Ore. Gay Men ’Attacked for Holding Hands’

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday May 26, 2011

An Oregon gay couple was attacked by a group of men on the evening of May 22 as they walked together holding hands, reported Portland news channel KATU. The couple sustained head injuries, with one of the victims suffering headaches in the aftermath.

Brad Forkner and his partner Christopher Rosevear were walking together, their hands clasped, when three men from a group of five that was following them suddenly launched a vicious attack.

"They attacked us from behind, shoved me into the railing and I got several blows to the head," Forkner told the media.

Such attacks are often accompanied by shouted slurs and threats, but the assault on Forkner and Rosevear was carried out with no such comments, the KATU article said. Slurs can be cited as evidence that an attack was driven by bias and falls under any applicable hate crimes statutes.

But even though nothing was said to the men by their attackers, police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

"Rosevear took the brunt of the attack and had to get stitches in his lip and has a bruise under his eye," the article said. "Forkner has been having headaches and has swelling on his face."

"The first thing that came to my mind after we were attacked was that my phone was going to be gone, my wallet gone and all of that," Rosevear told the media. "It was obvious the only reason we were attacked is because we were holding hands." Rosevear went on to describe his reaction to having been jumped as "sadness to know that somebody would do that."

The attack took place on a public thoroughfare and there were witnesses, but no one came to the men's aid or phoned for police, the article said. Forkner got away and called for help on his cell phone, at which time the assailants left.

"Not that I expect anyone to jump in and put themselves in harm's way, but no one yelled stop, no one else called police after it happened," Forkner recounted. "We were standing under the bridge literally covered in blood."

Local GLBT advocates responded by organizing a public handholding campaign. Forkner encouraged supporters of GLBT equality to join the campaign, saying, "I at least am so adamant we're not going to stop holding hands and hope other people will join us even if you're not gay.

"Grab someone of the same genders hand and hold hands because it's not going to end," Forkner added.

"We are all very saddened by the event which took place this past Sunday," The Q Center's Stephen Cassell stated. "Our thoughts are with the victims and their families. We have worked very hard to prevent this type of violence from occurring on our city streets and will continue to partner with law enforcement, public officials, and the community at large to prevent these types of cowardly acts from occurring."

The Q Center trains volunteers to partake in safety events called Q Patrols. "The queer-specific training and patrol will focus on responsibilities, duties, and organization--and there will be a brief question and answer session following the training presentation," reads the text at a Facebook page for one such training. "Above all, Q Patrol will emphasize safety for both the patrols themselves and the community at large."

A May 24 OregonLive.com account of the attack gave slightly different details, noting that the men were attacked at about 8:30 p.m. but saying that the men may have been shouting as they assaulted Forkner and Rosevear.

"Forkner said he couldn't tell what the attackers were saying. He didn't hear clearly anti-gay epithets," the article said. "They were yelling, I don't know what, he said, adding that they may have been speaking another language. So much was happening and I couldn't catch onto what was happening."

Another account reconfirmed that the men were yelling as the attack unfolded. A May 24 JustOut article said that Forkner thought the assailants may have been shouting in Russian.

The account also confirmed that police were treating the attack as a hate crime. "They deemed it a bias crime seeing how the men followed us for so long, nothing was stolen, and there seemed to be no other provocation than Christopher and I holding hands," Forkner told the media.

The story also noted that Forkner had suffered anti-gay harassment on a prior occasion. While riding public transportation, he was verbally harangued with anti-gay slurs by a group of men.

"What interesting about both incidents is how many people witness things like that and don't do anything," Forkner observed. "All it would have taken is to say something."

Forkner works with the Cascade AIDS Project, which has started a Facebook page where supporters can upload photos of themselves holding hands.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.