By JENNIFER PELTZ
NEW YORK – A man was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison for an anti-gay attack at a bar where a 1969 riot became a defining moment in the gay rights movement.
Matthew Francis, 22, didn’t speak at his sentencing. He pleaded guilty Sept. 8 to assault as a hate crime and to attempted robbery, but his lawyer said the October 2010 incident at the Stonewall Inn stemmed from drug and alcohol use, not hatred.
Francis and co-defendant Christopher Orlando attacked another man who was using a urinal next to Francis in the Greenwich Village bar’s bathroom, prosecutors said. After asking the victim about the place and being told it was a gay bar, Francis used an anti-gay slur and told the victim to get away from him, saying he didn’t like gay people, prosecutors said.
Then Francis demanded money, punched the victim in the face and kept beating him after Orlando blocked the door, tackled the victim and held him down, prosecutors said. The victim was treated briefly at a hospital.
Francis was high on prescription pills and alcohol at the time and hopes to get drug counseling in prison, said his lawyer, Robert DePalma. He said Francis, who has a sister who is a lesbian, doesn’t harbor any bias against gays.
“This was an unfortunate incident that arose because of substance abuse,” the attorney said. “It was quite a surprise to all of us that it was listed as a hate crime.”
Orlando, 18, also has pleaded guilty to similar charges, including assault as a hate crime. He’s expected to get six months in jail at a sentencing in January.
The Stonewall Inn became a crucible for the cause of gay rights in June 1969, a time when gay men and women were often in the shadows. Stonewall patrons resisted a police raid and fought with officers, spurring several days of demonstrations.
“The riots at Stonewall gave way to protests, and protests gave way to a movement, and the movement gave way to a transformation that continues to this day,” President Barack Obama said at a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month reception at the White House in June 2009.