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Straight Teen Killed in Queens Gay-Bash Attack

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Mar 15, 2011
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Anti-gay bias attacks don’t always target gays. Sometimes violent perpetrators screaming anti-gay epithets target straight men instead. Such may have been the case in the March 12 beating death in Queens, New York, of 18-year-old Anthony Collao, a heterosexual recent high school graduate, reported the New York Daily News on March 15.

Several young men who reportedly broke windows, scrawled on the walls with red markers, and made hand gestures associated with gangs invaded a party hosted by two gay men. The men also reportedly attacked and beat Collao while hurling anti-gay epithets, the article said.

The news account said that Collao tried to avoid violence by leaving the party once the four intruders entered. The gang chased him down, the article said, threw him up against a car, and pummeled him mercilessly. Collao was reportedly was reportedly punched, kicked, and stomped. One assailant was said to be carrying a pipe.

Four suspects were later placed under arrest. One of the young men was wearing Collao’s baseball cap, and the other three were "covered in blood."

One suspect, Alex Velez, is 16, and lives in the Bronx; the other three, identified as Christopher Lozada, Nolis Ogando, and Luis Tabales, are from Queens and are 17 years old.

Details about the party were posted in advance on Facebook, the article said. The four young men reportedly crashed the party, entering uninvited and without paying the cover fee. They then began their rampage, while shouting anti-gay invective.

"They called us homos and all kinds of stuff," said one witness.

The families of two of those accused defended the suspects. The father of Alex Velez said that his son was a good student who was "in the wrong place at the wrong time," and claimed that his son was defending himself from an attack by Collao.

Others said that Alex Velez was the one who was wielding the pipe.

Ercina Rodriguez, the aunt of Nolis Ogando, said that her nephew was innocent. "He said he was at a party and when he saw everyone run he ran too. He didn’t see anything." Rodriguez said that Ogando was "suicidal" after his arrest, and added that the suspect is not a physically imposing specimen: "He has chronic anemia and weighs like 80 pounds. He is not a gangbanger."

Collao was on life support until March 14, when he died in the hospital. The young man’s parents operate an ice cream establishment in Queens, though the family lives on Long Island. A neighbor said that Collao was "a very respectful, very friendly, very handsome young man," the article reported.

The attack was far from an isolated instance of violence. Several anti-gay attacks have taken place in Queens recently. Last December, two young men pled guilty to an attack on a gay man who he and another suspect robbed and beat in 2009 outside of a deli.

Daniel Aleman, 27, and Daniel Rodriguez, 22, carried out the assault on 50-year-old Jack Price early in the morning on Oct. 8, 2009. The attackers shouted anti-gay epithets as they punched and kicked Price, delivering a beating so severe that the older man spent weeks in the hospital with serious injuries, including a broken jaw, a punctured lung, and a lacerated spleen. The two attackers also stole Price’s wallet. Aleman addressed the court at his Dec. 13, 2009, sentencing, saying that he was drunk at the time of the attack and robbery.

"I’m very sorry for what I did," said Aleman, who had pleaded guilty to charges of robbery as a hate crime, and received the sentence of eight years plus five years of supervision after his prison term on Dec. 13. "I was drunk and I was under the influence," Aleman added. "I made a very big mistake."

Rodriguez similarly pleaded guilty.

The attack sparked a rally against hate crimes in Queens on Oct. 17, 2009, an earlier EDGE article reported. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, among other political figures, attended the rally, which was organized by openly gay schoolteacher Danny Dromm, now a member of the New York City Council.

The EDGE article noted that a series of anti-gay attacks had taken place in Queens prior to the beating Price suffered. "Trinidad Tapia and Gilberto Ortiz allegedly beat Leslie Mora with a belt buckle as she walked home from a Jackson Heights nightclub in June" of 2009, the article reported. "And Nathaniel Mims and Rasheed Thomas face hate crimes charges after they allegedly attacked Carmella Etienne with rocks and empty beer bottles on July 8 as she walked home from a store near her St. Albans apartment."

The article also cited the fatal attack in Brooklyn in late 2008. Two men attacked a heterosexual Ecuadorian immigrant, José Sucuzhañay, because they mistook him for a gay man.

The wave of anti-gay hate crimes that has swept New York in recent years prompted Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, to point to hate speech directed at gays and other minorities. Such speech is especially acute in election years, and a corresponding rise in bias-motivated violence reportedly accompanies politically motivated hate speech.

"That kind of hate speech," said Stapel, "gives people license to believe that it’s completely appropriate to be violent towards folks because of their sexual orientation or gender identity." Stapel made her comments before AVP’s Courage Awards at the Prince George Ballroom in Manhattan on Oct. 18, 2010, an October 26, 2010, EDGE article noted. "There’s a direct connection. What we’re seeing as the LGBT civil rights movement advances in very meaningful ways, the backlash becomes more severe."

"Although the climate may be changing, as long as there are people spewing hatred towards our community, people will interpret that as license to hurt us or a license to torment us," said former AVP executive director David Wertheimer, who was on hand at the same news conference.

New Yorkers, and the nation, were shocked at vicious anti-gay assaults carried out last fall by a gang in the Bronx. Nine members of the Latin King Goonies suspected that one of their recruits might be gay, the Associated Press reported Oct. 8, 2010, and allegedly attacked the 17-year-old youth on Oct. 3, 2010. The gang beat the teen and sexually assaulting him with a plunger handle. A 30-year-old man whom the gang suspected the youth was involved with sexually was also targeted by the gang, and assaulted in much the same way as the teenager was. The older man’s brother was also assaulted in a home invasion undertaken by the gang.

The attacks in the Bronx took place only a few months after a July 7, 2010, incident on Staten Island in which a gang of about 40 young men and women attacked a gay couple. One of the gay men was left beaten and bleeding in a parking lot, according to a subsequent EDGE article from Oct. 21, 2010, that reported on the paucity of leads in the crime.

Another attack took place in the Stonewall Inn, the West Village establishment at the center of the historic Stonewall riots. Two men--Matthew Francis, 21, and Christopher Orlando, 17--reportedly beat a gay man as he stood at a urinal in the bar’s restroom, according to an Oct. 4, 2010 EDGE report.

The same EDGE article also reported that an anti-gay attack took place in Chelsea on Oct. 1, 2010, when several assailants, including Andrew Jackson, 20, set upon two gay males after seeing them kiss each other goodbye on the street.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn issued a statement on the fatal beating that Colleo suffered.

"I want to express my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Anthony Collao," Quinn, who is openly lesbian stated. "My Council colleagues and I are saddened and disturbed by this outrageous attack. We celebrate diversity in New York City, we do not tolerate bias attacks in any neighborhood in Queens or anywhere else in our great City.

"We condemn this violent act of intolerance and ignorance in the strongest possible terms," Quinn’s statement continued. "The Council is in communication with the NYPD Hate Crimes Unit about this incident and we thank the NYPD for their swift action making four arrests over the weekend.

"I am confident that law enforcement officials will aggressively prosecute those responsible for this hateful act."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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