A 25-year-old man was brutally bashed after leaving a house party wearing a dress and makeup on Saturday night in Sydney, Australia.
Isaac Keatinge, who identifies as queer, told BuzzFeed News he was walking towards King Street in Newtown at around midnight when three men started to insult him with anti-gay and anti-transgender slurs.
"They verbally assaulted me, comments about wearing a dress. I responded in kind," he said. "I wasn’t afraid of going up to them to talk and try to diffuse the situation."
"But the punches came as soon as I went up to them. It was so rapid."
Left with injuries and extremely disoriented, Keatinge managed to stumble back towards the party, where his friends found him and took him to the emergency department at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
He received 15 stitches for a laceration to his head, along with multiple bruises and a heavily swollen eye.
NSW Police said they were investigating whether the attack was motivated by "bias based on [Keatinge's] appearance at the time".
“This report is extremely concerning and absolutely unacceptable. NSW Police will follow every avenue of investigation possible," said Superintendent Simon Hardman in a statement.
Keatinge told BuzzFeed News he is used to verbal harassment and confrontations, but he wasn't expecting the brutality of this incident.
“I’ve been confronted by people so many times before," he said. "I said to friends, it’s not the first time, just the worst time.”
"My brother and father told me that wearing dresses and makeup would 'get me bashed', I just didn't think it would happen in Newtown."
The inner-west Sydney suburb of Newtown has a reputation for being LGBTI-friendly. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, it has the second-highest number of female same-sex couples in the country.
Keatinge posted a picture of his injuries to Facebook, writing that he wanted to remind people "how lucky we are to live in a country where gay bashing is rare, unlike most of the world".
"I feel solidarity more than ever with our sisters around the globe who have been much more severely injured, bashed, tortured and killed, due to their gender expression or sexuality."
State member for Newtown Jenny Leong told BuzzFeed News keeping the area safe for diverse communities was a challenge under the NSW government's lockout laws.
"We’ve seen a huge increase in the amount of people coming to Newtown in recent times. That’s no surprise to anyone who lives or goes out in the area," she said.
"I think it’s clear the Kings Cross and CBD lockouts have had an impact."
The laws introduced in 2013 include 1.30am lockouts and 3am last drinks in the CBD and Kings Cross areas.
Leong said the Newtown area has long had a reputation of being safe for people of diverse sexualities, genders and cultures.
"The real challenge we have is to make sure that in the increase of people coming to the area we don’t see a change in the culture, a change to the feeling of this being a safe community for people from diverse communities."
"That’s a challenging thing because it’s much harder to put in strict rules, regulations or laws that deal with those things. It’s more about capturing the elusive vibe or feeling of a place, and that’s a much harder thing to protect."
Leong said that while there has been no across-the-board increase in assaults or antisocial behaviour reported to police, she has heard anecdotally of people experiencing "low-level intimidation, heckling, rude remarks".
"That’s the kind of culture we need to work on to make sure it doesn’t descend into something worse."
Last year, the lockout laws were cited as a factor in the bashing of Stephanie McCarthy, a transgender musician, at the Town Hall Hotel in Newtown.
Keatinge, who has lived in Newtown for four years, said it's "hard not to make the connection".
“People say it’s a clash of cultures, I think it’s the persecution of one culture.”
In response to Keatinge's assault, a protest has been planned for Victoria Park next Saturday.
Organising group Reclaim The Streets hope the protest will "draw attention to the escalating violence and intimidation in the once vibrant suburb".
Spokesperson James Loch said the lockout laws have increased harassment, bullying and intimidation in the Newtown area.
“We all came to Newtown to avoid that kind of bullshit, but thanks to Casino Mike [NSW Premier Mike Baird] it has followed us here."
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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