The rumors appear to be true: Bayna El-Amin, the man wanted by police after hitting another man over the head with a chair in a fight at the Chelsea Dallas BBQ earlier this month, seems to have been romantically involved with another man. Gawker has discovered what looks to be El-Amin’s Facebook page, which is listed under an alias variation of his apparent birth name and contains several pictures of a man with identical-looking features and facial hair as the man in the Dallas BBQ videos, as well as El-Amin’s various mugshots. There is reference to the page’s owner working the door at a nightclub; Animal uncovered that a now-deleted Facebook page in El-Amin’s full name listed him as “Personal Security for Sketchie ENTertainment,” a nightclub promotion company.
Per El-Amin’s still-active Facebook page, he had a male fiancé as of February 2014:
There is also a screenshot of an Instagram posted of El-Amin and the man he identifies as his fiancé, which is captioned “Bear & Cub,” which are terms used in the gay community to describe hairy, generally rotund men of varying sizes:
On May 5, El-Amin allegedly attacked fellow Dallas BBQ diners Jonathan Snipes and Ethan York-Adams, who are boyfriends. In an interview with DNAinfo published the morning after the attack, Snipes said, “These guys attacked us specifically because they knew we weren’t their type of people,” and indicated that people at his attacker’s table had referred to him and his boyfriend as “white faggots.”
Snipes also alleged that his attacker said, “Take that faggot,” while kicking Snipes. Initially the NYPD told the press that the incident was not being investigated as a hate crime, but soon after the story went viral, the department said that it was.
If El-Amin, who has been described as a “carer criminal” by the NYPD, was in fact Snipes’s attacker, then his sexuality complicates this matter. If the primary factor that signals this attack as a hate crime is the attacker’s alleged use of the word “faggot,” authorities need to take into consideration the multilayered relationship many gay men have with that word.
Of course, gay men can say “faggot” in a manner that is just as hateful and hurtful as when it comes out the mouths of their straight counterparts, and “Take that, faggot,” would seem to qualify. But referring to one’s fellow diner’s as “faggots,” doesn’t, necessarily. The word “faggot” can also be used as a term of endearment or even something that approaches the benign that’s along the lines of “dude” (as in, “Hey, faggot”). It can be a familial descriptor that signals to your group, “Hey, look over there: by virtue of being gay, we recognize those other gays.” Larry Kramer’s 1978 novel, Faggots, was as much an indictment of the gay community as it was a sociological exposé and, at times, a celebration, and rapper Cakes da Killa uses “faggot” to describe himself (“Hey, it’s Killa Killa / The prima donna head momma, ain’t no faggot come realer”), his audience (“keep these other faggots gawkin’”), and his competition (“How these little faggots think it’s Cakey they can handle / Bitch I’m oven ready and you hot like a candle”). The last instance subverts and reclaims hip-hop’s homophobic reputation in the service of self-inflation.
All this is to say that when a straight guy says “faggot,” unless he is hyper-enlightened and just trying to be “down” (or in a words-as-words scenario), you can count on it having at least an undercurrent of hatred. When a gay guy says it, it doesn’t, necessarily. It’s way more complicated than that.
There’s also the question of whether a gay person is even capable of committing a hate crime against another gay person, regardless of what words are said. Public record of such cases is limited. In 2011, a homeless man named Anthony Bray denied any bias in what was first presented to the public as an anti-gay attack on a man named Damian Furtch—as Bray claimed that he, too, was gay. In 2012, lawyers of three women charged with beating a gay man in Boston argued that their clients didn’t commit a hate crime because they were openly gay, themselves.
But the most famous, most extensively documented instance of the gay defense being used in a hate crime case happened during the criminal trial of one of the four men implicated in the murder of Michael Sandy, who was found lying unconscious on the side of the Belt Parkway in October 2006 (a few days later he was taken off his respirator in the hospital and died). The lawyer for Anthony Fortunato, who had masterminded the plan to lure Sandy from Williamsburg to Sheepshead Bay via an AOL chatroom so that he and a few of his friends could smoke Sandy’s marijuana, announced in his opening statement that Fortunato couldn’t be guilty of a hate crime because Fortunato himself was gay—a claim partially corroborated by his AOL buddy list.
Fortunato eventually was convicted of manslaughter, which his jury also unanimously agreed was a hate crime. But, as Robert Kolker wrote in the 2007 New York magazine article “When Is a Hate Crime Not a Hate Crime?”:
Within minutes of the verdict, the foreman, a 46-year-old playwright named Eric Zaccar, told reporters what had gone on behind closed doors. He declared that no juror seriously thought Anthony was a bigot, or had set out to brutalize a homosexual that October night—and they certainly didn’t believe that he ever laid a hand on Michael Sandy. What the jury did, Zaccar said, was what they were instructed to do: Follow the letter of the law. In order to convict, the judge told them, they needed only to be convinced that Anthony intentionally selected Sandy “in whole or in substantial part because of a belief or perception on his part” of Sandy’s sexual orientation. “I’m never going to feel good about this,” Zaccar said. “Not one person on that jury believed that it was a hate crime.”
Fortunato was convicted in October 2007 and is set to be released from prison next month.
For some perspective in the Dallas BBQ incident, I spoke with Lambda Legal Deputy Legal Director Hayley Gorenberg. “Under New York law, the identity or perceived identity of an aggressor or a target is not itself sufficient to support a charge of a hate crime,” she told me. “What’s required under the New York hate crime law is that the identity or perceived identity of the target be a substantial motivation for the attack. None of us, just by virtue of who we are, are a hate crime target or aggressor; it goes to an assessment of the motivation of a person. Even if the victim or the aggressor share the same characteristics, that’s not going to answer the question of whether what happened here was a hate crime. It’s going to be about the motivation.”
I wondered if the law could account for the nuance of the word “faggot,” which is crucial if that is the sole indicator in this case of El-Amin’s supposed bias. “I think it might depend,” she said. “There are people in various communities—LGBT communities, racial communities—who use words differently or maybe take or reclaim words and use them differently, words that have been traditionally used as slurs. People can use words in a descriptive and insulting way, and even though they’re using them in a descriptive and insulting way, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that if they committed a crime it was motivated by the identity of the person they were describing or calling names. It might be an indicator that it was, but it might not be. It would depend on looking at the full range of facts.”
I wondered if the apparent differences in size and type would matter at all here. Culturally, most of us are well aware of anti-gay bias among straights, and many of us are familiar with the so-called self-hatred that leads gay people to hurt themselves and their communities (think closeted politicians voting for anti-gay legislation). But what if this attack was born of a more specialized, less discussed bigotry—a bigger, more stereotypically masculine guy targeting a smaller, more stereotypically feminine one?
“It would depend if it was a motivator, and a significant motivator,” said Gorenberg. “Once we start getting into gradations of identity in this way, I think it might be worth looking at the way that people who are charged with crimes are described, particularly African American men, who just because of implicit bias and sometimes explicit bias, we know there is a history through present times a tendency to view those men as somehow inherently more aggressive or likely to be criminals. So there are many different factors and one has to be careful because it’s complicated in looking at this.”