The Other F-Word

It wasn't anything close to the physical assault on Wire publisher Carl Zablotny this past July 4, but in the early hours of Wednesday, August 10, Brian Bosserman also became a victim of anti-gay hostility, and he's wondering whether South Beach is the gay-friendly enclave it used to be.

In Zablotny's case, two light-skinned Hispanic men in their midtwenties viciously beat him after he left an Independence Day event at the Palace, a gay bar on Ocean Drive, and walked north on the 1600 block of Washington Avenue. According to Zablotny, the attackers were "well dressed, not thugs," who said, "He's one of them. He's a fag. We can do anything and he won't fight back." Police deemed the attack a hate crime. No arrests have been made.

The Bosserman incident didn't involve violence. He and his friend Angelica Linares, both residents of New York City, had gone out for a midnight dinner at Cafeteria, the popular Lincoln Road restaurant. The meal began, as meals on South Beach sometimes do, with poor service. "It was difficult getting an order in and difficult getting drinks," Bosserman recounts. "There were only three active tables and five employees, but our waitress continually avoided us. It was uspursuing her from the beginning." The food took more than 30 minutes to arrive, and when it did, the hungry friends were disappointed. "The French fries were overcooked and appeared dark brown and cold," wrote Linares in a notarized account of the night. "I tasted a French fry, and I can attest that the quality was extremely poor."

Bosserman tried to catch their waitress's attention. According to his friend's statement, the waitress said, "I can't deal with this right now. I have too much going on." Bosserman says the restaurant was nearly empty and there was no reason for her harried and (in his mind) cranky response. "It was poor service at a slow restaurant on a slow night," he says.

When the check arrived with an eighteen percent gratuity included, Bosserman was incensed. He marched over to the wait station to protest the tip, and a waiter intervened. Bosserman claims he was pushed three times by the waiter, who told him: "You have to go back to your table." The manager was summoned and the cost of one meal was removed from the check, although the gratuity remained. Bosserman and Linares paid in cash and left, at which point their waitress tried to get in the last word. "Have some couth, faggot," was her reported farewell.

Bosserman was furious. He reentered the restaurant, demanding to speak to a manager. Regardless of what had happened earlier, now a line had been crossed. "This was more harmful than being pushed by the other waiter," Bosserman says. "To use that word in a public environment -- and the manager says he won't do something about it?" The manager allegedly told Bosserman he could simply leave. Instead he stood outside, called the police, and made a complaint. Bosserman's experience technically may not have qualified as a hate crime, but nonetheless it left him feeling unsafe.

The business partners who own Cafeteria are all gay and lesbian. In addition a significant percentage of the restaurant's staff is gay, they donate regularly to gay charities, and South Beach is, after all, one of the most gay-friendly communities in America -- or at least it used to be. "I'm horrified," says Mark Thomas, one of Cafeteria's owners. "We're all gay! You can say a lot of things about Cafeteria in Miami. I know we've had awful service at times and we're very aware. It's been a huge challenge to keep quality people. But not homophobia."

Says Raynard Richards, Cafeteria's senior manager: "If I had been there and she had said that, she would have been fired on the spot. If someone says maricón, they're terminated. As a member of the gay community, I feel horrible. We don't condone that type of thing." According to Richards, the waitress denied saying anything. For him, it didn't matter. He doesn't believe a guest would fabricate an accusation that warranted calling the police, and so he fired the waitress the following morning. "We were all alarmed about it," he says.

The Miami Beach Police Department deemed Zablotny's assault urgent enough to change the theme of its regularly scheduled community meeting August 16 from a discussion of narcotics and prostitution to a "hate-crimes workshop." Bosserman was among the standing-room-only crowd in the community room at police headquarters on Washington Avenue. Those in attendance indicated a keen awareness that even minor tolerance for gay-bashing might make South Beach a paradise lost. "It's been noted in the community that this has become thug city on the weekends," Zablotny told the gathering. "As a high-profile gay community, we should be more responsible reporting even verbal abuses. There needs to be a consistent procedure."

Bosserman agrees. He's upset his complaint was never fully explored by the police. "If it's the priority the police department claims it is, why wasn't the incident assigned a report number?" he asks. As the owner of a production company called Steel City Productions, Bosserman says he brought two million dollars in business to Miami Beach last year. "The season's coming around and this is an ethical liability," he asserts. "If I don't feel safe here, how can I promote a vacation package to my clients?"

His confidence was further deflated at the hate-crimes workshop when Mayor David Dermer commended Beach police for reducing overall crime. Bosserman believed it was a failure on the mayor's part not to acknowledge the specific problem at hand, and condescending to the people who'd turned out to discuss it. "Something has to be done soon rather than three or four months down the line," Bosserman insists. "It affects my business if people start getting hurt or scared to come down here." Ideas at the meeting ranged from organizing a volunteer foot patrol of "goodwill ambassadors" to installing surveillance cameras at strategic points in the area. In the meantime, says Bosserman, "I feel safer in New York City."

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