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Florida Victim of Anti-Gay Beating Appears in Online Video

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday February 28, 2008

The bruised victim of an anti-gay hate crime appeared on a video online to relate how a beating he suffered outside a Fort Lauderdale eatery unfolded.

Melbourne Brunner spoke in the video, available online at the Sun-Sentinel's Web site, about the attack, which took place less than a day after the fatal shooting of a young transgendered African-American man in another part of Fort Lauderdale.

According to Brunner, he and his partner had just ordered breakfast at The Floridian diner at about 3:30 a.m. on Feb. 23 when a man to whom his partner had said, "Good morning," responded, "It's evening," and then launched into anti-gay invective, including threatening gestures accompanied by an explanation of how the man would break the necks of "faggots."

At that point, Brunner said, he and his partner canceled their breakfast order and attempted to leave the diner.

But the assailant followed them out of the diner, and accosted them in the parking lot, striking Brunner in the face. Brunner fell, striking his head on the pavement.

In the video, Brunner is brusied, with swollen eyes; the Sun-Sentinel reported that doctors had said injuries to Brunner's face and eyes will not lead to permanent damage.

Meantime, the owner of The Floridian diner has offered a reward, putting up $5,000 of his own money for information leading to the arrest of the assailant, who reportedly drove away from the diner after assaulting Brunner in a sage green Toyota Tacoma pickup with a bed-cover and a rollbar, after removing his shirt and using it to cover up his license plate.

The year of the vehicle was reported to be 2002 or similar.

The assailant was described as 5' 10", with a shaved head, and about 165 lbs.

In the early morning hours of the previous day, Simmie Williams, Jr., was shot on Sistrunk Blvd. after exchanging words with two men. Williams was dressed as a woman at the time of the shooting; he died in the hospital a short time later.

GLBT advocates say that the mini-epidemic of anti-gay violence in the city might spring from an atmosphere of intensified homophobia, and cite inflammatory anti-gay rhetoric from Fort Lauderdale mayor Jim Naugle as one possible contributing factor to such an atmosphere.

Starting last June, Naugle made a series of remarks that were widely seen as ant-gay. The uproar began when Naugle suggested that Broward Country, long a gay tourist destination, should invest in an expensive automated toilet in order to prevent gay public sex from taking place in public facilities.

Naugle then made gay public sex something of a signature issue, publicly wondering whether Broward County ought to be as welcoming to gay travelers, erroneously claiming that Broward County leads the way in rates of new HIV transmissions, and stating, again erroneously, that gay men represent the demographic with the highest incidence of new HIV infections.

Naugle also characterized the holdings of a scholarly GLBT library as "hard core" in protesting the library's move into government-owned space at the Broward County Public Library.

Appearing at a series of press conferences and rallies, Naugle drew national attention, along with praise from social and religious conservatives, and acrimony from gay equality groups.

Locally, his actions had negative consequences when the Broward County tourism board dropped Naugle from its membership, fearing that the mayor had damaged the county's reputation as a gay-friendly vacation spot and endangered the billion-dollar annual business that GLBT travelers bring in to the local economy.

But some gay advocates believe that the rhetoric may have had damaging effects far more dangerous than alienating tourists. Near summer's end, on Sept. 18, Tommy Davis, a young gay man who worked at a local gay club called Ramrod, was apparently targeted by the driver of a vehicle who swerved up onto the sidewalk, hit Davis, and then swerved back out into the street and sped off.

A friend of Davis, Marcus Hopkins, who saw the hit and run, said, "When he hit the windshield, he bounced off the car and hit the dirt."

Davis was left brain-damaged and in a vegetative state. Hopkins believed the vehicular assault was an anti-gay hate crime.

Writing about the hit and run, Timothy Kincaid said in an Oct. 11 article published at Box Turtle, "Anti-gays often claim that their objections are to 'sin not sinners.'"

Continued Kincaid, "And when others point out that their denunciations result in violence, they loudly protest their innocence and that there is 'no proof' to link the rhetoric to the crimes."

However, wrote Kincaid, "it is my observation that when anti-gay language escalates in an area, anti-gay violence soon follows."

Added Kincaid, "I'm disgusted at those who claim to 'love the sinner' but take no responsibility for the results of their campaign against 'the sin.'"

Following the murder of Williams, local lawyer and gay equality activist Michael Rajner sent out an email in which he wrote, "There is no doubt that the rhetoric we as a community confronted last summer contributes to the culture of hate that exists in South Florida."

As reported by EDGE on Feb. 27, beating victim Melbourne Brunner placed some of the blame for his bruises at Naugle's feet, saying, "I kind of blame him for what's going on," while the South Florida director of GLBT rights group Equality Florida, Stratton Pollitzer, said, "As long as there's a notion that it's socially acceptable to insult, harass, beat or even kill gay people, we never can take our safety for granted no matter where we are."

In a release issued by GLBT equality group Fight OUT Loud and authored by GLBT activist Waymon Hudson, president of the group, the connection was made once again.

Wrote Hudson, "Fight OUT Loud cannot help but see the connection between the virulent anti-gay rhetoric of people like Jim Naugle and the Florida4Marriage group and wonder if their continued demonization of the LGBT community is leading to this increase in anti-gay violence."

Continued Hudson, "The dangerous, hate-filled words of these people have inflamed violence against innocent members of our community and must not go unchallenged."

Added Hudson, "This is unacceptable."

Naugle has made no comment as yet regarding the attacks, but Sun-Sentinel columnist Michael Mayo wrote in a Feb. 27 piece that "it's a stretch to link [Naugle's] shameful gay-baiting comments from last summer to two separate and apparently unrelated attacks on gays in Fort Lauderdale in the last week."

Asked Mayo, "If Naugle's comments had anything to do with this, why didn't these attacks occur last July or August, when Naugle was actively stirring the pot with news conferences and rallies?"

Continued Mayo, "There's no doubt that gays can be subjected to daily hate and ridicule, in ways big and small. The murder of Simmie Williams Jr. and the beating of Melbourne Brunner prove it."

Added Mayo, "But we have no idea if the people responsible for these apparently unconnected crimes have even heard of Jim Naugle, much less know of his ramblings."

Mayo cited a 4:30 p.m. vigil scheduled for today at Sistrunk Blvd.'s 1000 block, as a protest and memorial to Williams, and wrote, "Naugle can take a huge step to show he's a leader for all in Fort Lauderdale--black, white, straight, gay--by turning up and condemning these violent acts as loudly as he railed against gay sex last summer."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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