Going on two years ago, a gang of homophobes beat Ryan Turner to a bloody pulp. He and some friends had gone to a McDonald’s in the town of Preston near Manchester in the UK. A group of young men confronted them in the drive-through, shouting, “Gay is wrong. You all need to die.”
Brandon Forrester, who was celebrating his 18th birthday, attacked Turner (who now goes by Ryan Williams on social media) so savagely that he lost consciousness and was transported to hospital by ambulance, where he spent two days recovering from a bad concussion and severe facial injuries.
Turner, who had been a working model and a professional drag queen before the attack, stopped working, started drinking heavily, and says he even thought about trying not to be gay.
I wrote about the incident at the time, in an article highlighting a wave of anti-LGBTQ violence sweeping the US and the UK. A friend of mine in the liberal UK city of Bristol had been randomly harassed (verbally and physically) for being gay not long before, so the story felt personal to me.
The judge just let Forrester off with a slap on the wrist
I never expected to write a follow-up. I supposed Turner would struggle to recover physically and spiritually, succeed eventually, and that the gang of young men who brutalized him would be tried, found guilty of hate crimes, and sent to prison. After all, they had inflicted severe bodily harm, and I figured the criminal justice system would be highly motivated to send a stern message that beating people up for being gay is intolerable.
That’s not what happened.
The judge in the case refused to classify the beating as a hate crime. The Crown prosecutor had to appeal to an independent magistrate, who ruled that (of course) beating somebody to a bloody pulp after shouting that gay people need to die counts as a hate crime.
The magistrate’s ruling made no difference.
The judge in the case still refused to acknowledge the severity of the matter or to send any stern messages. In a “lads will be lads” sentencing last week, he let Forrester off with a suspended sentence, chastising him not for being a brutal homophobic thug, but for going out drinking on his birthday.
Forrester won’t spend a day behind bars.
And what has the local community learned? Hate crimes may carry theoretically harsh consequences at law, but judges are likely to wink and let you get away with a fair bit of the old fag bashing. So long as you were drunk.
Why can’t I stop thinking about Clockwork Orange?
I was gay bashed in Greenwich Village, punched quite thoroughly because my partner and I had the nerve to look obviously gay. We ran from that incident, and the police never got involved. I wasn’t hospitalized, though I did bleed for quite a while.
That a long time ago, and things are supposed to have changed.
But if you’re like me, you notice something very consistent. The queer press is full of reports of queer bashing. You can barely go a day reading queer media without finding stories about somebody physically brutalized over their LGBTQ identity.
You’ll notice something else very consistent. Police almost always resist classifying such beatings as hate crimes, no matter how obvious the circumstances. It’s like it takes an act of God to get cops to admit that calling for gay people to die before you beat them really counts for anything.
Prosecutors do a little better, depending on geography. But in much of the US, as in the UK, beating up a person for being gay or trans may well have little legal consequence.
Ryan Turner is trying to move on
“Usually I would shrug things off,” Ryan says. “But the year this happened was the second time I had been physically attacked. Part of me feels like everything I have been through for the last 18 months is for nothing, but then if my story helps someone else then it was worth it.”
He’s ready to start his career again, and says supportive family and friends are giving him courage and strength, but the outcome of this legal case is setting him back.
He never expected the man who savagely beat him for being gay would walk out of the courtroom free. He doesn’t how know how to think or feel about that — how the lack of punishment reflects on his own worth.
I know how it reflects on mine. As a gay man who has been bashed and whose friends have been, I know what it feels like to have the system wink at homophobic brutality.
I know what it feels like to be so other that a violent crime committed against me can be shrugged off as “boys will be boys.” I can’t look at the photo at the top of this article without feeling anger and despair.
Ryan’s attacker deserves serious penal consequences. Ryan deserves justice. What happened in court last week was a mockery of the real thing.
James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The preceding originally appeared at James Finn – The Blog; Collected Writing. Stories and ramblings from a long-time LGBTQ thinker and activist. Republished by permission.