by Six Teens

By Kilian Melloy -

A New York man was so severely beaten by a gang of about six teens that he required $100,000 worth of surgery to repair the damage--a sum well beyond his means to pay, since he is without insurance. reported on March 18 that Barie Shortell of Brooklyn needed 10 hours’ worth of surgical attention following the brutal Feb. 22 bashing, which took place in Brooklyn gayborhood Williamsburg.

The Advocate story, drawing on an account in local publication The Brooklyn Paper, said that Shortell was about a block away from his home when he came across the gang of six teens. The youths shouted anti-gay taunts at him, and Shortell went out of his way to avoid trouble, crossing the street. But the youths came after him, threw him against the side of building, and launched into an assault so vicious that one surgeon compared the damage Shortell suffered to the aftermath of a car crash.

"Oh shit, is that a guy or a girl?" one teen called prior to the attack, The Brooklyn Paper reported. Shortell recalled hearing the comment, and thinking that it was "juvenile." He also remembered crossing the street to avoid confrontation, but he could not recall details of the beating itself.

The injuries Shortell suffered told the story. Surgeons put three metal plates on Shortell’s skull, the article said, and tended to his broken jaw. Shortell’s eye sockets were shattered, and his nose broken.

"I feel pretty confident they perceived me as a gay man and attacked me, but I can’t understand why they did what they did," Shortell said. "I looked horrible. Blood was everywhere."

The Advocate article noted that a similarly vicious attack took the life of straight New York teenager Anthony Collao, who was reportedly mistaken for gay by a gang that crashed a party in Queens on March 12.

Four young men invaded a party attended by Collao that was hosted by two gay men. The invaders reportedly broke windows, scrawled on the walls with red markers, and made hand gestures associated with gangs. The men also reportedly attacked and beat Collao while hurling anti-gay epithets, media accounts said.

Collao reportedly tried to avoid violence by leaving the party, but the gang chased him down, threw him up against a car, and pummeled him mercilessly. Collao was reportedly was reportedly punched, kicked, and stomped, and beaten with a pipe.

Four suspects were later placed under arrest. One of the young men was wearing Collao’s baseball cap, and the other three were drenched with blood. One suspect, Alex Velez, is 16, and lives in the Bronx; the other three, identified as Christopher Lozada, Nolis Ogando, and Luis Tabales, are from Queens and are 17 years old.

Collao was on life support until March 14, when he died in the hospital. The young man’s parents operate an ice cream establishment in Queens, though the family lives on Long Island. A neighbor said that Collao was "a very respectful, very friendly, very handsome young man," the article reported.

A Grim Trend

The attacks on Collao and Shortell were far from being isolated instances of anti-gay violence. Several apparently bias-driven attacks have taken place in Queens recently. Last December, two young men pled guilty to an attack on a gay man who he and another suspect robbed and beat in 2009 outside of a deli.

Daniel Aleman, 27, and Daniel Rodriguez, 22, carried out the assault on 50-year-old Jack Price early in the morning on Oct. 8, 2009. The attackers shouted anti-gay epithets as they punched and kicked Price, delivering a beating so severe that the older man spent weeks in the hospital with serious injuries, including a broken jaw, a punctured lung, and a lacerated spleen. The two attackers also stole Price’s wallet. Aleman addressed the court at his Dec. 13, 2009, sentencing, saying that he was drunk at the time of the attack and robbery.

"I’m very sorry for what I did," said Aleman, who had pleaded guilty to charges of robbery as a hate crime, and received the sentence of eight years plus five years of supervision after his prison term on Dec. 13. "I was drunk and I was under the influence," Aleman added. "I made a very big mistake."

Rodriguez similarly pleaded guilty.

The attack sparked a rally against hate crimes in Queens on Oct. 17, 2009, an earlier EDGE article reported. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, among other political figures, attended the rally, which was organized by openly gay schoolteacher Danny Dromm, now a member of the New York City Council.

The EDGE article noted that a series of anti-gay attacks had taken place in Queens prior to the beating Price suffered. "Trinidad Tapia and Gilberto Ortiz allegedly beat Leslie Mora with a belt buckle as she walked home from a Jackson Heights nightclub in June" of 2009, the article reported. "And Nathaniel Mims and Rasheed Thomas face hate crimes charges after they allegedly attacked Carmella Etienne with rocks and empty beer bottles on July 8 as she walked home from a store near her St. Albans apartment."

The article also cited the fatal attack in Brooklyn in late 2008. Two men attacked a heterosexual Ecuadorian immigrant, José Sucuzhañay, because they mistook him for a gay man.

The wave of anti-gay hate crimes that has swept New York in recent years prompted Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, to point to hate speech directed at gays and other minorities. Such speech is especially acute in election years, and a corresponding rise in bias-motivated violence reportedly accompanies politically motivated hate speech.

