More than a hundred people gathered in historical Johnson Square in Savannah, Ga., Sunday for a “GLBT Equal Protection Rally,” a week after a gay man claims he was beaten by two Marines for allegedly winking at them.

Cody Patterson, 26, of Savannah, was an organizer of the rally and said he hoped the rally would bring attention to the need for a state hate crimes law as well as send a message to city leaders and the police department.

“We must push out leaders to pass equal protection nationwide and in all states,” he said. “States are the first to grab hold onto issues. And like in this case [if there was a state hate crimes law] we don’t have to have the FBI come in, the Justice Department come in, and take care over this case,” he said.

Georgia Equality and Lambda Legal had petitions at the rally to send to lawmakers urging a state hate crimes law be passed.

“Our local judicial authority should be able to handle this … and have the power to investigate and prosecute,” Patterson said. “We are standing here in beautiful Johnson Square, in front of the gold dome of City Hall, and we must push our leaders to act.”

Daly skips rally, denies using slur in January fight

The FBI is currently working with the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department to determine if Keil Cronauer and Christopher Stanzel, the two Marines charged in the beating of Daly, should face charges for committing a federal hate crimes law.

Daly did not attend the rally today. An article in the June 20 Savannah Morning News detailed a January incident in which Daly was in a fight with another man during a road rage incident. During the fight between the two men, Daly allegedly used a racial slur.

Patterson said he and the organizers of the rally knew about the incident and that the information Daly has given to them, as well as stated to the Savannah Morning News, is he denies using any slurs.

“He denies everything,” Patterson said.

“Mr. Daly he is still recovering. As we can imagine this has been extremely traumatic event. He is still recovering and is spending time with his family,” Patterson said of Daly not attending the rally.

Patterson did read a statement from Daly to the crowd, “The outpouring of support from the community as a whole has deeply touched my heart. While I would much rather be standing in front of you today, for various reasons I feel it necessary to spend the day continuing to recover with my sons. Thank you all for the support, messages, and phone calls and again, thank you.”

Kevin Clark, Savannah chapter director for Georgia Equality, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy group, said the alleged bashing of Daly last Saturday was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

The alleged beating took place in the Sun Trust bank parking lot across the street from the Sunday rally.

“We hope to show in a powerful and vivid way to the community of Savannah and more importantly the leadership at all levels that GLBT community has had enough — enough violence, enough attacks,” Clark said of Sunday’s rally.

Clark added the rally was not just about the alleged attack on Daly but on other attacks against gay people, including those that have gone unreported.

“This not only about Mr. Daly. This has been going on for decades. We don’t know how many victims there are,” he said.

“We are demanding justice, condemnation of the violence and calling for the leadership of this city to call for swift, appropriate justice … We are going to see justice done come hell or high water,” Clark said.

Clark said the accusations against Daly in the January fight are “totally irrelevant” and seems to be a way for police to “blame the victim.”

Daly to meet with FBI on Monday

The Savannah police LGBT liaison Tracy Walden told the Georgia Voice last week that “The information coming out now is there may have been more to it” than what the alleged victim originally reported and that he may not have tried to walk away as he  initially told police, she said.

“Whatever happened, that does not give anyone the right to raise their hand and hit someone in violence,” Walden said.

“But we have to investigate this to the fullest extent we can and then turn the information over to the D.A. — whether it falls under a hate crime is for him to decide,” she said.

The federal hate crimes law was passed in October and Walden acknowledged the Savannah-Chatham police department hasn’t had much training on it.

She added that the victim has not given police permission to look at his medical records and also has not returned phone calls to investigators seeking to question him.

Daly is to meet with the FBI and turn over his medical records on Monday, said organizer Cody Patterson, who is a friend of Daly’s.

Walden, the police LGBT liaison, was not seen at the rally Sunday.

Second alleged gay bashing victim speaks out at rally

A second alleged gay bashing victim, John Takats, came forward last week through a statement from Georgia Equality saying he was attacked in February, possibly by one of the same Marines that attacked Daly. He said he tried to file a report with police but was discouraged from doing so.

Takats was at Sunday’s rally. He has not filed a police report and Savannah police spokesperson Gena Moore says he has not come forward to file a police report about the incident, according to Project Q Atlanta.

“There is no way to say we are not responsive if you want to file a police report. There are five precincts and headquarters. Clearly, filing a police report five or six months later is going to make it more difficult to solve a case that we have no witnesses for, that we have no physical evidence of. It’s always easier to solve a crime the fresher the crime is,” Moore said.

But Takats stuck to his story at Sunday’s rally saying that police did not respond to his desire to report the incident and in fact told him he may have instigated the beating.

“I was victimized for being who I am. This needs to stop,” Takats said Sunday.

“After working up the courage, I decided  I must report this to the authorities. I was passed around to a couple of officers and convinced this is not a problem,” he added.

“I was told, quote, ‘This kind of stuff happens in Savannah. You are gay and need to tone it down.’ They claimed I must have made them uncomfortable. I walked away discouraged, scared and alone. I’m asking you to all come together and fight for what is right.”

After the rally, Takats said he was repeatedly kept from filing a police report about the February but that he plans to do so now.

“They discouraged me from filing. I actually originally didn’t think it was possible [to file one now]. But I will, definitely this week,” he said. When asked if had spoken to the Savannah police LGBT liaison, Takats said, “Not yet, but I plan to speak to her.”

City officials promise support to LGBT residents

Alderman At-Large Post 1 Jeff Felser spoke for himself and for some city officials at the rally, saying Mayor Otis S. Johnson was out of town but did send  his support of the “GLBT community, the diversity of Savannah and the need for a state hate crimes law.”

“I can only say to Kieran Daly I am personally sorry for what happened. It should never happen again. Justice should be pursued and justice should prevail,” he said.

“The facts have to come out. As the facts come out, reman vigilant, remain strong. Please speak in one unified voice,” he said. “The mayor and city council, we support you.”

Felser also commented on the recent allegations now facing Daly.

“As an attorney, I don’t like it when you have a rapist who goes on trial and the victim then becomes the focus of their past. Whatever their past may be it does not mean the present act was right. Just walk away,” he said.

“Kieran is not on trial, OK? The investigation is not about Kieran. Let justice and the facts prevail …and I will continue to speak out on your behalf.”

Boston rally in solidarity with Savannah, blames Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in part for alleged gay bashing

A protest rally “Against Homophobia/Hate Crimes and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” organized by Join the Impact Massachusetts is planned for Monday, June 21, in Boston. The rally is inspired by what happened in Savannah. Organizers write on the event’s Facebook page, “First of all, those of us organizing this rally stand in solidarity with the LGBT community of Savannah. We believe that Daly is a victim of homophobia and that his injury was the result of a vicious hate crime. We remember Sean Kennedy who, in 2007, was the victim of an eerily similar assault in Greenville, SC (see the Wiki article here); he later died from his head injuries. Daly could have suffered a similar fate. This is why we believe that the FBI should continue investigating this crime and that the men should be charged with hate crimes/human rights violations and convicted accordingly, according to the new Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

“In addition, we realize that a terribly homophobic policy like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is more than partially responsible for crimes like these, because it fosters a hostile environment toward the LGBT population throughout the Armed Forces. While a number of those serving do not carry such hatred or disdain, there are many others who still do. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” not only discriminates against LGBT folks serving in the military, but it also perpetuates an intolerance of our community. We realize that this policy is up for repeal but that repeal has been mired in red tape and unnecessary studies as part of a compromise that is wholly inappropriate.”

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