Was it gay-bashing?

Barb Sweet
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Warning: this opinion piece contains a quote with a homophobic slur.


There are some pretty horrifying headlines piling up. The gist of the story: a man in St. John’s beaten and left for dead in an apparent gay-bashing incident.

It started with Pattrick Blackburn’s emotional YouTube video. Then it spread like wildfire through the gay community on Facebook and, from there, it took off across  the Internet and has hit the national media, including the Huffington Post, the Toronto Star, the Montreal Gazette and a slew of outlets that specialize in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues.

The Gay Star News, for example, ran the headline “Gay man savagely beaten, found 10 minutes before death in Canada.”

On Monday, I checked Facebook as I do, along with other venues, to see what issues people were talking about.  I saw a picture of Blackburn with what appeared to be bloody wounds. I was asked what The Telegram was doing about the story.

Many people — and certainly much of the LGBT  community, as well as coworkers, friends, family, media colleagues, sources — know I am an out lesbian.

And, well, those who don’t know, know now.

 I explained to those inquiring Monday that a fellow reporter, Tara Bradbury, has been working on the story. She’s an impeccable reporter who has done due diligence by attempting to get the facts of the story, including questions to the police and multiple  requests for an interview with Blackburn, which were denied.

On Wednesday evening I was questioned again on Facebook as to why I wasn’t doing something about this — I guess because I am an  openly gay reporter at The Telegram and should therefore be outraged.

And I am outraged — that my community would need to live in fear, that gay bashing that is random and so very savage may possibly have occurred in our community.

But here’s where some people might not like what I have to say. Still, I feel it must be said.

Over the course of the last few days, there have been comments made that the police and some media are ignoring the incident, or are not doing enough and have been too slow to react.

What I have to say is, put the pitchforks down. Lay them aside and let the police do their job and let’s sort through what actually took place, and whether gay bashing was the motive, because that is very important to distinguish.

And before we get too caught up in the fury, remember every allegation is due a level of scrutiny and questions must be answered — it doesn’t matter what the alleged incident is or what community it involves — gay, heterosexual, male, female.

Blackburn, 30, has claimed he was walking home alone from downtown early on Aug. 16 when he was attacked by a group of men. The last thing he claims to remember is hearing footsteps behind him and being called “fag,” which he said he ignored and kept walking. Blackburn has said he doesn’t remember the attack, but said he was told at the hospital he was 10 minutes away from dying had a friend not found him.

There was no police report, at least an official one.

I would urge any person alleging a crime to deal with the police. We know that victims of violence, as well as sexual assault, can be fearful and reluctant to come forward. That’s a shame.

But in this or any instance, I believe anyone alleging to be a victim of a gay bashing-fueled beating should be dealing with the police formally before they hit social media because it’s the job of the police to get to the bottom of crimes. That’s the justice we expect and deserve. And if they fail in that job, then we can raise the pitchforks.

But if you are putting an assertion out there in a very public way, the onus is to allow the proper investigative process to take place. 

 I would urge any witnesses to this incident to come forward.

And because of the fear that has now ignited in the St. John’s LGBT community, there are broader questions that need to be answered.

So, I would also urge the police to open up to the LGBT community about the issue, to address any concerns about safety and whether or not this is indeed a random hate crime targeted at us.


Barb Sweet is a reporter at The Telegram.

She can be reached at bsweet@thetelegram.com

Organizations: The Telegram, Huffington Post, Toronto Star Montreal Gazette Gay Star News

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • shawn
    September 07, 2013 - 11:14

    I have no doubt in my mind this has happened. Remembered this is Nfld the most backward place on earth. For this to happen in St. John's is no surprise because people are ignorant, a little cuckoo and for him to be beaten by moronic men who are more in the closet than anyone I know. Those men who allegelly beat him are struggling with thir own sexuality and feel the need to boast that they are manly. I'm sorry not manly but cowards. I'm a nflder living away and I am ashamed of my province for allowing this to happen in this day and age. I choose now to renounce my Nfld proudness and prefer to say I am just a canadian.

  • yo mama
    August 28, 2013 - 11:12

    I have to correct Barb on this one, he wasn't 'walking" home from Downtown. He was semi-levitating while gold pixie dust gently fell from a rainbow like aura surrounding his slim frame. The gravitational field doesn't apply to his type the same as the rest of us.....call it magic or whatever, personally, I prefer to remain at 1 G.

