FBI investigates El Paso attack as hate crime

The FBI is now investigating last weekend’s brutal attack outside a popular gay nightclub in El Paso as a hate crime, the El Paso Times reports today:

As of Monday afternoon, the case is being investigated by FBI agents as a “civil rights violation,” said Special Agent Michael Martinez, a spokesman for the FBI in El Paso.

The attack took place either late Friday night or early Saturday morning, Martinez said. On Saturday, El Paso police said the man had been waiting for a ride outside the Old Plantation Night Club, 301 S. Ochoa, when a verbal confrontation began between the victim and six men.

Police said that the verbal confrontation became physical and that the six men allegedly began punching and kicking the victim. The group allegedly also used a bat to strike the victim.

The victim’s sister told a local TV station Monday that she believes the attack was a hate crime because the suspects were yelling gay slurs, even though she said her brother is not gay. However, El Paso police said they didn’t have enough information to classify the incident as a hate crime — in part because they’d been unable to interview the victim because he was still unconscious.

The federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which passed Congress in 2009, grants the FBI authority to intervene in local hate crimes cases, including those motivated by actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Today’s El Paso Times story follows criticism from LGBT advocates, who say the local media has been largely ignoring the case.

—  John Wright

Tel Aviv shooting victim will not be deported after calls from LGBT groups

Nir Katz

Congregation Beth El Binah in Dallas joined other LGBT Jewish groups around the United States Wednesday, Feb. 9, in calling on Israel to allow Thomas Schmidt to stay in that country. They held a phone conference organized by Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York on Feb. 8.

According to the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv today, Schmidt will be allowed to stay in the country.

Schmidt is from Germany and has lived in Israel since 2004. His partner was Nir Katz who was murdered at the Tel Aviv LGBT Center on Aug. 1, 2009.

Schmidt was one of 11 injured in the attack. Katz’ parents helped Schmidt recuperate and they consider him a part of their family. He has no contact with his own family in Germany.

He was in the process of applying for permanent partnership status when Katz was killed. His residency visa had expired.

After the shooting at the LGBT Center, Congregation Beth El Binah planned a vigil with Youth First Texas and Resource Center Dallas, which was the first of many held around the world over the next few days. A rally in Tel Aviv attracted 100,000 people supporting the victims of the shooting and the LGBT community.

When Schmidt’s visa expired, Israel first denied his request to stay in the country.

Nitzan Horowitz, currently the only openly gay member of the Knesset, called on Israel to allow Schmidt to stay in the country.

Yonatan Gher, director of Jerusalem Open House, that city’s LGBT center, said that in 2009, one person committed a hate crime against the LGBT community but “today the country is committing a hate crime.”

“We call on Israel to allow the victim of the brutal attack to remain in the country,” Diane Litke, president of Congregation Beth El Binah, said yesterday.

Today, Israel changed its position and will allow Schmidt to stay in the country.

Israel recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other countries. Most opposite-sex couples do not get married in the country. Since only Orthodox rabbis are allowed to perform weddings in Israel, and most Israelis are not Orthodox, they marry elsewhere and their marriages are recognized.

—  David Taffet