PHOENIX — A Valley couple alleges they were attacked by another customer at a downtown Phoenix bar last weekend because they are gay.
There seems to be no dispute that a fight occurred last Sunday night between customers at The Golden Margarita, but the exact details differ depending on who you ask.
The West Valley NAACP held a press conference in front of the restaurant to speak on behalf of the couple on Saturday.
"It's our understanding that they attended this establishment, a woman approached them, told them that they were not welcome in this bar, he didn't understand why," said Sarah Tyree, the criminal justice Chair for the West Valley NAACP. "They said they were not welcome here because they were gay. One of them was then hit in the head. The fight ensued and they moved outside the bar where they were both continually assaulted by a group of men."
Organizers of the press conference said they want to ensure a thorough police investigation and that businesses are protecting LGBTQIA customers.
"We're not making comment [with] regard to the restaurant at this time," said Kenneth Smith with Unity Collective. "Ultimately, what we can say is that we expect for any establishment to make sure that when something happens this way, that they are there to support the community."
Phoenix police confirmed this week their bias crime detectives are investigating the incident. A police spokesperson told ABC15 that several witnesses were contacted but were unable to corroborate what prompted the assault. Police said officers talked to a woman who was accused of hitting one of the men. She reported the two men were sitting in an area reserved for a private party and a fight occurred when they refused to leave.
According to Phoenix police, one of the men told officers they believed they were assaulted because of their sexual orientation. Police said officers tried to obtain a description of the suspects and additional details, but the two victims showed signs of impairment and could not provide enough information.
This week, The Golden Margarita posted a statement on Facebook, apologizing to the LGBTQ+ community, noting that their staff was not involved in the incident, but writing they "will learn and grow from this." The establishment also denounced racial and sexual prejudice.
On Saturday, a manager at the bar told ABC15 they are welcoming to everyone.
"One, I'm a black manager that is gay that works here at this establishment," said Bottle Service Manager Albert Meeks.
Meeks told ABC15 there is surveillance video from Sunday night, but the owner and their attorney have yet to release it publicly. He said they are willing to meet with the two men involved.
Meeks said his understanding is the altercation between customers started over an issue involving personal space, and not a derogatory comment.
"First time I am hearing that comment, myself," Meeks said of the alleged anti-gay comment. "That's the first time I'm hearing that. I know the individual was a gay male, I understand that, but the comment wasn't what led up to the situation."
Meeks said they have a large customer base from the LGBTQ+ community. The statement they issued was to show support.
"We still care, but it just so happened to happen here first and then we had to remove them," Meeks said of the incident. "So, we did issue a statement just because of the fact that we want everybody to know that we are all-inclusive and it's not a hate crime or any type of situation like that."
Meeks reiterated they welcome everyone.
"Our owners are minorities, it's minority-owned, we include everybody, we hire everybody," Meeks said. "Sexual orientation or racial background, everybody's included."
During the press conference, Smith called the incident a "travesty."
"It needs to be taken care of appropriately," Smith said. "It needs to be investigated appropriately. It needs the proper energy."
Tyree said the couple involved is getting support from their family and that resources are available when needed.
"As you would expect, the couple has taken this very hard," Tyree said. "Nobody deserves to be assaulted, specifically for being themselves."