  • Brenda
    August 25, 2013 - 14:37

    Having seen the level of nasty response from within the community to Patt's attack I can completely understand why Patt would want to back away from the situation. There have been so many ridiculous theories presented online that contradict each other everything from the whole thing from the photos being staged - to alternate motivations for the crime. I don't think Patt's expected to receive as much attention as he did for the video he posted so I feel it's understandable that he's been overwhelmed by the situation. He went out to party he didn't expect to be attacked and he didn't expect to be scrutinized he was sharing his story like we all do on social media. Many people have responded in very hateful and nasty ways. I expected the video would be pulled as soon as I saw it not because I didn't trust Patt but because I knew there would be a homophobic response (if you're familiar with the type of internet trolls that frequent the gay channels on youtube this should be self-explanitory). What I didn't expect was the nasty reaction of many members of the gay community. It almost seemed like they were jealous of resentful of Patt for receiving so much attention and not caring at all about the delicate nature of the situation (everyone has an opinion and an electronic soap box). I was left shaking my head wondering when did empathy and good taste go out of style.

      August 29, 2013 - 16:29

      There has been no proof that this was a gay-bashing that's what has the community in an uproar! He posted a public video, and is know backing down! It seems as though the gay card is being played when it shouldn't. He was beaten like anyone else....why so much attention to it!

  • Frank
    August 24, 2013 - 17:49

    Once again you weigh in on matters you know nothing about and are loose with the facts

  • Fellow Member of the Gay Community
    August 23, 2013 - 20:51

    There are too many holes in this story to be believable. It honestly sounds to me like anyone who is willing to spread a tearful story all over youtube but refuses to talk to the police to report a crime is being dishonest. Why look for a police officer instead of calling an ambulance straight away? This appears to me to be a blatant attempt to obtain money from kind hearted people. If an assault did take place, why the need for money collection anyway? Because his friends started the collection? Well, I haven't heard Pat refusing to take the money!!!! The police SHOULD investigate this matter to see if money is being collected through fraud!! This type of irresponsible behavior only stirs up fear in the gay community and presents the gay community as being dishonest!!!! Shame!!!!

    • Steve
      August 24, 2013 - 14:54

      The person who started the Halifax fund is one of Patt's friends when he was living in Halifax. I feel that we need to actually watch whoever is taking the fund because it may walk with them i.e. pay for the venue's expense, but end up being say enough money for Patt to get a new cell phone and maybe change to another carrier. It is mainly because Patt didn'r give an interview after the reporter made it seem like a scam. As well the vandalism on his youtube account has been under reported. All of his videos for the past two years are gone.

  • Susan
    August 23, 2013 - 16:58

    I find this entire story, from the beginning, troubling. I am a proud supporter of the LBGTQ community, and feel a persons sexual orientation is their own business. So, regardless of whether this man was gay, straight, bi, trans.. my comments are not in any way related to that point. Nobody should be randomly beaten. Ever! My trouble with the story is that I trust people. I give people the benefit of the doubt. I WANT to believe this man is telling the truth, and I feel very sorry he has been injured. However, his rationale for not filing a police report is causing me to question the entire thing. From my understanding, he didn't file a report for fear of repercussion from his assailants. Yet, he posted a YouTube Video and took to Facebook to discuss the situation. By making it even MORE public than just discussing it with the police, he himself has raised questions. If he were truly afraid of being attacked again, why be so public about the assault? Since he couldn't identify the assailants, what harm could going to the police cause him? If they catch the attackers, it would be due to good police work, not due to being identified by the victim. Also, victims who do not stand up to their abusers often open themselves up to even further abuse. I'm sorry, but I'd be more inclined to believe this if there was an investigation ongoing. I hate to think anybody would ever put fear into a whole community if the allegation were not true. Please sir, for the sake of the entire LBGTQ community, file the report and let the police do their job. Finally, as for being '10 minutes from death', it's a bit questionable that one blood transfusion saved a life, and that he wasn't hospitalized for several days. Again, I hate to be questioning this story, and feel guilty even writing this, but this IS the discussion happening in living rooms and around water coolers. Patrick, I wish you good health and a speedy recovery. Be well.

  • Peter Jackson, commentary editor
    August 23, 2013 - 14:03

    I should clear a couple of things up. First, there is no indication there was a stabbing. Mr. Blackburn said he was beaten, not stabbed. Second, an Eastern Health official has stated that unless a patient requests otherwise, employees will not report an incident of trauma to the police. It isn’t mandatory to report any type of injury of patients presenting in an emergency department. This, I would assume, is a matter of privacy laws. Third, the police have confirmed to The Telegram as recently as a couple of hours ago that Mr. Blackburn has still not given a statement. Any investigation thus remains stalled from the start.

