A gay couple in Austin say they were the target of a homophobic slur, then attacked in downtown Austin in the early hours of Saturday morning. Both were hospitalized for their injuries.
Spencer Deehring and Tristan Perry say they love holding hands with each other and being affectionate. A friend had a birthday party Friday night, so the couple and their friends went to several bars downtown to celebrate. The two say they only had two drinks early on in the night and drove downtown so they wanted to make sure they were sober by the time the night was over.
The two were walking out from Rain nightclub on 4th Street at around 2:45 a.m.
Because of the head trauma he sustained, Perry doesn't remember any of what happened next.
Deehring believes that they were walking near 7th Street and Red River Street (though he says it's possible they could have been a block or two away from that point) when a man walked past them and said a homophobic slur to them.
"I hate that word," Perry interjected. "I'm not going to have someone walk all over me, but that also doesn't warrant getting punched in the face or having a broken nose."
Deehring recalls making a retort back to the man, saying something like "I'm sorry I couldn't hear you."
Then he said that man called over to his group of friends who were out of sight, motioned for them to come over, and within a few seconds, the group was following Deehring and Perry as they walked to their car.
"They started following behind us pretty closely yelling every expletive you can think of," Deehring said. "The last thing I said to one of the guys before they attacked both of us was like, 'I don't have anything more to say to you guys, we're just going home, leave us alone.'"
That's when Deehring said one of the men punched Perry in the face, breaking his nose and causing him to fall to his knees. Next, he recalls two other men stepped in and hit Perry again until he was laying on the ground. Then, Deehring said another man kicked Perry in the back of the head.
Deehring said he immediately tried to tackle the men who were attacking his boyfriend.
"That was my first reaction, was to stop them from kicking him because he couldn't receive one more blow to the head or he may well have been dead," he said.
But Deehring said he was knocked unconscious by the men punching him.
A bystander called 911 and waited there until police and EMS arrived, which Deehring estimates took more than 20 minutes. Both Deehring and Perry were hospitalized.
"If the bystander had not been there [the attackers] may have continued, it may have been much worse," Deehring said.
The couple believes that their attackers were set off by seeing them holding hands.
Perry has a laceration on the back of his head, his nose is broken, he has swelling in his face up to his cheekbones, his lip is busted, his teeth are chipped, he has neck and upper back pain and his memory has some lapses.
Perry was planning to take the state board exam for his cosmetology license this week, now he fears he will have to delay it. He was rehospitalized Sunday morning after his bleeding continued and symptoms persisted but he has since been discharged.
Deehring has swelling to his mouth and jaw as well as lacerations on his forehead that required skin glue. He also thinks he has bruising from blows to the back of his head and neck.
Both Perry and Deehring have difficulty chewing and are experiencing pain.
"It shouldn't happen to anyone else, and it breaks my heart that it's probably going to [keep happening] until these guys are caught," Perry said.
"Living in Corpus Christi and moving to Austin, I thought, 'Oh everyone is going to be so open-minded,'" Perry said. "I think that a lot of people think that and it's overlooked that this could happen to anybody, anywhere, anytime."
Anna Nguyen, the president of the Austin chapter of PFLAG, told KXAN Sunday she sees this attack as "alarming."
In her 26 years living in Austin, she recalls many attacks on LGBTQIA individuals.
"But it feels as if lately the frequency has ratcheted up quite a bit," she said.
"I think Austin as a community needs to step up its game and prove its one of the most LGBTQIA friendly cities in the country by deeds and not just by words," she said.
She hopes that APD can quickly make headway on finding the person who attacked Perry and Deehring. Nguyen added that in the meantime there are many LGBTQIA groups in Austin that victims of attacks can turn to for support. The couple says they have filed a police report and KXAN is waiting to hear back from Austin police and Austin-Travis County EMS for their records on the case.
In the last few months KXAN has spoken with Austin Police several times about the crimes they see downtown, Assistant Chief Justin Newsom told KXAN that the most common type of calls APD officers responds to downtown are "disturbances" or fights. He estimates around one happens every day and that these calls often involve people who are intoxicated. Newsom told KXAN in December and Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday reiterated in January that they feel more officers are needed to meet the growing number of demands downtown.
While Perry and Deehring wait to hear from an APD detective, they are trying to encourage others to be cautious when out at night and not to travel alone.
"If he wasn't there I don't know that I would still be here today," Perry said looking at Deehring.
They decided to share what happened to them over Facebook for the benefit of others who may have gone through something similar but might not feel comfortable talking about it.
"We want people to understand that it is possible for this to happen, it's not something where you could say its 2019, this doesn't happen anymore, we are living proof of it," Deehring said.
Deehring explained that in sharing about this attack, he also came out to his loved ones about his sexuality. Both he and his boyfriend said they were grateful for the outpouring of support they've received since.
They have a message they want to share:
"Spread love, end all this hatred, end all this closed-mindedness always watch your surroundings, always be aware of your surroundings, don't walk alone," Perry said.
"Be aware of your surroundings, but don't change who you are as a person, don't ever change who you are as a person and don't be afraid to go out there and explore the world, just as you are," Deehring said. "We're gonna do that too."
The couple explained that while this attack has rocked them, they plan to continue going out in public and being affectionate in public.
They have created a GoFundMe page for their medical expenses, which you can find here.