Violent Hate Crime in Our Own Backyard

Hate Crime Reawakens the Fight For Gay Rights


After becoming the victim of a shocking assault, Blake Hayes, a local Upper West Sider, got to work spreading the message and fighting back. (Courtesy of Jamie McGonnigal)

Published: October 8, 2009

“Faggot.” One word spoken by one man on one NYC street corner. But like an awkwardly oversized boulder penetrating the delicate surface of a still pond, the subsequent splash of this one word has sent ripples throughout the city, the state and the nation. Blake Hayes was one of the three men on the receiving end of this remark, heaved his way as he walked down Ninth Ave. on Sept. 26.

An hour earlier, as he shared beers with his two close friends at Therapy, as he had countless times before, he had no idea that the neighborhood he calls home would quickly be pervaded by hate. With the flick of a cigarette and the utterance of an intolerable word, a verbal exchange gave way to a physical assault on the group. When the police arrived, they did the last thing any of them expected: nothing.

For Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) Students, this incident has hit close to home—literally. With the altercation occurring in front of McCoy’s bar at 52nd and 9th, the problem is knocking at Lincoln Center’s back door. And if this occurred on “one of the gayest blocks in New York” according to Blake, the problem is only magnified in less liberal areas of the country, raising the question, are we further than we thought from achieving equality?

“This one small incident represents a lot of other problems,” said Hayes, “Being LGBT in this country still means being considered a second-class citizen. We are the last discriminated-against minority in this country.” FCLC students shared Hayes’ disappointment in the treatment of the homosexual community, nearly 40 years after their fight for equal rights began. “It’s unfortunate and sad that incidents like this still occur,” said Joseph Martinez, FCLC

’11, and treasurer of the Rainbow Alliance. “A person’s sexuality should never be the reason for an assault. It’s a shame that, if this was in fact a hate crime, the attacker still bears ignorance and hate.”

“Though we are in Hell’s Kitchen, one of the most gay-friendly areas of New York City, I am sadly not shocked by the events that happened that night,” said Mathew Rodriguez, FCLC ’11. “A surprising number of hate crimes happen throughout New York to this day. Though relatively few happen in Midtown West, they are not as far and few in between as one might imagine.”

“We have ideas of what we perceive to be safety bubbles, but they aren’t actually safety bubbles,” said Gabe Spielberg, FCLC ’13. “You think because you live in New York no one’s going to persecute you for being gay but the reality is otherwise. People are harsh and judgmental; there are no wonderlands.”

“This one incident came into the light because of Blake’s blog, but how many other instances exactly like this one happen every day that no one ever finds out about?” said Sophie Stanish, FCLC ’12, “The implications of this are astounding and rather disturbing”.

Beyond the discomfort of having a violent act fueled by prejudice occur so close, students are further unsettled with the reaction of the police force.

“As far as the authorities not taking action, I am shocked,” said Martinez. “Regardless of if this was a hate crime or not, an assault like this should be filed by the police. It will be a greater misfortune if the reason for not responding was because it involved gay men.”

“I knew that stuff like this happens everywhere, but I never in a million years would have thought that the NYPD would do absolutely nothing; that I find utterly ridiculous and completely reprehensible,” Stanish said. “The police are supposed to protect New Yorkers and help to solve crimes, especially when the attacker is right there and easily identifiable. The fact that they said they couldn’t press charges when the victims were verbally and physically assaulted is outrageous.”

“I believe that both sides have become comfortable in their places,” Rodriguez said, “Cops believe they only have to deal with us once a year on the day of the Gay Pride March, while gays believe that they don’t have to worry about cops anymore because we are past the days of Stonewall. Sadly, neither is the case.”

Fortunately, a shocking crime has become the springboard for an awakened passion in the fight for equal rights, and the most successful mode of spreading the word wasn’t newspapers or press releases, although the three men have done a dozen news, TV and radio interviews over the past couple of days.

“Facebook is good for three things,” Hayes said, “stalking your friends, venting passively about your ex and serving as a tool where you can get the word out… you have to harness that power.”

Yet a vague message does little to incite support; it is the emotional response to an incident due to personal involvement, in this case close proximity, that fuels change.

“I’ve posted a million statuses about gay rights and nothing really happened,” Hayes said. “The fact that is now a personal story has made people ten times as passionate about the issues. Everyone is talking about it because it happened to someone they know.”

Within 24 hours of linking to his blog post via Facebook, Blake had gotten 12,000 hits; since then he has reached 20,000 and counting, in addition to a flood of e-mails from all over the country.

“My uncle is an extremely conservative republican. He loved Bush; he voted for McCain. And he was the first person to call me,” Hayes said. “He said, ‘Blake, I am proud of you for standing up for your rights, keep it up.’ If he would’ve seen this story about someone else on TV, he may have not reacted this way. When it becomes personal, and people you love start being hurt, you start to care.”

That certainly rings true for Fordham, as having this incident occur in the neighborhood has sparked interest among students.

“I hope if some good can be gleaned from this unfortunate event, it is that it begins a conversation at FCLC about the gay community and what it means to be a gay person at FCLC,” Rodriguez said.

“I have a lot of gay friends, but being straight it’s hard for me to understand [how they feel]; I can’t understand,” said Aisha Blake, FCLC ’13. “Now that it’s happened so close, I’m even more eager to be involved in changing the general view.”

“Before, if this happened to me, I would’ve been like ‘Grrr, this makes me angry,’ but I wouldn’t have done anything about it,” said Victoria Malone, FCLC ’13. “Now I know that if we don’t think it’s a big deal, then the people who are doing the attacking also won’t think it’s a big deal.”

“You don’t gain rights by walking away, so tell your stories,” Hayes said. “And if we would’ve fought back physically, all it would’ve been was another drunken fight at a bar. The discussions now are worth much more, even though it would’ve felt great to punch that guy in the face.”