  • Jackson
    August 23, 2013 - 14:01

    I have read this article several times and cannot find any trace of the "Double Standard " Mr. Marcocchio refers too. Well written Ms. Sweet. Mr Marcocchio would you please tell us how Mr. Blackburn's alleged beating has now turned in to a stabbing or are you trying to add more misinformation to a situation already full of it.

  • Michael Marcil
    August 23, 2013 - 13:46

    The Police are involved and doing due diligence to investigate all of this.The reason you in your research could not find a report on the incident was because pat was unconscious for over 6 hours .The person who found him filed a report . As for what kind of attack , not to disparage Pat at all ,he is skinny tiny vegetarian lad who on any ones book looks gay. He did hear the slurs hurled at him before the attack . What just gets under my skin is ...yes he did not want to do interviews with press but after being told that it was really needed to bring out the truth he did, only to have people try to make him sound like a liar ect. Pat hes been a close friend for almost 20 years . Yes sometime brash and a pain but no more than anyone else. He is my Family now and loved by me and mine.I never had a doubt that this happened and that it was described accurately .As a reporter i am sure you have seen deal in their own way with what has happened to them .Just because they do not react the same way you would does not make it any less true . thank you for your time Michael and Dixie

  • Alex Mcgruer
    August 23, 2013 - 12:49

    Well written. I have no ideal about the circumstances and how someone could say he was 10 minutes from death. The police should be the first response in this incident, Social media then perhaps indignation from the public (Us We) should the police not do what they do. If the police are not in the loop , they are our societies gate keepers. Folks whining on FB do much of nothing. Get the police i the loop then cast slights a tour St. John's community..

  • Vic
    August 23, 2013 - 11:54

    I agree with Jonathan. Bruno, you are assuming that the public knows everything there is to know about the incident, and that everything Mr. Blackburn has said is truth. Would it be hard to believe that police have more information than you, and that's what they are basing their investigation/lack of investigation on? Also, could you please point me to the information saying this was a life-threatening stabbing? Mr. Blackburn has described it as a beating. Well done Barb Sweet, for articulating what many in the community are thinking.

  • Bruno Marcocchio
    August 23, 2013 - 11:26

    Jonathan Richler, you too miss the point. Hospital staff have a DUTY to report stabbings to police. Police have a DUTY to investigate an attempted murder. The duty does NOT rest with the victim! Journalists have a duty to accurately frame an issue.

  • Tree Walsh
    August 23, 2013 - 10:53

    I agree with Bruno Marcocchio.

  • Jonathan Richler
    August 23, 2013 - 10:38

    The second theme of this article is that social media repeatedly forces journalists to explain their job to a demanding, lazy public. Journalism is an objective craft. To have people expect that someone who is openly gay cover a story involving a gay man goes against the notion of inclusivity. Barb Sweet is correct: not only is the onus on citizens who assert a crime to report it properly - and for investigators to follow the correct, established channels of inquiry, the onus is on citizens to understand the practice of journalism.

  • John
    August 23, 2013 - 09:28

    It feels like people are ashamed to ask legitimate questions about this in fear of being portrayed as victim blamers. I also don't understand why he won't talk to the police, but is more than willing to post videos on Youtube and post on Facebook about it. Granted I've never been through a traumatic experience like he has, so I don't know what's going through his mind, but if there are people perpetrating hate crimes in St. John's, they need to be brought to justice as soon as humanly possible.

  • Ron.
    August 23, 2013 - 08:09

    Ron Finn : if he was so beaten up why did his friend drive downtown, instead of to a hospital? none of makes sense to me and many more. great way to get some money though with groups helping.you would think there would be large bruises too I think. truth on this isn't revealed yet.

  • Sean Flynn
    August 23, 2013 - 07:55

    Bruno, it's hard to investigate when the victim doesn't make a complaint. So far he's the only witness and he won't even talk to the cops. If he truly cares about the gay community he'd do everything in his power to make sure justice is done. Otherwise I have no sympathy for him and question both what happened that night and his motives for telling the world about it.

  • Bruno Marcocchio
    August 23, 2013 - 06:28

    Barb I am surprised you missed the point. Why did the police not investigate a life threatening stabbing incident? I guess had he died from his injuries and there was no-one to file a complaint that would have been the end of the story, no charges! The double standard you seem to have for your LGBT community is disturbing!

    • Frank
      August 24, 2013 - 17:26

      Once again you weigh in on matters you know nothing about and are loose with the facts