the liberal reputation of North Carolina’s Triangle region, Thomas
Stockwell, a student at The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
(UNC-CH), was the victim of a violent anti-gay attack in the early morning
hours of Saturday, Feb. 26.
It was just before 2 a.m. when Stockwell, a former Charlotte resident,
said he was talking on his cell phone and became separated from his friends
outside of a restaurant on Franklin St.
According to Stockwell’s mother, Linda Silver, her son was initially
unaware that the anti-gay taunts that a group of about six men were shouting
were aimed at him.
“He only realized it when he was walking back to the restaurant and
they started chasing him,” she recalled.
“I took off running to this corner, Columbia and Franklin, where
they caught up to me,” Stockwell confirmed. “I turned around
and they punched me in the face.
“After the first punch hit my face, I punched the guy back and he
kind of fell backwards. That’s when his friends jumped on me. I have
a three-inch wide gash down the side of my face, a boot print on my forehead,
from where I hit the ground on the back of my head and a broken nose.”
The group of attackers left Stockwell on the street in a bloodied heap,
only relenting when passersby interrupted the beating. Friends eventually
arrived on the scene and took Stockwell to the hospital, where he was later
Stockwell says that the events transpired so quickly, he didn’t get
a good look at most of the attackers. “But I did get a pretty good
look at the one who punched me in the face,” he recalls. “I
remember what he looks like. Long, fluffy blonde hair, blue flannel shirt,
chubby, about five-ten or six feet tall.” Other media reports indicate
that all of the men were in their early twenties.
Stockwell was speculative about why he was attacked, indicating that perhaps
one or more of the men recognized him from school. “Or, I was in
the wrong place in the wrong time. And just the fact I happened to be me.
I’m sure they had their own agenda. How quick these guys were to
jump on somebody they thought was a ‘fag’ — they obviously
had thought about it before.”
At press time, Chapel Hill police spokesperson Jane Cousins said that there
were no witnesses or leads to the attack, but a report from a Triangle
area television station indicated that there was at least one witness.
“It wasn’t a fight, it was a beating,” said Tyron Edwards. “They
caught him and beat him. They came across the street laughing about it.”
Edwards says at least one other person saw what happened — a woman
who tried to break up the fight. He hopes she will come forward and tell
police what she saw.
Numerous reports in the media described Stockwell’s attack as a hate
crime, although North Carolina has no provision in its hate crime law that
covers sexual orientation.
“We believe it’s important for the state to include sexual
orientation and gender identity in its hate crime statute to send a very
that bias crimes based on those categories will not be tolerated in our
state,” said Ian Palmquist of Equality North Carolina.
“It’s terrible that it takes something terrible happening to
drive elected officials to action, but I think this may serve as the call
need to expand the hate crimes law.”
Following the attack on March 2, UNC’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender
and Straight Alliance organized a rally near the student center to raise
awareness about violence and discrimination toward gays and lesbians. The
rally featured several speeches, including one by Chapel Hill town councilmember
“We are often targets in bias crimes, and it’s important that
we include it in statutes that purport to protect people from bias crimes,” Kleinschmidt
The rally ended with a march from UNC to Franklin St.
Stockwell was on hand for the rally, but didn’t speak.
That doesn’t mean that Stockwell has any intention of sitting by
quietly while his wounds heal.
He’s quick to point out that the current political climate in the
country and the president’s anti-gay stance are probably key factors
behind the bashing.
“I think it gives them carte blanche to discriminate,” says
can’t they if their government does it? If they know there are discriminatory
laws that say it’s ok — who’s slapping them on the wrist?
Who’s telling them no?
“This isn’t 50 years ago. We’re organized now. We have
an open community now, and I refuse to step back in time. I refuse to be
For that reason alone. If not for me, for my mom and people in the gay
community I have monumental respect for.”
Despite Stockwell’s determination to put the attack behind him and
get on with his life, it’s clear there are some scars that may take
longer to heal.
“I’m okay,” he says. “I am in certain regards,
but then at other times it kinda’ pops up. It’s hard to get
over when everybody’s coming up to you. I didn’t go to campus
yesterday and I do appreciate everything everyone’s done, but at
a certain point, I just wanna go to class.
“I guess I’m trying not to lose faith in the people around
me. At first I felt that way, but with the support that came out I’ve
felt a lot better. To have 500 people show up at a rally in 20 degree weather,
for two and a half hours was pretty amazing.”
Stockwell says he’ll continue to attend classes at UNC-CH, where
he majors in International Studies and Economics.
In another development in the Chapel Hill area, a judge ruled March 4 that
UNC-CH must recognize a Christian fraternity that refuses to admit gays.
Alpha Iota Omega’s status as an official campus group was revoked
after it refused to sign the university’s nondiscrimination policy.
The policy specifies that groups cannot deny membership to students based
on personal characteristics such as age, race, color, national origin,
religion, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation and gender.
The State Attorney Generals Office, however, which represents UNC-CH, said
it continues to support the university’s policy.
“We continue to believe in the merits of the university’s position
and the value of the nondiscrimination policy,” the statement said. “The
university’s goal remains the proper and careful balancing of students
First Amendment rights with the rights guaranteed by the U.S. and North
Carolina Constitutions to equal protection of the laws and freedom from