"That kind of hate speech," said Stapel, "gives people license to believe that it’s completely appropriate to be violent towards folks because of their sexual orientation or gender identity." Stapel made her comments before AVP’s Courage Awards at the Prince George Ballroom in Manhattan on Oct. 18, 2010, an EDGE article from Oct. 26, 2010, noted. "There’s a direct connection. What we’re seeing as the LGBT civil rights movement advances in very meaningful ways, the backlash becomes more severe."

"Although the climate may be changing, as long as there are people spewing hatred towards our community, people will interpret that as license to hurt us or a license to torment us," said former AVP executive director David Wertheimer, who was on hand at the same news conference.

New Yorkers, and the nation, were shocked at vicious anti-gay assaults carried out last fall by a gang in the Bronx. Nine members of the Latin King Goonies suspected that one of their recruits might be gay, the Associated Press reported Oct. 8, 2010, and allegedly attacked the 17-year-old youth on Oct. 3, 2010. The gang beat the teen and sexually assaulting him with a plunger handle. A 30-year-old man whom the gang suspected the youth was involved with sexually was also targeted by the gang, and assaulted in much the same way as the teenager was. The older man’s brother was also assaulted in a home invasion undertaken by the gang.

The attacks in the Bronx took place only a few months after a July 7, 2010, incident on Staten Island in which a gang of about 40 young men and women attacked a gay couple. One of the gay men was left beaten and bleeding in a parking lot, according to a subsequent EDGE article from Oct. 21, 2010, that reported on the paucity of leads in the crime.

Another attack took place in the Stonewall Inn, the West Village establishment at the center of the historic Stonewall riots. Two men--Matthew Francis, 21, and Christopher Orlando, 17--reportedly beat a gay man as he stood at a urinal in the bar’s restroom, according to an Oct. 4, 2010 EDGE report.

The same EDGE article also reported that an anti-gay attack took place in Chelsea on Oct. 1, 2010, when several assailants, including Andrew Jackson, 20, set upon two gay males after seeing them kiss each other goodbye on the street.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn issued a statement on the fatal beating that Collao suffered.

"I want to express my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Anthony Collao," Quinn, who is openly lesbian stated. "My Council colleagues and I are saddened and disturbed by this outrageous attack. We celebrate diversity in New York City, we do not tolerate bias attacks in any neighborhood in Queens or anywhere else in our great City."

Friends of Shortell organized The Barie Benefit, an upcoming fundraising benefit for his medical bills, reported GLBT news site JoeMyGod in a March 18 article. "The benefit will be at on Wednesday March 23, from 7PM to 10PM at Blackout Bar, 916 Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn," a news release from the NYC Anti-Violence Project announced, reported JoeMyGod. "While AVP is not sponsoring the benefit, we will be present to provide safety and outreach information."

The AVP also issued a release calling attention to the bashing, as well as to Collao’s murder and an incident from last month in which a man was attacked and strangled by a male friend who later claimed that the victim had made a sexual overture.

"On February 26, Staten Island resident Ronald Jones beat and choked his friend, Robert Jenkins, to death," the AVP release recalled. " Jones has told police that he was driven into a murderous rage by Jenkins’ unwanted sexual advances." Jones made the "gay rage" claim after the body of Robert Jenkins was discovered on the morning of Feb. 26. Jones was charged with second-degree murder and arraigned on Feb. 28.

"My experience has led me to see the greatest importance in connecting the types of violence to which we can all be victims," the release quoted Shortell as saying. "Violence does not discriminate based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or anything else and we must continue to open this important dialogue to create a safer community absent of hate and fear."

Reader responses at JoeMyGod and indicated that individuals in the gay community were feeling threatened and frustrated.

"People are trained from childhood to distrust and be hostile to gay people. Whole political agendas forward this, and the political tactic is to suspect ALL gay people as suspicious on every single aspect of life as we know it," wrote one reader in JoeMyGod’s comments section.

"And when the result of this unnatural hostility towards gay people becomes tragic, the very people who create anti gay sentiment in every aspect of life, don’t even have the guts to OWN it."

Others called for a blanket curfew on minors.

"I’ve been accosted (though not assaulted) by little shits like these kids too," another JoeMyGod reader commented, going on to propose that "Anyone under 18 who’s out after 10 pm will be arrested, and their parents will be fined."

Some readers proposed more forceful direct action.

"Time to get armed," one reader stated. "Enough of this shit already."

Readers at both sites remarked on the length of time the story took to come to light in the media. One comment indicated that postings at social network sites Facebook and Twitter had lent the story momentum and eventually carried it into the mainstream press.

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

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