Nashville’s gay bar scene is diverse, both geographically and in terms of clientele, and for their target groups these places serve as social hubs. Each can be to its customers a kind of home away from home, the kind of place to unwind and be a little more themselves than they can be in our largely heterosexual world. From the July shooting at WKND, located next door to Canvas, to August’s bloody fight that nearly turned fatal on the sidewalk outside OutCentral, however, violent crime has shaken the community’s sense of comfort in these little oases of gay life.
After midnight, around 12:20 a.m. on Sunday, September 28, 2014, another terrifying incident occurred, this time not on Church Street. A local man, Thomas Brodhead—who was recently covered by O&AN for his art currently on exhibit at Vanderbilt's LGBT center—left Stirrup Nashville, located on 4th Avenue, and walked toward his parked car on the adjacent Mallory Street. Parking along the right side of that street is common practice for customers of the bar, which has a limited parking lot. However, the street is very dark and only the first few cars are visible from the door of the bar, where security stands watch.
Brodhead was barely a hundred feet away from the Stirrup’s parking lot when a slightly taller-than-average African American male wearing a hoodie and a bandana covering his lower face appeared at his right, saying to him, “Hey, dude…” Brodhead turned and discovered a second similarly-dressed man standing alongside the first. Each brandished what he described as three-to-four inch knives and demanded that he turn over his wallet and cell phone.
“At first I didn’t believe it was really happening,” Brodhead explained. “I thought I had misunderstood them, but then they both began brandishing their knives at me, stabbing erratically at me and yelling at me to hand everything over. I literally had to jump back to keep from getting stabbed. I knew they wouldn’t hesitate to stab me if they felt like that’s what it would take.” After trying to appeal to them, Brodhead did what police suggest that anyone do in this situation: he turned over his wallet and phone as demanded. “All of this happened so fast: it couldn’t have taken over twenty seconds. Of course, it seemed like forever in the moment.”
As soon as Brodhead gave them his wallet and phone, the two assailants fled west on Mallory on foot and turned up a dark alley. Brodhead returned immediately to the Stirrup, where he received assistance from employees and patrons. “The entire staff immediately jumped to my aid, variously helping me call 911—I was so unnerved I couldn’t even dial the phone at first—then the bank to cancel my credit and debit cards, the phone company to cease service, and all while I talked with the police. They stayed at my side for over 90 minutes, helping me out while I truly was in shock. I couldn’t have had better help, and I feel blessed to count them as friends.”
When the police arrived, they took Brodhead’s statement, and the reporting officer, Officer Riddle, suggested that Brodhead’s might not be an isolated incident. However, no other similar robberies were reported last night. It seems likely, at this time, that Stirrup wasn’t targeted as a gay bar. As Sergeant Pepper of Midtown Hills Precinct put it, Stirrup was likely a target of opportunity, most likely chosen because the muggers suspected their “victims had been drinking and were more vulnerable.”
Ironically, Brodhead doesn’t drink alcohol, and is humorously known about the bar for only ordering non-alcoholic club sodas. He goes to the bar for the camaraderie it offers him, enjoying the company and conversation of his friends. His sobriety may in fact have worked in his favor during the attack.
While incidents of similar severity have happened in the past, such as the 2008 double carjacking at Play, the frequency of this summer’s events is unfortunately notable and again highlights the need for bar patrons to remain vigilant. Specifically at Stirrup, this might mean using the bar’s overflow parking, which is across 4th Avenue and is guarded over the weekend.
Far more generally, however, it is always advisable to travel in groups, or at least in pairs, when one has to venture outside, and always to avoid dark, poorly lit areas where an assailant can easily hide. Additionally, one should avoid drinking to the point that one’s judgment is compromised, or at least remain in the company of a trustworthy friend. And of course, when confronted with an attacker, the safest way of escaping such a scenario unharmed is to turn over your valuables and disengage from the situation as quickly as possible, as Brodhead did.
But, as scary as it is to contemplate a situation like the one Brodhead faced, it demonstrates both the best and worst of humanity. On the one hand, a man was assaulted and robbed by two criminals. On the other, the people who make Stirrup what it is at its core rallied around the victim and offered him immediate support, both emotionally and materially.
photo via Yelp