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Gay writer attacked in New Orleans's French Quarter

Gay writer attacked in New Orleans's French Quarter

Paul Willis has a pleasant memory right before he blacked out. He said he recalls sitting with another writer friend in a Bourbon Street bar chatting. Willis agreed to help the man find his way back to his living accommodations, near the French Quarter. Willis's next memory, hours later, is more unpleasant. "I found that I was at Charity Hospital, covered with blood," he told the New Orleans Times Picayune. Willis, 41, is well-known as the acting executive director of the Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans. He was released from the hospital Friday afternoon, the victim of what he and others said they believe was a gay bashing. Doctors told him the attack will probably leave him blind in his right eye. Officer Johnette Williams, a spokeswoman for the New Orleans Police Department, said that the incident, which occurred about 4:30 a.m. in the 1200 block of Royal Street, is being investigated and has not yet been classified as a hate crime. Prior to the attack, Willis and his partner, Greg Herren, 42, attended a book-signing party of a mutual friend on Dauphine Street. Afterward they went to the Bourbon Street bar, and Willis wanted to continue talking with the out-of-town writer. Willis and Herren planned to meet later at their Lower Garden District home. Herren got home about 4:30 a.m. and wasn't worried that Willis wasn't back yet, the Times Picayune reported. He went to sleep, only to be awakened later that morning by a woman who called to say she had been in Verti Mart, a grocery on Royal Street, and saw five teenagers come out of a van and attack Willis. She said Willis told her, "Call Greg," and gave her their phone number, just before an ambulance took him to Charity. Willis discovered later that his wallet, which contained about $40, had been stolen, but not his expensive jewelry. Willis and Herren, citing the violent nature of the attack, told the Times Picayune that they will encourage the police to classify the incident as a hate crime. Herren, who is an administrator at the local Lesbian and Gay Community Center, said he has enlisted the help of his boss, Jack Carrel, the center's director. Carrel said he has agreed to help. One of the center's programs, which he oversees, helps victims of hate crimes, which under Louisiana law includes people targeted because of their race, age, disability, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. The visiting writer, who is also gay, said he is worried too. Shortly after he and Willis left the bar, they became separated and he walked back to his apartment alone, assuming Willis would be OK. "I'm terrified," he told the paper. "They could've got me as well."

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