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By Bob Vitale
Three gay men have been attacked in Columbus over the last four days, and BRAVO officials are warning people to be extra cautious in a month that celebrates pride and openness.
On Thursday, a visitor from out of town who was smoking outside the Southbend Tavern in Merion Village was punched and kicked until he was unconscious by at least two men who had asked him for help starting their car.
Late Sunday, an employee walking home from Union was beaten near Summit Street in Italian Village. A gay man also was attacked and robbed early Monday near E Broad Street and Parsons Avenue in Olde Towne; he posted a photo of his bloodied head, along with a warning: “It sounds like hate crimes are back, boys and girls.”
“There are creeps out there, and they don’t like us,” said Gloria McCauley, executive director of BRAVO, the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization.
Sgt. Richard Weiner, a spokesman for Columbus Police, said Southbend patrons reported the incident there late last week. Christopher Ashcraft told officers he was approached by several men who asked for a jump-start.
Ashcraft, who was visiting Columbus from Crescent Springs, Ky., told a Cincinnati TV station that he got a friend’s keys and went to help the men but was attacked.
“Once I was on the ground, they just kicked me in the face a couple times until I was unconscious. It was my guess an hour to an hour-and-a-half later before I woke up and, from what I’m told, crawled back to the bar where I was found laying behind the bar.”
Although Ashcraft told Cincinnati’s WCPO-TV that he’s certain his attack was a hate crime, Weiner said the victim didn’t share that thought with Columbus police and didn’t indicate that the attackers used anti-gay language. The men did steal his wallet.
McCauley said BRAVO classifies some incidents as “bias crimes.” Areas around LGBT bars are targeted, she said, because of old stereotypes that LGBT people are easy prey, that they won’t fight back, that they’ll be too frightened to call police.
Chris Kratavil, the Union employee who was attacked on his way home from work, was still being treated at the hospital late Monday afternoon but was expected to be released soon, said Robert Younkman, a friend who manages Axis Nightclub.
He was punched from behind and then beaten and kicked, Younkman said.
“He has a black belt,” Younkman said. “If it had been a fair fight, it would have been a little more interesting. They would have picked the wrong little gay boy to pick on.”
Kratavil has spoken both to Columbus Police and BRAVO, Younkman said. He didn’t tell his friend whether his attackers said anything anti-gay, but Younkman said they didn’t rob him.
Friends posted photos of Kratavil, bloodied and bruised, on Facebook, and dozens have left messages of love and support.
David Conley, the victim of the third attack, said he called 911 as a group of men approached him from behind, and he was on the phone with the dispatcher as they hit him with a 2-by-4. Police arrived quickly and arrested three men. Conley said the men made vulgar comments as they approached that indicated an anti-gay bias.
In another incident, WSYX-TV reported that Exile, a gay bar at 893 N 4th St in Italian Village, was broken into just after employees left late Wednesday. A single burglar stole $9,000 from an ATM, cash registers and lockers.
The physical attacks come as LGBT people in Columbus are in the midst of a month of social, cultural and educational events — as well as special bar nights — to celebrate and observe Pride.
BRAVO’s McCauley said our happy time, though, gets anti-gay people fired up, too. Such incidents aren’t unexpected, she said.
“It’s not all that unusual. It’s June,” McCauley said. “We’re so out and proud in June, and people are out there who don’t like it.”
She gave the following safety tips:
— Carry a whistle. It’ll get attention quick and perhaps scare off would-be attackers.
— Don’t walk alone, and hit the bars with a “designated walker.” We make a smart choice not to drive for a night out, she said, but we’re also less aware of our surroundings when we walk around, as McCauley put it, “happy.” Someone in your group should stay sober.
— Be cautious, even inside the bars. “Don’t take for granted that just because they’re in a gay club that their motives are good,” she said.