Early Saturday morning, June 3, as most of Portland's bars were shutting down, a group of friends left the Escape Night Club on SW Park and headed toward 10th and SW Stark to see what was going on at some of the other gay clubs.
One of the four—all gay men in their 20s—was dressed in drag. Another group of eight to 10 men approached, and a few of them hit on the drag queen. "They laughed it off," says Justin MacPherson, a close friend of the gay guys, and the public relations staffer for the Escape Club.
The drag queen, who goes by Venus, told the strangers, "You know I'm not a girl," according to MacPherson.
That's when two of the strangers—white guys, also in their 20s, according to witnesses—suddenly started beating up the gay men. "They got the absolute hell beat out of them," said MacPherson on Monday, still visibly distraught over the incident. One of the victims, John Kuehn, suffered four facial fractures and has two black eyes. Another man has a fractured wrist, and a third—who wasn't walking with the victims, but intervened in the altercation—has a fractured neck vertebrae and a dislocated shoulder. Venus, MacPherson says, has cuts and bruises. (Some of the victims could not be reached by press time; others declined to comment).
The suspects ran off after a few minutes, and police were unable to locate them. MacPherson and his friends believe the gay bashers might have been out-of-towners, in Portland for the Rose Festival—the festival's fireworks show was earlier that night—and weren't familiar with the gay club scene around SW Stark. "They had no idea where they were," MacPherson says. Incidents like this, he says, seem to happen "every year, right around the Rose Festival." Some festival goers "get trashed, and they get stupid."
The Portland Police Bureau is currently investigating the incident "as a bias crime," says Officer Cathe Kent, bureau spokesperson.
The Bureau tracks reported bias crimes in Portland. In 2004, 124 bias crimes were reported. In 2005, there were 79. And to date this year, 43 bias crimes—based on race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, or one of many other characteristics—have been reported, Kent says.
Meanwhile, the victims, MacPherson, and others met on Sunday night at the Escape Club to strategize about personal safety when walking around downtown. "We want to make sure people know how to take care of themselves," he says.