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Hate crime victim: 'This will only make me stronger'

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

Two men were beaten on the streets of Phoenix, they say, because of their sexual orientation.

"We believe they targeted us because we are gay," said Austin Head.

Head said he and his male friend were walking home from a bar at approximately 2 a.m. Friday morning. When the two made it to the intersection of Central and Osborn in Phoenix Head he said two men started shouting homophobic slurs at them from across the street.

Head said he was on a bicycle and his friend was on foot. They both tried to get away on the bike, but the two men caught up with them and, according to Head, started to attack them.

"They attacked us and knocked me unconscious and I took the brunt of the injuries. My friend was hit in the jaw. I was taken off in an ambulance," said Head. "The attack was so violent it created the fractures in my face and I couldn't see out of one eye for a few days the swelling was so bad. I've had some memory loss."

Head said he only remembers waking up in the hospital the next day, but his friend was able to stay behind and help police find the two suspects, who were still in the area.

Jermon Barnes, 22, and Ernie Barnes, 24, were arrested that night and are each facing one charge each of aggravated assault, according to the Phoenix Police Department.

"Do you think this was a hate crime?" we asked.

"I think their motivation was based on hate, yes," said Head.

Head is an activist of many things including his role in the documentary Positive Youth, a film about HIV positive people and their struggles.

Head says this will not get him down, but hopes by sharing his story that it will encourage more tolerance.

"I don't think they should use this as a reason to be afraid to walk down the street. I think it should be a reason to have a stronger sense of community," Head said.

Head may have to undergo reconstructive surgery.

On Friday, Nov. 16, Councilman Tom Simplot released the following statement.

"On Friday, Nov. 9, two men were attacked in central Phoenix. They were called names and beaten up for one reason only: they were presumed to be gay.

"My heart goes out to the two victims of this assault. I wish them a speedy recovery, and I will do everything in my power to see that the perpetrators are punished to the fullest extent of the law.

"We don't expect to hear about things like this happening in central Phoenix. This is one of the largest cities in the United States, a place where diversity is celebrated and the LGBT community thrives. Unfortunately, no group is immune to bigotry and hatred. Perpetrators will strike out at someone just for being different whether it is their skin color, religion, or in this case, because they were gay.

"Violence is not OK under any circumstance, and we have to stand together as a community in the face of this vicious assault.

"The best way to fight this hatred is to educate others, to be visible and to be active in our neighborhoods, our churches or in politics. We must take a role in improving the community around us to make it safer for ourselves, our friends and our loved ones.

"Thankfully, the two victims are survivors and we as a community will survive this assault on our peace of mind. The LGBT community has made great strides, but our work is not yet done. We continue to persevere through hard times and keep coming back stronger. We look out for each other and care about each other, and we will not let hatred keep us from being out and proud."

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