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Beating was a hate crime, couple says


Photos by Charles Trainor Jr.

BY ERIKA BERAS, eberas@miamiherald.com

An early morning breakfast in Fort Lauderdale turned into an onslaught of slurs and a beating for a Fort Lauderdale couple, who said they are the victims of a hate crime.
The incident occurred Sunday morning outside The Floridian at 1410 E. Las Olas Blvd.

The couple and a friend sat down to breakfast about 3 a.m. at an outdoor table. They ordered sandwiches, tea and juices.

A man got out of his pickup truck, walked by them and promptly began yelling slurs at the trio -- Melbourne Brunner, his partner Mitchell Mart and a friend visiting from out of town.

'He was yelling, `Faggot, were you looking at me, if you were, I'm going to come back there and break your neck. That's what I do to faggots' and then he twisted his hands together,'' Mart recalled.

Words were exchanged.

The men decided to cancel their order.

They told the waiter to call the police, Mart said. 'He said, `What are they going to do?' ''

The men started to get into their car, which was parked two feet from the table, when the pickup driver said, ' `That's what faggots do, they run,' '' Mart said.

As Brunner tried to climb into the passenger seat, the man punched him several times, pushing the car door on him. Brunner fell to the ground, striking his head.

''I came around and he was bleeding,'' Mart said.

Mart helped Brunner into the car and then attempted to get the pickup driver's tag number.

The man ripped off his shirt and threw it over the plate as he yelled, ``I'll kill you before you get my tag number!''

The man then yelled out a few more slurs before taking off.

Hate1 Mart and Brunner, pictured, drove to Broward General Medical Center.

Brunner suffered severe bruising, which has spread, Mart said Tuesday afternoon as they prepared for another doctor visit. Brunner did not suffer any broken bones. ''His jaw is out of wack,'' said Mart, a retired dentist.

''Everyone was just sort of in shock. We were traumatized,'' he said.

Brunner filed a report yesterday at a local police station. The couple said police did not show up to either the restaurant or the hospital.

In a press release, Fort Lauderdale police said officers arrived after the couple had left both locations.

Police are treating the incident as a battery and looking into the possibility that it may have been a hate crime.

Calls to The Floridian, were not immediately returned. The couple said the owner of the 24-hour eatery called to apologize.

Fort Lauderdale, known for being one of the most gay-friendly communities in the country, has had an increasing number of violent acts committed against members of the gay community in the last year.

That coupled with controversial comments from long-time Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle. He said the city should buy a $250,000 self-cleaning, locking toilet to stop men from having sex in public restrooms at the beach. He voted against the Stonewall Library. And he made comments linking gay tourism to Broward County's AIDS problem. The county has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the country.

Naugle was kicked off Broward County's tourism development council bycommissioners soon after.

A spokeswoman for The Greater Fort Lauderdale Visitors and Convention Bureau said 950,000 gay tourists visited in 2006, spending $1.2 billion. That's about a tenth of all tourists and an eighth of all tourism dollars that were pumped into the city. Numbers for 2007 were not available.

Despite Naugle's comments and the subsequent protests, the gay magazine Out Traveler named Fort Lauderdale America's favorite resort town.

But lately there have been the violent overshadows: just last week, a Simmie Williams, a 17-year-old boy was murdered at the corner of Sistrunk Boulevard and 10th Avenue. He was wearing women's clothes.

''All of a sudden it has become more of a problem than all of the years I've lived here. Friends of mine have had incidents,'' Mart said. ``I feel less safe than ever before.''


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I am bisexual, and I have many gay and bisexual friends. I would love to have some asshole like this come up to me, I would beat the shit out of him. Why do people put up with this crap? There were three of them and one of him, they should have come together and given him a beating to remember. There are some kinds of people that you can't reason with, you can't talk things over nicely with, the only thing idiots like that understand is the crack of the fist and brute force.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual people need to get angry when they are harassed and take advantage of the new "stand your ground" law in Florida, and hit back at aggressive bigots. Those men in Fort Lauderdale could have KILLED that man for what he did to them and they would have been within their legal rights because of Florida's Stand Your Ground law. Wake up people, it's time to fight back when you are assulted.

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