For Ryan Lester, who was viciously beaten Jan 22 in a random hate-fuelled attack, the bubble of safety that surrounds the Church and Wellesley Village has burst.
“I didn’t think this kind of thing happened in the Village. Maybe that was naive of me,” he says.
The evening started out like any other, he says. Lester, 30, a Pride Toronto employee, was out with his brother Ben, 24, and his boyfriend’s sister, Carley Brailsford. After a few cocktails, the group popped into the Mehran Restaurant on Church St, near The Barn, at about 2am for a quick bite.
“We walked in. These two assholes were sitting there. They started in with the usual stuff: ‘faggot, homo, queer.’ The things we’ve all heard, unfortunately,” Lester describes to Xtra.
Lester ignored the hateful slurs and continued on to the counter to order some food. His brother turned to the two men and advised them to “keep their anti-gay slurs to themselves.”
“I’m not a confrontational kind of guy. My brother is a little protective of me and doesn’t like to hear that crap,” he says.
That’s when the two men approached Lester’s brother and started punching him.
“I tried to break it up, but they got us both down on the ground,” he says. “One guy was kicking my brother in the ribs while he was on his back. And the second guy started kicking me in the face.”
The attack happened entirely inside the restaurant, Lester says. The security camera was rolling and eyewitnesses saw the entire thing.
“It all happened very fast,” he says. “The actual fight happened over a couple minutes. It was quite an ordeal.”
Brailsford called 911 right away, he says. “She was describing exactly what they looked like into the phone to police. And the police came very fast.”
The men then fled the scene, running up Church St. Lester says the police picked the pair up based on the description.
“The police were on scene in under 10 minutes,” he says. “I hear that most of the time police never find out who did it. I can’t imagine what that would be like, not knowing if they were still out there. At least I know they spent a few hours in jail.”
Lester says he has never been attacked in the Village before. “I used to think this area was safe any time of day. I’m quite shaken. It’s a little unnerving.”
He was taken by ambulance to Toronto General Hospital. “They did a CAT scan just to make sure. It was a soft tissue injury along my eye, head and neck. It still hurts and my forehead is numb.” His brother suffered deep bruises on his back and had to go to a dentist to repair a broken molar, he says.
Eoin McManus, 21, and Benjamin McCall, 21, both of Toronto, have each been charged with two counts of assault and one count of mischief. They will appear Feb 16 at College Park Courthouse.
Lester says he is happy to hear police are categorizing the attack as a hate crime.
Still, since it happened, Lester has heard stories from friends who have also experienced anti-gay violence, both verbal and physical, in the Village. Lester says every incident needs to be reported to police. Everyone should speak up.
Recently, mainstream media have put the spotlight on some Glee-style slushie attacks in the Village, allegedly perpetrated by a group of teenagers from Jarvis Collegiate.
Lester says he’s a bit saddened that the media is now making the link between what happened to him and the slushie incidents.
“The slushie thing kinda bothers me,” he says. “But at the same time, it’s not okay for kids to do that either, especially if their motivation is based on hate. It may be a slushie now, but that stuff grows. Who knows what [slushie attacks] will turn into?”
UPDATE SUN, MAR 6, 2011 By Matt Mills – I’ve added here a copy of the 2009 Toronto Police Service Hate/Bias Crime Statistical report for those who are curious. (NOTE: document no longer available)