Student, friends speak out against hate crime

Second-year student sustains head injuries after anti-gay attack; male perpetrator still at large


A second-year College student sustained injuries after being punched in the face Thursday night near Brooks Hall after speaking out against a homophobic slur. “I was punched for standing up for who I am,” said the student, who wished to remain anonymous.

The student was walking with a female friend to the Corner when a group of five or six young men approached them.

“Out of nowhere this guy shouts out ‘faggot’ aimed at me, and we both turned around,” he said.

The student said he replied, “So what if I’m gay?” to the aggressor after his female friend told the harasser to “shut up.” The aggressor punched the student in the eye and then walked away with a group of male bystanders.

The case remains open and the police are pursuing leads, University Police Lt. Melissa Fielding said. “There’s not anything at this point we can release as a development,” Fielding said.

University Chief of Police Michael Gibson in a University-wide email Saturday morning alerted students of the assault and possible hate crime. The student said he did not report the incident Thursday night because he was “still in shock.”

“The police did send out the email in a timely fashion,” he said.

After the assault, witnesses approached the student to see if he was OK. The student said he was frustrated no one helped him during the actual incident. “A guy about twice the size of the other guy came up after and said, ‘Oh, I feel really bad,’ but he didn’t do anything about it,” the student said.

He went to Student Health for treatment of his eye, which sustained bruising along with popped blood vessels and bleeding. Doctors expressed concern about a potential tear in the eye tissue.

The student said he viewed his decision to stand up for himself as a defense of his individual rights. “I think it’s important for you to be who you are without being discriminated against,” he said.

The student objected to reports of the incident he believed cast him as a victim. “I want people to know that I didn’t back down,” he said.

In cases of possible hate crimes, University Police typically collaborates with other law enforcement groups such as the FBI, Fielding said.

Friends of the survivor said these are not isolated incidents. Fourth-year College student Jared Brown, who spoke to the survivor after the assault, said queer students are routinely targeted.

“I think this type of [verbal] assault is fairly routine,” Brown said. “Some people experience it more frequently than others.”

Brown said he had personally been subjected to homophobic attacks on Grounds, which he chose not to report.

“Although [hate crimes] usually only happen every one or two years, the memory of them is still very strong,” Queer Student Union co-president Katie Mayfield said. “They do create an environment of fear that students have to live in … We are working constantly to protect our community from [situations] like these.”

The organization plans to host a self-defense workshop for members at its next meeting.

In 2009, two young men — one a University student — were assaulted by five men because of the victims’ perceived sexual orientation. The assailants yelled homophobic slurs before hitting one of the victims in the back of the head on Stadium Road. The attackers smashed the victim’s cell phone when he tried to call the police. University Police responded after one of the victims was able to run and call for help.

In the 2011 Crime Report, the Virginia State Police reported 153 hate crimes in the commonwealth, 23 of which concluded the offender’s actions were motivated by bias against sexual orientation. Hate crimes are only reported as such if there is sufficient information indicating an incident was motivated by bias, according to the report.

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