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June 4 , 2010

Two Miami U. students beaten in possible hate crime

Oxford, Ohio--Two gay Miami University students were assaulted while attending a drag show fundraiser for the LGBT student group Spectrum at an Oxford bar. Investigators have not ruled the incident a hate crime, but if they do, a new federal law would be applied.

Benjamin Collings, 21, of Oxford, and Ryan Britton, 22, of Bay Village, boyfriends, were apparently assaulted April 17 around 1:00 am by a man yelling �Hey faggots, you do not belong in society� in the restroom of the Stadium bar near the campus.

The bar was hosting the Spectrum event upstairs at the time.

According to the police report, tensions escalated between Collings and the suspect which spilled out into the street. There the suspect knocked Collings down and kicked him in the face, breaking his cheek bone and nose and giving him two black eyes.

Britton was also kicked in the face while trying to break up the altercation.

There were witnesses and there is surveillance video, but the suspect ran from the scene and has not been caught.

Neither Collings nor Britton returned calls for this report, but Collings sought local television coverage. That video has been widely circulated on LGBT blogs, many saying that there is no interest by law enforcement to consider the assault a hate crime. Some go further to also infer that police are trying to blame the victims. Both hypotheses are false.

According to city manager Douglas Elliott, Jr., who also serves as the city�s safety director, evidence is still coming in and the decision as to whether or not to call this a hate crime has not been made, though it is being considered.

The state of Ohio has no law defining gay bashing as a hate crime. The city of Oxford has no ordinance doing so, either.

Elliott is aware of the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in October. That law expands federal hate crime laws to include crimes motivated by a victim�s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Elliott said use of the law is being considered, should the evidence lead there.

�We are treating this as a very serious incident,� Elliott said. �I hope we might see some arrests soon.�

Elliott said additional evidence, including more detailed victim and witness statements, have not been made public.

�We want everyone to feel safe and be safe,� Elliott said, acknowledging that Oxford is primarily a college town.

Elliott also praised the response to the incident by Miami University students.

A silent protest was organized by Spectrum April 22 outside the Shriver Center. It was a public event.

Elliott said it was well attended by university students and the public.

Students have told other media that incidents like this have happened in Oxford before.

No one at Spectrum or Miami University�s LGBT Services responded for comment.

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