Keith Orr, co-owner of the aut BAR, posted a message Aug. 25 on Facebook stating that their “safe space has been attacked” at 315 Braun Court in Ann Arbor. He owns the bar with his husband, Martin Contreras. He explained that their rainbow flag, lights, wires, fascia board and rainbow streamers had all been ripped down sometime after 2:45 a.m. when bartenders left the bar.
“I guess that’s OK in Trump’s America,” wrote Orr. “Or at least people feel like they’ve been given permission to do stuff like this.”
Orr speaks to the real damage beyond the monetary damage which wasn’t that great.
“Right now I feel violated. I hope the community also feels violated, because this wasn’t an attack on Martin or me. This was an attack on our community,” he said.
Their principle mission has always been to provide a safe space for the LGBT community. aut BAR opened 22 years ago and is a part of what Orr refers to as “Gay Central.” The couple also own Common Language Bookstore next door, and next to that, a building rented by the Jim Toy Community Center.
Many members of the community have come forward to offer help and support, including elected officials like State Rep. Yousef Rabhi.
“I stopped by to give him a hug and to support them during this difficult time. I encourage others in the next few weeks to go down to aut BAR and show their support,” said Rabhi, who set up a GoFundMe fundraising page to help with repairs and to stand with the LGBT community. More than $2,000 has been raised so far. Dollars raised beyond the cost of repairs will go to support the bookstore and the community center.
Rabhi confirmed Mayor Christopher Taylor called in from out of town to offer his support. Law enforcement came out to the establishment after the cleaning crew discovered the damage around 6 a.m. Friday morning. Ann Arbor Police Department’s Lieutenant Matthew Lige said he has limited information to elaborate on at this early stage of the investigation.
“A report was filed Friday. A detective was assigned Monday morning. There are no leads or developments right now,” said Lige.
While the building has been defaced a few times in the past, Orr confirmed vandalism to this extreme is a first.
Michigan had the highest number of bias crimes in the Midwest post-election, according to a report in November 2016 by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
This year, bias crimes toward marginalized communities specifically in Ann Arbor have been reported by MLive.
On Aug. 10, Concordia University employees found racial slurs spray painted onto the running track.
On Aug. 18, vandals spray painted racial slurs and swastikas at the skate park at Veteran’s Park.
On Aug. 22, there was a bomb threat at the Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County.
Rabhi said members of the community have been sensitive to this uptick in bias crimes, more so in the aftermath of Charlottesville, Virginia.
“But we live in an inclusive community. There has been an upswell of support from the LGBTQ community and allies,” he said. “We stand in solidarity against these unacceptable attacks. Times like these demand unity and numbers to not only denounce the actions but also stand with those targeted.”
A statement from the JTCC reads: “We are lucky to live in a community that rejects this type of bigotry and intolerance, and to have elected officials and community members who quickly rally behind us. As history has shown us, when the LGBTQ community is attacked, we come back stronger and more unified. Now is a time to support one another. Hate will not prevail.”