Prominent gay couple hospitalized after brutal hate crime near Palm Springs bar

George Zander

George Zander

Local gay rights activist George Zander and his husband Chris were attacked in downtown Palm Springs as they were leaving Hunters nightclub around 8 p.m. Sunday night, police say.

The assault is being investigated as a hate crime.

As Chris recalls, he and George were holding hands as they exited the popular bar. A passerby bumped into them and muttered an antigay slur.

Chris replied, “That’s totally uncalled for.” Then the man pulled Chris down by his shirt and ran away.

The Zanders continued on, but the man returned with at least one other person. Chris was hit on the back of the head with a bottle, and George was thrown down to the ground, breaking his hip.

“It was complete anger, it was just anger,” said Chris, who choked up as he spoke of the details Monday. “I don’t understand why somebody would push a 71-year-old man over. It makes me want to cry every time I talk about it.”

Investigators said two suspects — one described as a white male adult with a stocky build and red hair, the other only as a white male adult — fled the scene in a sedan-type vehicle.

Chris and George were rushed by ambulance to Desert Regional Medical Center, where Chris was treated for a concussion and received staples in the back of his head and stitches in his lip.

George, who currently works as a field manager with Equality California and is an active volunteer of the Desert Stonewall Democrats, suffered a double hip fracture and will undergo surgery. Doctors say the break was clean and he is expected to make a swift recovery.

“I guess it’s a bigger deal than I ever even imagined,” Chris said, expressing shock that this type of crime would occur in gay-friendly Palm Springs. “I don’t know what to do but cry. That’s all I can really do.”

“We feel so safe here, and it’s a wake-up call, that we are not as safe as we think,” said Ruth Debra, chair of the Desert Stonewall Democrats, a local LGBT advocacy group. “This was very specifically a hate crime.”

The Desert Stonewall Democrats have set up a Justice 4 George Facebook page and a GoFundMe account for George and Chris to match a rewards fund up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the attackers.

This is the second reported crime targeting LGBT people in Palm Springs in 2015. In June, Joshua Wade Johnson, a 30-year-old homeless man, allegedly attacked a 71-year-old man after discovering that he was gay. Johnson was arrested a few days later.

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