8/14/13 - NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — What was supposed to be a pleasant movie night turned into a violent attack and beating for a gay couple in Chelsea. As CBS 2's Jessica Schneider reported, police on Wednesday were searching for several men wanted in the assault, which took place around midnight Tuesday night, shortly after the couple left the Chelsea Bowtie Cinemas on 23rd Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues.
The two victims — Peter Notman and Michael Felenchak — told their side of the story to reporters, CBS 2's Steve Langford reported.
They said they were holding hands as they turned onto 24th Street, when they were approached by two other men who yelled anti-gay slurs, according to police. Felenchak, 27, and Notman, 53, were then attacked by two young men, as well as four others who joined in, they added.
"It was six of them against the two of us," Notman said, "typical of the cowards they are." Notman and Felenchak said they were subjected to anti-gay slurs during the attack.
"They were here. They were in the middle of the street. They were like, 'What are you looking at, you f**? Boom," Notman told WCBS 880's Peter Haskell. Notman told 1010 WINS' Gene Michaels he caught the attention of the doorman of one of the nearby apartment towers.
"I ran into the lobby to try to get away from them, and then they dispersed once they saw that we were in the lobby and told the guy to call the police," he said.
The two spent nearly the whole night in the emergency room.
"I was hit with brass knuckles down the side of my face, and I had contusions; had to have an MRI, and Michael received several stitches in his mouth where they punched us," Notman said.
Felenchak ended up requiring a total of seven stitches.
As the two victims faced the media, their very public stand against hatred nearly moved a local politician to tears.
"It means a lot to me as an LGBT individual that you take it upon yourselves to be here — to represent our community — at such a difficult time," said state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan.)
City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn also stood with the victims. "I am appalled by reports that two men were senselessly beaten in Chelsea simply because they were perceived to be gay," Quinn said in a statement. "The cowardly individuals who committed this crime do not represent New Yorkers and our community will not be cowed by such violence. New York City's greatest strength is our diversity, and we will not stand for attacks against anyone, for any reason."
The two victims said they were confident their assailants will be caught.
"We have our complete faith in the NYPD — they are great guys; they're amazing. They're going to find the guys," Felenchak said.
People in the neighborhood were outraged Wednesday, particularly since the attack happened in such a gay-friendly community like Chelsea.
"A lot of homosexuals live here, and they feel safe here and I think they live here because they feel a sense of community," said Corbin Reid of the Upper West Side. "So to get attacked here is definitely disheartening, and it's like getting attacked in your own home."
"Chelsea of all places? Really?" said Chelsea resident Toby Berkowitz. "You're here because it's a very homogenized mix of people. We love that. But if you don't feel safe in front of your local movie theater, where would you?"
Police said the incident is being investigated as a hate crime.
A rash of anti-gay attacks was plaguing the city only a few months ago. In the severest incident, Mark Carson, 32, was shot and killed on May 18 by a man who first called him and his partner "f***ots" and asked if they were "gay wrestlers," police said.
Couples were attacked in at least two other incidents in May.
On May 5, Nick Porto and his partner, Kevin Atkins, were beaten near Madison Square Garden after a group of men wearing Knicks shirts called them anti-gay slurs.
Porto was among the speakers at a rally in Greenwich Village denouncing the attacks and calling for an end to the violence.
And early on May 10, two men tried to get into an after-hours billiards hall on West 32nd Street but were not let in, police said. They were then approached by a group of approximately five others who proceeded to shout anti-gay slurs and beat the men, police said.
"Everybody should be able to live their life the way they want to live it, and no one should be judged by anyone else," said Dan Berkowitz of Chelsea. "Hate crimes have got to go."
Police have increased patrols in Chelsea following the attack.
Anyone with any information about the Chelsea incident is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477). You can also submit tips to the Crime Stoppers' website or text tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577.