Huffpost New York

Coming Out For A Kiss Out: Battling Hate With Prolonged PDA

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Produced by HuffPost's Local Citizen Reporting Team

"Does everybody have a partner to kiss?" called out Ryan Tracy, co-coordinator of Kiss Out, to the crowd of 25 before sending couples out into the cold yesterday.

Two people shook their heads bashfully. Tracy looked around the room.

"Nick, meet Ryan. Ryan, meet Nick. Do you guys want to kiss each other?" Each gave the other a once over, smiled and confirmed. "Ok, let's do it! Let's move it!" someone called out from the back of the crowd. The event's other co-coordinator, Todd Shalom ushered the crowd out of the pizzeria and into the street.

This was the start of what would be 20 minutes in which kissing pairs lined the corners of Court Street. While the majority of the 8 pairs were composed of men kissing men, a couple of women kissed in front of a church and a woman and man kissed at the adjacent corner.

This Kiss Out was orchestrated by Shalom and Tracy, both artists, in response to a March 2 attack against a 22 year-old man who was leaving South Brooklyn Pizza's weekly gay event, Fondle, in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. The five attackers allegedly shouted anti-gay slurs while kicking and beating the victim, who suffered bruises and lacerations to the head.

The victim remains anonymous -- he hasn't come out yet.

Zachary Scholl, a participant from Brooklyn hopes that these public displays of affection will inspire passersby to be more gentle and loving with one another. "An angry protest doesn't do the same thing," he explained.

However, a few longtime residents on the block felt otherwise.

"We don't like this, and we're not going to let it stand," said a middle-aged man who immediately stormed away.

Another man clarified, "I've lived here for 48 years and this isn't a gay-bashing neighborhood. Two men, two women, and man and a woman -- whomever! Public displays of affection aren't decent. Children are walking by. If you're going to make out, get a room."

"Get a room," was a common call from cars driving down Court Street. Then, some observers didn't quite know how to respond.

"Is it real? Are they gay?" asked an old man smoking a cigar from the fenced in yard of the Van Westerhout Cittadini Molesi Cultural and Social Club.

Another local resident complained that gentrification is to blame for the violence: "In the past, you knew everyone that walked down the street. Now the rent's gone up and new people come and go. People don't talk to each other. You tell me what's a safer neighborhood."

Once the sun descended, the protest against the attack continued at a vigil held on the Luquer Street between Hamilton Avenue and Clinton Street, where the violence occurred. Participants lit candles and neighbors came out with their dogs as a smattering of politicians spoke out against the crime.

"There's no room -- not one inch -- for violence," declared City Council member, Brad Lander.

Letitia James, also from City Council, continued, "We are here for you and when crimes like this happen, we have to respond quickly. Hate against anyone will not be tolerated. Not now. Not ever." The crowd cheered.

A friend of the victim stood up and advocated that the locations where hate-based crimes occur remain private and undisclosed.

Ryan Tracy protested by calling out, "No!"

From Tracy's perspective, communities need to know when violence occurs in their neighborhood. He also thinks gay victims of hate crimes shouldn't have to live in fear after being attacked.

Sarah Shapiro, a speech pathologist who lives across the street from where the attack occurred, asked, about the victim. "Is he OK?"

Tracy responded, "He's OK. But he's not OK. The gay community is safer when it's out. When people aren't afraid."