Gay couple attacked inside NYC fast food restaurant

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Friday July 23, 2010


LGBT Staten Islanders continue to demand justice for a gay couple who was attacked at a local fast food restaurant earlier this month.

Luis and Richard Vieira were on their way home from a Manhattan bar around 2:20 a.m. on July 7 when they stopped at a White Castle on Bay Street in Stapleton. Luis Vieira told EDGE he and his partner noticed roughly 40 young black men and women walking down the street as they entered the restaurant, which is a few blocks from their home. A few minutes later, one of the three men from this group who entered the restaurant approached the couple's table and shouted an anti-gay epithet.

Luis Vieira responded, and the man turned around and walked towards a nearby exit. Seconds later, however, Luis Vieira felt something hit the back of his head.

"I [felt] a thump and thought did something fall out of the ceiling or something, and I then see this young kid starting to run out," he recalled. "I got up and started to chase after them."

Luis Vieira said he recognized the group he and his partner had previously seen in the street when he ran into the parking lot. He grabbed his cell phone to call 911, but he quickly realized his partner was not inside the restaurant-and Luis Vieira soon discovered him bleeding and semiconscious in the parking lot.

"I started screaming," he recalled. "I ran to him; he was covered in blood."

Paramedics brought Richard Vieira to Richmond University Medical Center, where he received 15 stitches to close a gash above his eyebrow and additional sutures for a cut on his cheek. He also suffered a bruised shoulder and a black eye and continues to experience headaches and dizziness, but Luis Vieira questioned the way the two New York Police Department officers who responded to the scene conducted themselves. He told EDGE they failed to take statements from either him, his partner or those who were inside the restaurant at the time of his attack.

Luis Vieira said he went to the 120th Precinct after the hospital released Richard Vieira because he "wanted the officers there to see for themselves the result of that brutal attack" and to hear from "my own lips" what happened. Luis Vieira told EDGE a supervisor said the two officers said he and his partner were uncooperative and had refused to go to a nearby business from which the young people had allegedly stolen items.

The Staten Island Advance reported on July 9 the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating the attack, but Luis Vieira further criticized the way he said White Castle employees responded to the incident. He received a letter from Elizabeth Ingram, vice president of restaurant management for White Castle System, Inc., on July 13 that highlighted the "unpleasant experience you had with White Castle" and assured Luis Vieira the company had "shared your concerns with the appropriate personnel in management and in the restaurant."

"We appreciate customers like you, who take the time to let us know when the service receives is less than expected," added Ingram before she offered the Vieiras a complimentary meal.

"If that's not the ultimate insult to injury, then I don't know what is," said Luis Vieira.

Staten Island Pride planning committee members and other local activists plan to gather at the Stapleton White Castle at 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 7 to express their solidarity with the Vieiras.

"Gay couples are going to go to White Castle at 450 Bay St.," said Gerard Mawn, former co-chair of the Staten Island Pride planning committee. "We're going to sit down and eat and say this is our place."

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is among those who are expected to attend a press conference outside the restaurant later in the morning, but other gatherings have taken place since the three men attacked the Vieiras. The couple was among the more than 70 people who attended a meeting at the Staten Island LGBT Center in Tompkinsville on July 13. And City Councilmember Debi Rose has spearheaded the "I am Staten Island" campaign in response to the Vieiras' case and other hate crimes that have taken place in the borough in recent months.

"You always have to react swiftly and continuously," openly gay state Assemblymember Matthew Titone [D-Staten Island] told EDGE. "You need to be proactive as opposed to reactive-not letting the issue die with yesterday's newspaper."

The attack against the Vieiras came less than two weeks after three men shouted anti-Mexican epithets at Alejandro Galindo before they brutally beat him in Port Richmond.

State Sen. Diane Savino [D-Staten Island] said in a statement hate crimes send a particular message-and the borough's residents have a responsibility to counter it.

"The recent beatings of Staten Island residents, just for being Latino or gay is a message," said Savino. "Now it is our turn to send a message; there is no room for hatred here."

Several comments posted to the under the headline "Staten Island Niggas Jump 2 Homosexuals En [sic] Stapleton" express support for the men who attacked the Vieiras. Titone was quick to stress to EDGE, however, he feels the vast majority of Staten Islanders remain outraged over the hate crimes that have taken place in their borough.

"What we have to do is put aside philosophical, political or ideological differences and stand united with the message enough is enough and we will not... as a community... stand for violence of any form," he said.

Luis Vieira said he actually feels sorry for the young men who attacked him and his partner. That said; he stressed hate crimes are an island-wide problem.

"This is not a black, white or homosexual issue," said Luis Vieira. "It could have been an Indian couple. It could have been Hispanics. It could have been your brother, your sister, anybody. This sort of activity has to stop. Somebody has to do something."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.