The Village Voice recently received a terrifying letter from one of their readers telling the story of their assault at the Regal Union Square theater, on 13th Street and Broadway. Read it in full:

On Sunday evening February 15th, my boyfriend and I attended the Regal Union Square theater on 13th Street and Broadway. While inside, he had placed his head on my shoulder and four boys behind us began calling us ‘faggots’ and ‘homos’ and began forcefully kicking the back of our chairs. We contacted the management twice and they did nothing, and the second time I was speaking of what happened and the manager rolled his eyes and walked off and ignored me while I was talking. After the movie was finished, the homophobic remarks continued and the boys began to physically threaten us and surround us. “We looked for any security, of which none was available. Once outside the theater, we were both assaulted by the four boys with glass bottles, shards of glass, and a box cutter, and taken to the hospital. I had suffered a head contusion and my boyfriend suffered a wrist and head contusion and a facial laceration. The case has been classified as a hate crime by NYPD and all parties concerned believe the movie theater was negligent in handling the situation twice and not providing ample security. Also, it should be noted that the boys were related to an employee of the theatre, and were underaged, therefore they should not have been given tickets/admitted into a rated-R movie.

Branden McGillvery-Dummett

Regal Union Square cinemas: you might be attacked, and no one will ever care.

Regal Union Square cinemas: you might be attacked, and no one will ever care.

In case the concept of hate crime is lost on the general public, and if some are still under the prejudiced misconception that teenage boys can get away with any sort of behaviour because their braincells are not done forming yet (a biological myth), let’s bullet-point this horrible story to make sure that what happened to Branden and his boyfriend is not an overrated isolated incident.

  • Following someone into a cinema to call them names / kick in their chairs constitutes harassment. Every citizen, regardless of their gender, race, or sexual orientation is entitled to the freedom of being free from physical threat and verbal abuse. If you ever thought that words do not hurt as much as a fist, and that the law only cares about bruises, think again. The First Amendment has limits. The Hate Crimes Act of the state of New York, where the incident took place, specifies that person is guilty of aggravated harassment in the first degree when acting “with intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm another person, because of a belief or perception regarding such person’s sexual orientation, regardless of whether the belief or perception is correct.” It qualifies as a class E felony, and the sentence can imply imprisonment up to 4 years.
  • The failure of an establishment to reasonably take a complaint into account constitutes negligence. Any company or commercial, public or private establishment is legally bound to ensure the safety of its occupants/clients. In this case, the owner of the theater failed to answer Branden’s complaint and understand he and his boyfriend were at risk of assault. Rolling your eyes and walking away from a serious threat can be costly. Negligence occurs when someone fails to provide timely assistance to an endangered person. Branden and his boyfriend suffered physical and emotional injuries as a direct result of the theater’s failure to expel the teenager boys. From the moment Branden complained to the owner he was subjected to harassment, the owner had a duty to ensure his client’s safety.  Sentence is proportional to the injuries received, and I can bet that a lacerated face has a price.
  • Attacking someone with dangerous weapons such as shards of glass and broken bottles constitutes assault to the third degree, perhaps even second degree if one considers the box cutter as a lethal weapon. The injuries suffered by both Branden and his boyfriend are not to be taken lightly. Facial laceration is a serious injury that also implies important emotional damage, with permanent scarring. It’s not because it could have been much worse than the act and the intent are less condemnable. From a class A misdemeanor to a class D felony, sentencing can go from 1 to 2 years in jail. The law specifies that the sentence should be in accordance with public safety and the seriousness of the crime. There is no safety when a couple can be attacked with cutters for being a couple, and said attackers are illegally hosted by an establishment turning a blind eye on violent behaviour.

You may live in a liberal state, but this doesn’t mean your values, your opinions, your body, or your friends are safe. You may believe in solidarity and think change really took place a mere few months ago, but intolerance is as resistant as a fit of the bubonic plague – and just as contagious.  Despite the rampant claims made by the bounty of hatred guarded by the AFA, the only comfort we can seek in such times is that the law is unlikely to be changed, especially concerning hate crimes. It certainly feels like all the progress, all the achievements, accomplishments are disappearing into time, in case we had forgotten what segregation was like, in case we had to go through the bloody campaigns of hate and discrimination to find the end of the human rights tunnel. Gay bashing is rising in extremely worrying numbers. Modernity stays scared.