What’s Brewing: 3rd El Paso suspect arrested

Ivan Gallardo

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. A third suspect has been arrested in a brutal beating outside a gay nightclub in downtown El Paso on May 7. Ivan Gallardo, 17, is charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Two other suspects, ages 16 and 19, have also been arrested in connection with the attack outside the Old Plantation, which police say was gang related. The 22-year-old victim, Lionel Martinez, remains in critical condition after suffering a fractured skull and brain swelling. A total of six people reportedly jumped Martinez while he was waiting for a ride, punching him, kicking him and hitting him with a baseball bat. Martinez is straight, but LGBT advocates say it was a hate crime because the suspects were yelling anti-gay slurs, and the FBI is investigating the incident as a possible civil rights violation. Police have increased patrols around the nightclub in the wake of the incident, and an anti-hate crime rally reportedly is planned for next week outside the County Courthouse.

2. Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which calls for the death penalty in some cases, is still alive. The bill is one of three that have been carried over to the new Parliament, which convenes today, after the old Parliament was dissolved without considering them.

3. The Minnesota House is expected to vote today on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The amendment, which would appear on the 2012 ballot, has already cleared the Senate. On Wednesday the House Rules Committee voted 13-12 to approve the amendment. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton opposes the amendment but cannot veto it.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Pro basketball executive Rick Welts, CNN anchor Don Lemon come out

Don Lemon

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. An anti-transgender marriage bill is back on the Texas Senate’s Intent Calendar for today. That means if you haven’t already contacted your senator and urged them to vote against SB 723, by Sen. Tommy Williams, you should do so now by going here. If the bill doesn’t clear the Senate and a House committee by midnight Saturday, it will die.

2. The FBI has expanded its probe into a brutal beating outside a gay nightclub in downtown El Paso to include other recent possible hate crimes in the area, the El Paso Times reports. The victim, 22-year-old Lionel Martinez, remains in a coma more than a week after the attack, and LGBT advocates say El Paso police haven’t been taking anti-gay incidents near the Old Plantation nightclub seriously.

3. The weekend was marked by two pretty big coming-out stories: Rick Welts, president and chief executive officer of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns; and CNN anchor Don Lemon.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: El Paso teen arrested in brutal beating outside gay nightclub

The Old Plantation in downtown El Paso.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. A 16-year-old has been arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault in connection with a brutal beating last weekend outside the Old Plantation gay nightclub in downtown El Paso, the El Paso Times reports today. Police say they believe the attack was gang related and aren’t treating the incident as a hate crime, even though family members and LGBT activists insist the victim, 22-year-old Lionel Martinez, was targeted only because he was outside a gay venue. Martinez, who’s straight but had been to the Old Plantation with friends, remains in critical condition and has not regained consciousness since the attack last Friday night or Saturday morning. The FBI reportedly is investigating the incident as a possible civil rights violation, and more arrests are expected. A total of six people were involved in the attack, and a security guard says there’s been an upswing of gang activity around the nightclub. But just because something is gang related doesn’t mean it’s not a hate crime. In fact, it’s quite common for gang initiations to include bashing a queer, and here’s a story about another hate crime that occurred just a week before.

2. The Ugandan Parliament has adjourned without taking up an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that includes a death penalty provision, the Associated Press reports. The bill was slated to be considered today, but the speaker of the parliament says there isn’t enough time to debate the bill before the session ends next week.

3. A new poll shows that a majority of Minnesotans oppose a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The Minnesota Senate voted to place such an amendment on the 2012 ballot this week, and the House is expected to follow suit. But the poll shows that 55 percent oppose the amendment, while only 39 percent support it. Just seven years ago, a poll found that 58 percent of Minnesotans supported a ban on same-sex marriage.

—  John Wright

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

Victim’s sister says El Paso beating was anti-gay hate crime; police say victim still unconscious

El Paso police say they’ve been unable to determine whether a brutal beating outside a gay nightclub early Saturday was a hate crime because the victim remains unconscious. Detective Mike Baranyay, a spokesman for the police department, told Instant Tea that the 22-year-old victim suffered a serious head injury in the attack. The victim was punched, kicked and hit with a baseball bat by six attackers outside the Old Plantation nightclub, where he’d been waiting for a ride.

“He’s got pretty critical injuries,” Baranyay said this afternoon. “At this point we can’t confirm that it’s a hate crime or it’s not. Hopefully by tomorrow we’ll have some idea.”

Although police say don’t know whether the attack was a hate crime, the victim’s sister told KTSM-TV that even though her brother is not gay, she believes it was:

We spoke with the victim’s sister, Deanne Martinez, this morning at UMC where her brother is still listed in critical condition.

Martinez was there Saturday night and witnessed the attack. “He was on the floor laying there knocked out and they still kept bashing his head with a bat. That to me is so cowardly.”

Martinez says she and another family member tried to stop the attack but the men turned on them. “I was trying to pull out my brother and she was pushing off the guys. They ended up bashing her Jeep Liberty.”

So far police say they have no evidence to call the attack a hate crime. Martinez calls that ridiculous.

She says her brother isn’t gay but he was alone outside of a gay club and the men who attacked him made it clear why they picked him.

Martinez said, “They were yelling gay slurs and yelling their gang name or where they’re from.”

Martinez also told us this isn’t the first time she’s heard of that same group of men harassing people in the area.

She hopes someone comes forward with information about who these guys are. “I want these guys to be caught. Because this was a brutal and heartless crime.”

Baranyay told Instant Tea there had been no arrests in the case as of this afternoon. He also said he doesn’t believe anti-gay violence is a problem in El Paso.

