A 15-year-old boy from Orange City, Florida, was arrested earlier this month for allegedly punching another teen repeatedly for being gay in what appears to be a hate crime at an adolescent treatment facility.
Despite the attacker being a minor, he will be facing felony battery charges for the assault, which law enforcement officials have characterized as “motivated by a prejudice against gay people,” according to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s office told Orlando-based NBC affiliate WESH that security footage showed that after a verbal exchange between the two, the attacker walked over to the 16-year-old victim and “proceeded to climb onto the victim and punch him multiple times.”
The victim reportedly told the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office that the attacker used homophobic slurs during the attack and claimed that the victim “snitched to the staff” about homophobic name-calling. The sheriff’s office also claimed that the attacker was charged with “violating his probation from a previous arrest for battery.”
The victim suffered multiple injuries during the attack, including a black eye “that was swollen partially shut,” bruising to his face, and a possible arm injury. The current status of that arm injury is unknown, but the victim’s father did take him to the hospital for treatment.
According to the sheriff’s office, the anti-gay attack was not the only bias-motivated crime to have happened within its jurisdiction. In the past year, there have been at least two cases “that involved enhanced charges due to evidence of prejudice.”
The first one occurred back in June 2021 when a 21-year-old man yelled racial slurs and pointed a gun at a family in DeLand, Florida. More recently, in January 2022, a 58-year-old man used racial slurs while attacking an “occupied vehicle” in Osteen, Florida.
The attack comes at a difficult time for the LGBTQ community in Florida. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is currently involved in a dispute with the entertainment giant Disney after the company’s CEO apologized for not taking a firmer stance opposing the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a “parental rights” measure that bars discussions of LGBTQ issues in primary grades in public schools.
Under the bill, teacher-led discussions of LGBTQ topics are prohibited up to the third grade, and must be “age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate” in older grades. Parents must be kept abreast of any changes to the services their children are receiving, including counseling services and special accommodations — such as affirming a child’s gender identity or use of preferred names — and may sue schools that violate the bill’s provisions.
Critics of the bill say it’s discriminatory, and that, in practice, schools and individual teachers afraid of being sued by angry parents will preemptively censor student speech or LGBTQ-related content, even at the middle and high school levels, for fear of offending anyone.
They also point to the fact that Republicans, who have cast the bill as an “anti-grooming” measure, rejected Democratic amendments to ban all forms of sex-related content from primary classrooms — which supporters ostensibly should support — and instead barred only LGBTQ-related topics from being broached, thereby revealing the true intent behind the bill.
Equality Florida, an organization dedicated to fight for the LGBTQ community in Florida, said that the legislation will actively “harm LGBTQ Floridians” and foster an environment of discrimination. While Florida may have laws specifically for hate crimes, when such a discriminatory stance on the LGBTQ community becomes enshrined into law, hateful acts towards LGBTQ people — like the assault at the treatment center in Daytona Beach — become tacitly accepted.
“Lawmakers rejected the voices of tens of thousands who sent emails and made phone calls asking for them to put a stop to this bill,” Equality Florida wrote in their statement. “Instead, they locked arms with the angry mobs hurling anti-LGBTQ slurs at those asking for nothing more than a safe place to go to school without having to hide who they are.”
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