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Kiss Out Responds to Antigay Attack in Brooklyn

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Some participated with their partners. Others arrived ready to make out with random strangers. All came with the intention to use kissing to demonstrate against a brutal antigay hate attack that occurred two weeks ago in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Carroll Gardens Kiss-Out staged a street response Monday evening to a hate attack that occurred in the neighborhood March 2. The incident, which police are investigating as a hate crime, involved a 22 year-old-man attacked by five men yelling antigay slurs after he left a weekly gay party at a pizzeria on Court Street at around 1 a.m. The victim, who sustained cuts and bruises, has chosen to remain anonymous and the case is still open.

"What's really beautiful is that you're retaliating against an act of violence with an act of love," said a woman who identified herself only as Sari, a social activist from Bedford-Stuyvesant. "I get set up on a blind kiss date."

Nearly 20 people formed couples, trios, and assorted other groupings stationed on the corners of Court Street between Fourth Place and Luquer Street. The majority were men, although gender, sexual orientation, and preferences seemed to matter less than getting the message across hours before elected officials, political clubs, and residents were scheduled to hold a vigil in response to the hate crime.

"We're trying to give a sense of symmetry and alignment," said kiss-out co-organizer Todd Shalom as he issued instructions inside South Brooklyn Pizza. The brick-oven pizzeria hosts the Monday night Fondle party, a laid-back affair unvisited by violence until two weeks ago.

"You need to kiss for 20 minutes -- rain or shine," said co-organizer Ryan Tracy before the participants gamely ambled into the chilly Ides of March air marked by occasional drizzle.

Shalom and Tracy, both Brooklyn residents, brought art, music and performance backgrounds to their first attempt at a political demonstration. They said a kiss-out is different from, say, the more familiar term, kiss-in.

"When you have people lumped together, it's easy for people to avoid it," said Shalom. "If we spread out in different points, it's unavoidable. We want to reclaim the streets."

Outside, participants were greeted with a variety of reactions in the Brooklyn neighborhood where traditional Italian residents mix with newcomers.

At the corner of Court Street and Fourth Place, a man who called himself Frank stood outside the Van Westerhout Cittadini Molesi Cultural and Social Club smoking a cigar and shaking his head.

"For me, as a man, I am ashamed," said the native of Italy, who came to Carroll Gardens 50 years ago. "This is no good. They should go inside the bar and kiss there."

A younger passerby sounded only slightly more charitable.

"He shouldn't have been beat up, but they shouldn't be doing this on the street," said the man. "The kids could see it."

Some drivers honked, a somewhat indeterminate reaction. Others appeared to smile. Another issued the finger to two men kissing one block down on Court and Luquer streets.

Meanwhile, across the street, a young mother pushed her baby in a stroller and kept saying to the child, "Look, everyone is kissing. Kiss me."

That same attitude motivated a latecomer to the party. Amanda Millis jumped into action with Ryan Kelly (pictured), who for the first part of the 20 minutes had locked lips with a partner identified as Nick.

"It made me feel really present in the moment," Millis said afterward at South Brooklyn Pizza. "It was really nice, the feelings of love and goodness and knowing why we're doing it. Except there was no tongue."

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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