“We’re a very tolerant community,” he said. “People pretty much leave each other alone in this town.”


—  John Wright

Man severely beaten outside El Paso’s Old Plantation gay nightclub in possible hate crime

The Old Plantation in downtown El Paso.

A 22-year-old man is in critical condition after he was severely beaten by six attackers outside a popular gay nightclub in El Paso early this morning, the El Paso Times reports.

The man was waiting for a ride outside the Old Plantation club shortly after midnight when he got into an argument with the six suspects. From the El Paso Times:

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

One of the victim’s friends, a woman, tried to help and had her vehicle damaged as she tried to do so.

Police said that the suspect struck her 2003 Jeep Liberty windshield with a bat to stop her from helping the victim. The suspects then fled the area in what appeared to be a van.

At least one media outlet is already calling the incident an anti-gay hate crime, but thus far there is no evidence confirming that.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call the El Paso Police Department at 915-832-4400 or Crime Stoppers at 915-566-8477.

Stay tuned to Instant Tea for updates.

—  John Wright

It’s official: JR’s is getting a ground-level patio

We’ve heard rumors for months about an upcoming remodel of the 31-year-old JR’s Bar & Grill Dallas, billed as “Texas’ most successful gay nightclub.” This morning, those rumors were finally confirmed.

Rick Espaillat, a spokesman for JR’s owner Caven Enterprises, reports that work began today on a month-long project which, among other things, will give the club a ground-level patio along Cedar Springs Road. When we asked how much of the interior of the club will be eliminated for the patio, Espaillat replied, “You’ll just have to wait and see.”

The last time JR’s underwent significant renovations was 1998, when the second floor and balcony were added, Espaillat said. The club will remain open during the project. Here’s his full statement:

Work began this morning on the new series of improvements to JR’s Bar & Grill Dallas.

The project will bring better, more pedestrian-friendly sidewalks with new trees; better views from the existing upstairs patio, and a new downstairs patio that will give JR’s guests a front-row seat to the gay Crossroads. Work is expected to take a month to complete.

“We’re always looking for ways to grow and improve.  These changes will add to the variety of JR’s, enhance the character of our neighborhood and add to the beautification of Cedar Springs as well” said Gregg Kilhoffer, President of Caven Enterprises.

JR’s Bar & Grill Dallas was created in 1980.  Though still in its original location, the iconic club has grown through three renovations to become Texas’ most successful gay nightclub.  It is owned and managed by Caven Enterprises, an employee-owned company with over 100 staff members.

—  John Wright

Touch down for the very 1st time

The inaugural Virgin America flights from DFW land with Texas style

Recession — what recession? In the world of billionaire businessman Richard Branson, it’s business-class as usual for his chic, sexy airline, Virgin America. Like its international counterpart, Virgin Atlantic, this is an airline built on luxury, style and fantastic customer service (even in economy class!) … and completely out of reach to Dallas travelers.

VIRGIN NO MORE | DFW finally gets access to kooky Virgin America founder Richard Branson’s luxury line.

Until earlier this month, when it launched daily non-stops to and from Los Angeles and San Francisco out of DFW Airport. Dallas-Fort Worth represents the airlines first mid-continent destination, and during the press conference, Branson announced his intention to keep the spirit of competition alive among the other airlines servicing the North Texas area.

Branson’s wildly varied business history includes everything from humble beginnings selling Christmas trees to more curious acquisitions, like purchasing London’s premiere gay nightclub, Heaven. He’s known for brands Virgin Mobile, Virgin Records and his airlines.

The company is invested in being a part of the gay community, even in Dallas already as a sponsor of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, so it comes as no surprise that there were plenty of gays and lesbians on-hand to welcome the airline to DFW.

From the moment the first flight from L.A. landed, passengers, crew and Branson himself were greeted with a warm Texas howdy on the runway. There were longhorns, cowboys, cowgirls, a full barbecue spread, champagne and cute little cocktails served in Mason jars. If it weren’t for such an over-the-top company, the yee-hawness of it all could’ve worn very thin, very quickly.

Instead, it seemed like business as usual for Branson and for a mid-afternoon workday, much better than sitting behind a desk. It’s hard to imagine more fanfare from a new destination. Well, except when the citizens of the Moon finally welcome Branson and his Virgin Galactic spacecraft sometime soon.

The festivities moved to the Winspear Opera House for an evening of more indulgences. A first-class cocktail reception with food by Wolfgang Puck Catering found Branson on a balcony like a scruffy-faced Evita speaking to his admirers below. A quick raise of his champagne glass to toast the occasion and he was off like a flash to the final act of his coming-out party: Willie Nelson on-stage for the invitation-only crowd. Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys, but if they want to be a gay-nightclub owner/music mogul/spaceman, then go for it!

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

– Steven Lindsey

—  Kevin Thomas

Atlanta police investigate fatal shooting of gay nightclub owner, black Pride organizer

Associated Press

ATLANTA —Police are investigating the shooting death of the co-owner of a popular gay nightclub.

Authorities say 50-year-old Durand Robinson was found shot dead in the middle of an Atlanta street early Wednesday, Aug. 25 following a possible carjacking. Robinson was co-owner of the gay nightclub Traxx and an organizer of the city’s black gay pride celebration.

Atlanta Police spokesman Carlos Campos says Thursday officers are “pursuing all possibilities at this time.” He said authorities have reached no conclusion “whether his sexual orientation or involvement in the gay community played a role in his shooting death.”

Witnesses tell Atlanta police he had gotten into an argument with someone just before shots rang out. Friends say they believe he may have been the victim of an attempted carjacking, but police say they don’t have a motive or suspect.

—  John Wright