mailing list and keep up on the latest news!
Cleveland--An attack on a stalwart of Cleveland’s LGBT, HIV and leather communities on August 2 led to calls for a boycott and increasing focus on security in and around the city’s gay bars.
Jon Brittain, whose annual food drive collects thousands of dollars worth of donations for the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland Food Pantry, survived an attempted carjacking after leaving the Tool Shed/A Man’s World nightclub at 11:30 pm.
While walking to his car, parked at the southwest corner of West 29th Street and Church Avenue, he passed two young men, who he believes are around 18 to 20 years old.
After getting in his car, he fastened his seatbelt and turned the engine on. Before he could shift into reverse, which would have automatically locked his Chevrolet HHR, the door was yanked open and a gun was put to his head.
“I turned off the engine and pulled the keys out,” Brittain, a long-term survivor of HIV, said. “He yelled at me to leave the keys in and the car running, which means he wants the car too. So he told me to get out, they want my money.”
Brittain complied, getting out of the car, but then kicked his assailant in the stomach and hit him twice in the head before the young man pistol-whipped him.
“After a while I got away from him and I went one way,” he continued. “He tried to take something out of my car but there was nothing in there so they went the other way.”
The former florist, who this year organized the Friday night “CLAW Rocks the Big Top” carnival event for the Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend, ran to a nearby store, Dean Rufus’ House of Fun, where the police and an ambulance were called.
It took half an hour for the ambulance to arrive, and the police still had not responded by 1:30 am.
At the hospital, Brittain got at least 16 stitches in his left temple and eyelid area.
“And then somehow I got a slash in my neck,” he noted. “The nurse said if they had gone any deeper, I would not have made it.”
Brittain got out of the hospital on August 4, and on August 6 he filed a police report.
Less than 14 hours after the attack, Gregory Erickson, another community member who worked on CLAW with Brittain, was calling for a boycott of the Tool Shed, A Man’s World and their basement bar, Crossover.
Early e-mails called for the boycott to continue until owner Richard Husarick, sold the bars and the block-long building that houses them. In later missives, a cooler head prevailed and Erickson outlined a plan for increasing security at the bar and ejecting alleged hustlers and drug dealers.
Dean Rufus and Tom Bayne, who own Dean Rufus’ House of Fun in the same building, joined in calls for increased security. They received a handwritten letter informing them that Husarick was ending their month-to-month lease and giving them 30 days to vacate.
But by the next weekend, Husarick had rescinded the eviction and taken at least one recommendation from Erickson’s emails: hiring uniformed security to patrol outside the bars and escort people to their cars.
Husarick did not return several calls for comment.
In addition, police were very visible, with cars driving by regularly, at times parking nearby with clear lines of sight to both the bars and parking areas, and another officer was parked across Church Avenue in a red minivan.
In the five days between the attack and the eviction notice being rescinded, Husarick spoke with Sue Doerfer of the Cleveland LGBT Center, Brittain, Mike Ontko of Flex and representatives of the Ohio City Near West Development Corporation.
Rufus noted that he had, before the weekend, heard from bar employees about the reintroduction of uniformed security and the hiring of off-duty police officers.
“This is only the beginning of something very good that has become a reality as the result of a very bad situation,” Rufus wrote in a letter to the community. “There is lots more work to be done. We must all not forget what has happened and must continue to work together to make a difference. If we all stick together as we have come together over these past several days, just imagaine what we can accomplish.”
The neighborhood in which the bars are located is known for being a bit seedy, with a large Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority project just two blocks away. However, it is also home to Union Station/Bounce and an upscale condominium development across Detroit Ave.
On August 9, a vigil against violence was held place outside of Dean Rufus’ House of Fun. But attendance was sparse, due in no small part to heavy rains that started an hour before sunset.
Despite the rain, security was very visible. Outside Union Station, a uniformed security guard was stationed as well. Husarick was seen speaking with security outside his establishments a block away.
Erickson and others would still like to see more done for the security, including the addition of video camera surveillance both for the building and nearby parking areas.
Last December, Joey Melaragno, who worked part-time at A Man’s World as a barback, was shot to death in an apartment above the bars. Melaragno lived in one of the apartments and was visiting a neighbor, Santo Barbarotta, when thugs came to collect money from Barbarotta. It is believed that the debt was for drugs.
Erickson points to incidents like that as an impetus for cleaning up the building and the neighborhood.
Brittain’s assailants are still out there, and they may have accosted others near Cleveland gay bars. Brittain recounted a friend of his heading into the Hawk when he was approached by two young men matching the description of his attackers. One of them asked him, “Why go in there when you can have this,” pointing to his friend’s crotch.
According to Brittain, his friend told the young men, “I’m gay, I’m not a pedophile,” and walked into the bar.
“I don’t think there’s really going to be any sex involved,” Brittain opined. “I think that’s the come-on to get them out of the way.”
He said that his attackers were white, about 5’7”, 18 to 20 years old. “The ‘mean one’ was stocky with short-cropped brown hair, the other was skinny with combable blonde hair,” Brittain noted.
The Cleveland LGBT Center, which has partnered with the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization in Columbus, plans to hold a town hall meeting on safety and violence in the near future, Doerfer said, on August 9.
Despite the attack, Brittain, who appeared on local television news coverage of the incident wearing his “Long-Term Survivor” Tshirt, says he is not going to stay home and hide.
“It’s going to take more than that to get me down,” he said. “I’ve survived too many things.”