East Village Assault on Club Star Had Two Echoes in Astoria
In the wake of international attention focused on the brutal gay-bashing of famed drag queen singer Kevin Aviance in the East Village in the early morning hours on Saturday, the New York Police Department and the city’s Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project have confirmed that at least two other instances of violent assault marred the second weekend of Pride Month.
According to NYPD spokesman Detective Kevin Czartoryski, at roughly 1 a.m. on Saturday morning—oddly within about 30 or 40 minutes of the assault on Aviance—a group of up to eight young men attacked three gay men who are in their mid 20s near the intersection of 35th Avenue and 36th Street in Astoria, striking one of them with a baseball bat and sending him into the hospital for a day. At about 5:45 a.m. the following morning, June 11, another gay man in his mid 20s was harassed on a Queens-bound N train, followed off the train at a station at 36th Avenue and 31st Street, shoved down the stairs, and kicked about the head. That victim suffered a possible head fracture.
All of this violence, the most serious of which gave Aviance a broken jaw that will be wired shut for up to two weeks, has officials at the AVP concerned. Anti-violence advocates often find that anti-LGBT attacks spike at times of greatest visibility for the community, whether in celebration or on the defensive.
Data collected by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, of which the city’s AVP is a lead member, noted that as anti-gay political rhetoric heated up in response to progress in the same-sex marriage movement in the couple of years leading up to the 2004 election, reported instances of homophobic attacks escalated.
On the other hand, June, a time of numerous large public gay pride gatherings, is typically the high-water mark for anti-gay violence in New York.
Clarence Patton, AVP’s executive director, said that his group will lead a rally and march in the Village on Saturday to draw attention to the issue and to warn LGBT New Yorkers to use sensible precautions this Pride season. He hopes that the event will make clear that anti-gay attacks occur citywide and target many types of victims.
“Kevin’s attack happened in the East Village and for our sanity we want to take certain things for granted, that there are places safe for us,” Patton said. “We’ve heard a lot about what happened to Kevin, and that’s appropriate, but we have struggled to get attention on the other cases. A lot of people know who Kevin is and that’s a media hook. It was Manhattan versus not Manhattan. But in missing the other incidents, we lose the piece about the frequency of this type of incident overall.”
AVP tentatively plans to hold the rally at 14th Street and First Avenue, roughly a block from where Aviance was assaulted, at 2 p.m. Saturday, with a march to Christopher Park, adjacent to Sheridan Square, at 3. To confirm the final arrangements, call AVP at 212- 714-1184.
The 1:30 a.m. attack on Aviance Saturday came as he was walking west from the Phoenix Bar on 13th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A. Dressed in black shorts, hooded T, and boots, “boy’s clothes” as his publicist Len Evans described, Aviance was followed by what police now say were four young men, who repeatedly shouted the word “faggot” and tossed a variety of items from the street at him. As the four men ganged up in an attack on him, Aviance lost consciousness and was later helped to Beth Israel Medical Center at First Avenue and 16th Street by a stranger on the scene.
Aviance spent two and a half days in the hospital, where he was treated for a wide array of bruises and his broken jaw. Evans expressed concern that the healing of his jaw might impair a face that has proved remarkably photogenic in Aviance’s performance career.
Born Eric Snead in Richmond, Virginia, in 1968, Aviance got his start in the Washington, D.C., club scene; in a 2003 interview with Gay City News, he said, “If it wasn’t for me there wouldn’t be a club scene in D.C. We did edgy parties, which were very New York.” By the mid-1990s, he left Washington for the city which he had always been looking to evoke in the first place, and became known as “the hardest working performer in New York club land.” Often appearing in tandem with DJ giants such as Junior Vasquez, Aviance soon emerged as an iconic gay figure around town. With hits including “Give It Up,” Din Da Da,” “Rhythm Is My Bitch,” “Cunty,” and “Alive,” he scaled the heights of the Billboard dance charts.
This week, Ari Gold, another popular singer, songwriter, and club performer posted a blog letter saying, “Kevin you are my hero… Having grown up in Yeshiva, gay clubs were the first spaces I knew of where I felt like it was OK to be who I am. And there you always were, Kevin—showing us that we can be whoever we want to be and that despite our differences, we are still a community.”
Police arrested four young men over the weekend in connection with Aviance’s assault and are satisfied that they have identified all the responsible parties. The alleged attackers are Akino George, a 20-year-old African American who lives at 1465 Townsend Avenue in the Bronx; Jarell Sears, a 20-year-old African American who lives at 117 Brookdale Avenue in Newark; Gregory Archie, an 18-year-old Latino who lives at 346 East 21st Street in Manhattan; and Gerard Johnson, a 16-year-old African American of 440 East 20th Street, also in Manhatttan.
All four were arraigned on charges of first-degree assault as a hate crime, and held on $25,000 bail. None of the men entered a plea and they will return to court on June 16. Each could face up to 25 years in jail if convicted.
The early morning Saturday attack in Astoria began as three gay men—all in their mid 20s, at least two of whom live in the neighborhood, and two of them white, the third a light-skinned black man—were walking down 35th Avenue near 36th Street on their way home from a bar. They were approached by four young men, who began to harass them with taunts of “faggot” and “nigger.” As the confrontation heated up, one of the assailants used his cell phone to call a friend to bring a baseball bat. Minutes later, a white SUV arrived with three or four more young men, one of whom proceeded to beat one of the victims, 25, with a bat, causing a head wound that required hospitalization—at the Upper East Side’s Mount Sinai Hospital—and numerous stitches.
Among the seven or eight attackers, all but one were white, with the other being Asian.
Although police have done two canvasses of the neighborhood with the two victims whose injuries did not require hospitalization, they have no solid leads in the case. The fact that the SUV arrived so quickly after the cell call suggests that at least some of the assailants live in or near Astoria.
To date, the victims have chosen to remain anonymous.
According to a 24-year-old gay man who also lives in Astoria, he was riding the N train home early Sunday morning and was confronted just before his stop at 36th Avenue and 31st Street by a man who shouted, “Are you a faggot?” When the victim got off the train, the assailant asked, “Is this where all the faggots get off?” and followed, pushing him down several steps in the elevated station, before kicking him in the face as he lay on the ground.
The victim, who like his assailant, is white, suffered injuries to his right eye, his right ear, and his lip, and may have suffered a fracture on the side of his head. The assailant, who was unknown to the victim, was last seen heading southbound on 31st Street before turning eastbound on 37th Avenue.
The attacker was described as a white man, about five-foot, eight and 150 pounds, with a light, clear complexion and brown hair with a crew cut. Given the proximity to the assault the previous day, police have not ruled out that the perpetrator might have been from the first gang of attackers, but that is not considered a strong likelihood.