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    Neither hate nor rain deter rally

    About 100 gather to denounce the beating of a couple leaving a gay pride event last weekend.

    By RON MATUS
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 14, 2002


    TAMPA -- Stephen Hair and Sonny Gonzales don't leave their door unlocked anymore. They don't open it without looking out the window first.

    Ever since the St. Petersburg couple were attacked in a Channelside parking garage a week ago, no place feels safe.

    "Physically, it'll be a little easier to heal than emotionally," Hair, 25, said Saturday at a rally to denounce what many are calling a hate crime.

    Hair was still sporting a bloody eye from the attack, which occurred as he, Gonzales and others were leaving a gay pride party last Sunday.

    Saturday's event, sponsored by the Tampa-based social justice group Equality Florida, drew about 100 people to Channelside, near where the attack took place, despite steady rain.

    "We will not be intimidated by hate violence," said Nadine Smith, the group's director. "The best thing we can do is redouble our commitment to be out, and open, and honest."

    The attack happened on the last day of PrideFest, a weeklong event to celebrate gays and lesbians in Tampa Bay.

    Hair and Gonzales, 34, said they were attacked in a well-lit garage by two men who shouted obscenities. One dropped his pants to taunt them. Then he started swinging his fists.

    Hair suffered a skull fracture, a sinus injury and a broken tooth. Gonzales received a head cut.

    Devin Scott Angus, 20, of Clearwater was charged with aggravated battery with great bodily harm and battery evidencing prejudice. Another participant remains unidentified and at large.

    The state attorney's office is expected to classify the incident as a hate crime.

    Saturday's speakers credited the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office with aggressively pursuing the case.

    Maj. Jane Castor with the Tampa Police Department promised the crowd that the police would be vigilant, too. "We won't tolerate these kinds of incidents," she said.

    Some in the crowd said Tampa fosters an atmosphere where hate crimes can thrive.

    Keith Privette said angry drivers have chased his car because of the gay pride rainbow stickers in the window. "I thought, "What is your problem?' " said Privette, 34.

    -- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com.

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