Tarlach MacNiallais, 47, an Irish gay man living in Jackson Heights, Queens, says he was severely assaulted by employees of a nightclub on Saturday.
Police are investigating it as a hate crime, and city authorities, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn - herself a gay woman, have become involved.
MacNiallais, originally from Belfast, was punched, kicked and had a chair smashed over his head in the brutal attack by two employees of the Guadalajara De Noche restaurant in Jackson Heights at 12:43 a.m. on Saturday.
In an exclusive interview with IrishCentral today, MacNiallais said: “I want to stress that this is not a gay community versus the Mexican community story. My partner and my extended family are all Mexican. This story is about two thugs who attacked me because they didn’t like the fact that we were gay.”
The story began on Saturday evening when MacNiallais, his partner of seven years, Juan, and four of Juan's brothers visited the Guadalajara De Noche restaurant in Jackson Heights. The group had expected an open mike sing-along, but they discovered that a club night had been scheduled instead.
“I’ve been in that bar a handful of times in the past,” said MacNiallais.
“Sometimes they have open night, where people can get up and sing Mexican songs. But when we got there it was a dance night. So we took a table at the back of the place just beside the dance floor and we ordered a round of drinks.”
When a song that MacNiallais liked came on, he suggested to his partner that they dance. They got up, and MacNiallais led his partner to the floor. This simple act signaled to onlookers that they were probably gay.
“We’re weren’t doing a lambada or dancing close or anything provocative like that. We were dancing the way you do at any night – not touching, just moving to the music, you know?"
But before they had even got started, a man, described as an employee of the nightclub, came over to the couple and said: “You can’t do that in here. This is not a gay bar.”
“To be quite honest I thought he was joking. I didn’t even look at him," continued MacNiallais.
“I turned around and said, ‘We have as much right to dance as anyone else.’”
Immediately, MacNiallais was yanked from behind. He was thrown against a wall and then punched repeatedly on the face and chest.
“They knocked me to the ground. They started kicking me. They were shouting ‘this is not a gay bar’ over and over. I didn’t fight back because I’m not a violent person. But I did think I wasn’t going to let them throw me out. I did have a right to be there. If they had asked me to leave I would have, but they didn’t do that. Instead they beat me and physically dragged me to the ground.”
MacNiallais, who is six-foot-one and weighs two hundred and forty five pounds, did not fight back, but he did hold onto a chair leg to resist forcible expulsion from the club. His partner and his partner’s brothers did not get involved in the fracas at any point.
“I’m glad they didn’t start fighting, because then it could have been portrayed as a drunken melee. Instead they called 911,” added MacNiallais.
“One of my partner’s brothers recorded what happened on his cell phone, and on the audio you can hear me saying ‘I have a right to dance with my partner, this isn’t fair and then no, no, no.’”
According to MacNiallais, the two employees were laughing as they assaulted him. One of them stomped on MacNiallais’ head with his foot, then picked up a chair and hit him, again on the head. Two of MacNiallais’ partner’s brothers stood up and persuaded other customers not to join in the assault.
Daniel Dromm, the incoming City Councilman for Jackson Heights told IrishCentral: “It’s another hate crime and it’s unfortunate. It seems that any time an anti-gay event occurs, like the vote against marriage equality in Albany last week, people seem to get the message that it’s OK to beat up on gay people. It sends a message that our rights aren’t protected and you don’t have to respect people in the gay community.
“That being said, Jackson Heights is a pretty tolerant community. I know that Tarlach was with his Mexican partner and his family members and this isn’t a gay community versus the Mexican community. We want to preserve that ability to co-exist and make people understand that this is not one group against the other. This is just two thugs who decided to do this.
"We are going to have a response to bring some awareness to this issue because oftentimes when things like this happen the perpetrators who do this try to send a message to the community. That’s why it’s important that the community send back a message that this will not be tolerated.”
MacNiallais is leery of the sensational press coverage of the story to date and particularly objects to his description as a gay activist.
“I did not just jump up and dance with a total stranger, or with the first man who walked into the bar. I want to stress that. I was dancing with my partner of seven years. He and his family have been part of my life for years.”
The police did not arrest MacNiallais for disorderly conduct, nor has there been any suggestion that his behavior was calculated to cause offense. Instead, the investigation is focusing on the assault as a hate crime. MacNiallais sustained severe bruises to his head, his arms, his underarms, his chest and thighs.
“I have just been in bits since this happened. I’m trying to deal with this and get my head around (it). I am godfather to the two sons of my partner’s oldest brother. We’re compadresmos. It’s the closest relationship you can have next to your own brother. We’re family; I’ve been to Mexico twice this year to stay with his parents, brothers and sisters.”
A police investigation into the attack is ongoing.