A recent string of attacks on gay men in Utah has lead to an increased awareness of violence prevention and a large community response, encompassing queer-rights groups and their allies.
In the first incident, a 20-year-old Salt Lake City resident was attacked and hospitalized on Aug. 27 as he left a downtown club. Dane Hall, an openly gay man, was in the hospital for four days, suffering a broken jawbone and several chipped teeth.
Hall said he left Club Sound, which is gay-themed on Friday nights, and crossed the street to the corner of 600 West and 200 South in Salt Lake City, when he was approached from behind by his attackers who began yelling gay slurs. He was then punched in the back of the head and knocked to the ground, he said. One of the assailants grabbed his shirt and began punching him in the face, he said.
Hall also said that after he fell to the ground again, the attacker grabbed him, placed his mouth over the street curb and stomped on the back of head, chipping down six teeth in a move commonly referred to as ‘curb checking,’ which can result in death in many cases. Two other assailants kicked him repeatedly in the stomach, Hall said. The attackers called him a ‘faggot’ and took his identification and $40, he said.
“I could have died. And a piece of bone from my jaw was jammed into my brain, to make things worse,” Hall said in email correspondence because his jaw is wired shut.
Hall was knocked unconscious but remembers coming to while his friends helped him walk to a police car that was nearby. The same friends drove him to LDS Hospital where he was soon transferred to the Intermountain Healthcare in Murray.
“There are things that are still really blurry from right after the attack,” Hall said. “I can’t remember exactly how I got to the cops. I just remember seeing flashing lights and moving. It’s just so blurry.
More and more memories are coming back to me, but there’s things I just can’t remember,” Hall said.
That same evening, up the street from the first attack, a group of men broke into a gay man’s apartment and attacked his boyfriend while shouting gay slurs as the beating continued out into the street, said Tom Taylor, owner of Club Sound. Taylor said he was driving home from the club when the victim approached his car and asked him for help.
Salt Lake City Police are investigating the attacks but no information has been released.
After members of the queer and straight communities in the area heard about the attack on Hall, there was an immediate response. A bank account at Zions Bank was opened for the public to make donations, and some fundraisers were organized. Club Metro, which is near where the attack occurred, held a raffle and raised approximately $2,000. Club Sound donated a portion of their proceeds to the fund for Hall’s medical costs. Also, lights around the club, although not on the property, have been turned on to help make the area safer. The Utah Theatre United held a fundraising event and performance at Club JAM and raised more than $6,000. Individual donors have donated thousands of dollars to Hall’s medical expenses as well as medical services have been donated.
Amidst the fundraising and the community organizing, the community’s safety was rocked again when a third gay man, Cameron Nelson, was attacked outside a hair salon in American Fork, where he works. Nelson, 32, was taking out the trash on Sept. 8, around 12:30 a.m. when he was approached by multiple assailants who began shouting gay slurs and beating him. He was taken to a hospital and treated for minor wounds, including a broken nose.
Members of the queer community strengthened their response as hundreds gathered on Sept. 9 in Liberty Park for a candlelight vigil organized by the newly formed City of Hope church. The event brought together speakers and participants of many faiths decrying acts of violence.
First Baptist Church Rev. Curtis Price spoke at the vigil and said members of his church are outraged by the brutality of the recent assaults.
“Our outrage has become, for us, a call. A call to stand with those who are victimized because of their sexual orientation. A call to stand in the gap and to meet every act of violence with acts of compassion; every act of exclusion with tremendous inclusion; every instance of hate with acceptance; and every action borne out of fear with action borne out of love,” he said.
The attack is an opportunity for the community to rally around the victims of the attacks, The Utah Pride Center said in a statement.
“This community can come together like never before. We can share our concerns and fears with those in power who can make the Utah community safer for us all.
Specifically, our local and county governments must hear our concerns. In addition, we must look out for each other and reduce the opportunities to be in harm’s way,” the statement said. “We all know that an act of violence against one of us is an act of violence against us all.”
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank attended the faith vigil, visited Club Sound and has reached out to members of the community, including representatives from Equality Utah, the Utah Pride Center and a local queer-rights activist, Charles Lynn Frost, who performs as Sister Dottie Dixon.
“He handled himself admirably and answered all our questions, even some very difficult inquires,” Frost said. “We absolutely feel like Chief Burbank and the police department are willing to work with us and is very open to listening.”
While Hall said he appreciates all of the help, he is looking forward to putting all of this behind him.
“I still struggle to remember everything from that evening,” Hall said. “It’s very blurry; I got hit on the head pretty hard. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that I could never be famous,” Hall said as he laughed. “I don’t know how to handle the attention I’ve been getting and I’m excited to put all this behind me.”