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March 27, 2009

Students protest after two men are bashed

Cincinnati--A major protest erupted after a gay man and his heterosexual friend were attacked near the University of Cincinnati campus.

The two men were walking back to campus on Clifton Avenue in the pre-dawn hours of March 6, when they ran into three other men that one of the victims knew from high school.

But when the trio found out that the other man is gay, they attacked him and their former classmate, who was protecting him.

Both victims, who have asked that their names not be released, are reportedly doing well following the attack.

It took the University of Cincinnati police 12 days to issue a campus alert. By then, two of the suspects had been arrested and were facing felonious assault charges.

A Hamilton County grand jury lowered the charges against Ethan Kirkwood and Matthew Kafagolis to misdemeanor assault. Kafagolis is out on $1,000 bond between the two charges, and Kirkwood is out on $5,000 bond.

Kafagolis faces a non-jury trial on April 8. Kirkwood has a pre-trial hearing on April 2.

The LGBT campus and internet community in Cincinnati were not pleased with the lateness of the U.C. police notice, or the lack of coverage of the bias-motivated attack.

A rally was organized for March 19 that drew a crowd of 150 people, according to Cincinnati Enquirer estimates.

Ethan Philbrick, who got on the website Facebook after receiving the U.C. police email alert, put the rally together in less than 24 hours, using the networking site and allowing the message to fan out across the internet.

�This is about voicing our identity,� he told the Enquirer. �Our number and our strength show we deserve to be listened to and our identity is valid.�

�We needed to step up and have a voice in this and show this is not acceptable,� he continued.

Neither of the two suspects is charged with a hate crime. Cincinnati has a gay-inclusive ethnic intimidation ordinance, but it cannot raise a misdemeanor charge to a felony. Ohio has no hate crime law that includes sexual orientation.

�We�re all people,� said Christopher Backs, a University of Cincinnati senior. �We�re all made of the same stuff. There is no reason something so minor should separate us.�

The University of Cincinnati will host Judy Shepard, mother of slain University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, on April 6 at 7 pm in the Great Hall of Tangeman University Center.

Shepard has spent the ten years since her son�s death speaking out against bias-motivated violence and urging acceptance of LGBT people.

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