Brenna Brinkman waited for hours on her friends’ doorstep near Capitol Hill. It was long past midnight. And she already knew, in a way, what had happened.
“We waited an hour, until 3. We waited another hour,” the 19-year-old recalled later. “We were outside in the cold. I was terrified of what was going to happen.”
Brinkman had spent the night out with her sister, her uncle and two of her closest friends: Chris Huizar and Gabriel Roman, whom they hadn’t seen since leaving a nightclub just after midnight.
“I just assumed the worst: Did they get arrested, did they get in a fight? These are two gay guys walking around in Denver,” she said.
And she was right to worry. After four hours of waiting, she got the text from Huizar: “‘We got stabbed, but we’re OK.’ My heart instantly dropped.”
Huizar and Roman told Denver police that they were walking home from the nightclub when a man approached them from behind, yelled the slur “faggot,” and stabbed Huizar in the neck with a pocket knife.
The attacker then stabbed Roman in the hand and back as Roman tried to defend his boyfriend, according to a police report. Photos they posted to social media showed them bloodied in the hospital.
Denver police detained a suspect, Dylan Payne, for investigation of a charge of aggravated assault. The suspect did not face any bias- or hate-related charges as of Wednesday afternoon.
Neither Brinkman nor the victims recognized the suspect, a 24-year-old man, she said. He was no longer in detention as of Wednesday afternoon, according to police records.
The attack was awful and heartbreaking, Brinkman said — but it was not surprising.
“Me, Chris and Gabriel, we don’t have to be at the club to be harassed by other people. This isn’t the first time,” she said. She’s been friends with Huizar for two years, while Huizar and Roman have been together for about a year.
“They’ve had drinks thrown at them. They’ve had pizza thrown at them,” she said. “It’s really anywhere. We don’t have to be at the club for them to be harassed. We could be at the mall.”
Huizar is “very open about being gay. He’s very open about his relationship,” she said. And it seems that some people aren’t afraid to express their hate, either.
One young woman asked Brinkman how she could “hang around these two gay guys,” and whether she wasn’t “scared” that she would “catch AIDS,” she said. Other times it’s a slur from the window of a passing car.
She thinks that the couple are targets because of their ages — 19 and 23.
“It’s moreso an attack toward people that are younger,” Brinkman said. The harassers “feel like they’re not going to do anything. They’re so young. As people get older, (harassers) realize, my homophobic slurs and actions … it’s not going to make them go away,” she continued.
In fact, 85 percent of LGBT youth have experienced verbal harassment, and 27 percent have been physically harassed at school because of their sexual orientation, according to a recent UCLA study.
“I think it decreases as you get older, but it’s still a difficult trauma,” said Rex Fuller, vice president of communications for The GLBT Community Center of Colorado. The attack was unusual in its violence, though harassment is commonplace, he said.
And when they went out on Saturday, “we knew that someone was going to say something,” Brinkman said.
She was in town to celebrate her younger sister’s graduation. They decided to go to The Church for the sister’s first nightclub experience.
Huizar and Roman often are the only gay couple at the club, Brinkman said. And the verbal harassment started almost immediately.
“They were called homophobic slurs the whole night,” she said.
The group decided to leave the club and the harassers behind. They split up, with Brinkman and her family members returning to The Church for her uncle’s phone.
Then they lost contact, she said, likely because Huizar and Roman don’t have full cell service. They were out of touch for four agonizing hours.
When they finally reconnected, Huizar and Roman were nearly ready to leave the hospital. Brinkman reunited with them the next day at the apartment near Capitol Hill that the young couple shares.
“My heart completely shattered when I seen them. I never wanted that to happen. That shouldn’t have never happened,” she said.
Normally, they’re the ones who protect her on their nights out in Denver. But in the end, she said, they needed protection themselves.
“There’s always going to be that constant fear,” she said. “What if next time it’s worse?”
Have you experienced similar harassment in Denver? Email me.