On the night of Sept. 11, two gay men were walking on a downtown Philadelphia street, just a few blocks away from one of the most gay-friendly areas in the city. But by the end of the night, they were in the hospital, one of them with their jaw wired shut, in an alleged hate crime that has rattled the city of Brotherly Love.
Last week, two men and a woman were charged with aggravated assault for the incident, among other charges, according to the Associated Press. Their attorneys have alleged that the gay couple instigated the incident, but prosecutors aren’t buying it.
Now the community is left to figure out what to do next — and gay rights advocates are pushing for a change to state law because the trio will not be charged with a hate crime, even though the entire altercation allegedly started with a question about the victims’ sexuality.
The unnamed gay couple, both in their mid-20s and together for six years, described the attack to Fox 29 in Philadelphia. They were going out for pizza at about 10:30 p.m. when they were approached by a group of “well-dressed” men and women who looked like they were in their 20s.
“Somebody says as we cross 16th, ‘Is that your f-ing boyfriend?’ And I looked at him, and said, ‘That is my f-ing boyfriend,'” one of the victims said. “He goes you are a dirty fag. And I said, ‘Yes, I am a dirty fag’ and he punched me in the face.”
One of the victims had multiple facial fractures and an orbital bone fracture. His jaw was wired shut the night of the incident and will be for two months.
“We were just going out for a nice dinner in Philadelphia, we’ve lived here for years, and we never had anything like this,” one victim said. “I just want to make sure this doesn’t happen again to anyone.”
Five days after the attack, the Philadelphia Police Department released a surveillance video of the alleged attackers. In the video, about a dozen well-groomed young adults are shown walking on the sidewalk of a downtown street. They were dressed fashionably in skirts and button-up shirts. Nobody looks particularly rowdy.
Intrepid social media users got in on the effort to identify the alleged assailants, according to ABC News. FanSince09, a well-known Philadelphia sports account with 11,300 followers, tweeted out still shots of the surveillance video — and earned the appreciation of local authorities.
S/O to @FanSince09 This is what makes my job easy. Sure, it’s up to me to make the arrest but we are all in this together.
— Joseph Murray (@PPDJoeMurray) September 17, 2014
Police then identified the now-charged suspects: Philip Williams, 24; Katherine Knott, 24; and Kevin Harrigan, 26, according to the AP. They were graduates of Archbishop Wood High School, where another uncharged member of the group was forced to step down as a coach for the school basketball team after the incident became public. School officials condemned the attacks, according to NBC 10.
Knott’s father is a suburban Philadelphia police chief, according to ABC News. Her social media postings quickly came under scrutiny after she was identified as a suspect, as the Huffington Post reported. “the ppl we were just dancing with just turned and mafe out with eatch other #gay #ew,” read one March 2012 tweet on Knott’s personal account, which has since been taken down.
Knott’s attorney has been adamant no sexual animus was a factor. Early in the investigation, an unnamed attorney alleged that video would show that the gay couple initiated the fight.
“We don’t deny that there was a gentleman who was assaulted,” Louis Busico, her attorney, said. “We don’t deny that this gentleman was injured. But I unequivocally deny that my client did anything to hurt this man; she wouldn’t hurt anybody.”
Though charges have been filed, they do not include any hate crime counts. That’s because, according to NBC 10, Pennsylvania state law does not include sexual orientation as a class protected by its hate-crime law.
An online petition has been filed to address that, and a rally was held last week to boost support for reform. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has said he supports a change to the state law.
State Rep. Brian Sims (D), who is openly gay, said he plans to introduce a bill when the state legislature reconvenes in January.
“I’m really hopeful that we have a governor who is supportive of hate crime legislation. I think that hate crimes are not a partisan issue,” Sims said. “Certain types of crimes have an intent behind them that deserve to be elevated to a certain level.”
Protestors call on Pennsylvania to add sexual orientation to its hate crime law at John F. Kennedy Plaza in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke).