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US fear over wave of attacks on gays

For 16 lonely days Alan Bounville has held a vigil outside the campaign office of Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York senator, holding a sign calling for equal rights for gay people.

A series of brutal attacks on young gay men, a number of tragic suicides and alarming anti-gay public statements by Republican politicians have led the 33-year-old New Yorker to feel he has no choice.

"Our people are dying. So I am going to sit and protest. That is my job," he said.

Liberal America has looked on aghast as virulent homophobic prejudice seems to have returned to its streets and cities.

Most remarkable of all, much of it seems to be centred on the New York region, usually tolerant in its politics.

But it was just a few miles away from Mr Bounville's protest in the Bronx that a group of suspected gang members brutally beat and tortured a 30-year-old gay man and several other youths who had been associated with him.

The details of the assault, for which 10 people have been arrested, horrified New Yorkers. The gay victim was kidnapped, beaten, whipped and burned. The shocking crime was just one of a series of incidents that have hit the city.

Others have even occurred in the heart of New York's vibrant gay scene. In the Chelsea neighbourhood, which has a large gay population, a group of men hugging each other goodbye after a night out were punched and had a rubbish bin thrown at them. Meanwhile in the famous Stonewall Inn, where the modern gay rights movement was founded after a police raid in 1969, a customer was beaten and robbed by men who hurled homophobic insults at him.

For many observers the violence has been especially worrying as it has come at the same time as several leading Republicans have made anti-gay statements. South Carolina's senator Jim DeMint, one of America's most powerful Republican politicians, has publicly said that gay people should not be allowed to become teachers.

Those sentiments were echoed by the Republican candidate in the New York governor race, Carl Paladino. In an astonishing piece of political theatre at a meeting of conservative Orthodox Jews, Mr Paladino condemned gay pride parades and said gay people should not teach in schools.

Gay rights activists say that there is a direct link between public statements of homophobia and attacks.

"These comments give licence to those who use violence. It is dangerous," said Michael Cole, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, which campaigns for gay rights in America.

Mr Bounville has a simple reaction to statements such as those made by Mr Paladino. "People like him are the new Ku Klux Klan," he said.

© Observer

Sunday Independent