Victims of MSU hate crime talk about attack as other LGBTQ+ students hope for increased protections

Posted at 8:16 PM, Apr 17, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-17 21:54:23-04

EAST LANSING (WXYZ) — Michigan State University students Bradley Cooper and his boyfriend Ryon Baldwin-Williams never imagined a verbal altercation with some teenagers inside the main library on campus would explode into a fight.

"It was just very heartbreaking, honestly. We were just there trying to do our homework," Cooper told 7 Action News as he was still recovering from cuts and bruises from the assault that took place Monday around 5:50 pm. "We were studying for finals, not thinking anything would happen, and definitely not a fight."

The two said it started with one of the teenagers mocking Cooper's clothing. At one point, Cooper said a girl in the group began to direct some of her language to them as well.

"The girl said something along the lines of 'your gay (expletive)' or something like that," Cooper said. "So, they made it clear with that statement - the gay statement - that they were doing it because we were gay."

Cooper and Baldwin-Williams then went into a study room to work and the teenagers seemed to have followed them there.

Baldwin-Williams said they tried to keep the group out of the room but they ended up gaining access and it was clear that one of the young men in the group was after Cooper.

Cooper was attacked and Baldwin-Williams came to his defense but the two were outnumbered.

Baldwin-Willliams ended up with cuts, bruises, and a leg fracture. Both spent about nine hours being treated at a nearby hospital.

"It was just unbelievable, honestly," Cooper said.

The attack left other students who are also members of the LGBTQ+ community shaken.

"It felt kind of jarring because, for the most part, I've always felt very safe on this campus," said Emily Moore. "And, if I'm being honest, this is probably the first time I didn't."

Moore said it was hard trying to concentrate on school work and process what had just happened.

Moore told 7 Action News, "I have a Pride pin on my backpack and when I was walking home by myself the other night, I remember adjusting my hoodie at the back of my neck to cover it up. That's the first time I ever had to do that."

Hours before the attack on the two students, Moore was part of a protest on campus that was aimed at bringing awareness for safety of transgender students and other members of the LGTBQ+ community on campus.

"Even though this is a relatively queer-friendly space, there are still people out there to get us just for living authentically, and that we may need some sort of extra protection."

The protest was in response to a student group that was sharing their anti-LGBTQ+ views on campus, according to Lyra, one of the protest organizers, who asked that we not use her last name.

It was "a conservative organization that had some very trans-phobic rhetoric and slogans saying things like 'men cannot be women.. women cannot be men.' Also having a 'do no harm' sign on top of a trans flag," said Lyra. "For many transgender or gender non-conforming students, this was very painful to see. And it shows that our identity is still being attacked."

Lyra said it was concerning that the university's campus alert did not go out until about three hours after the attack which could have left others in the area open to similar attacks.

Both Cooper and Baldwin-Williams also expressed concern for recent anti-LGBTQ+ activity on campus but said they never felt a threat to their safety.

"It's like free speech. They're going to have these people on campus which is annoying but understandable," said Baldwin-Williams. "But then I would never have expected to be attacked for this (being gay."

MSU Police said they have identified seven teenage suspects involved in the attack and none are affiliated with the university.

"Once the investigation is completed, it will be submitted to the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office with a request for charges against the suspects," wrote Dana Whyte, spokesperson for MSU Police and Public Safety.

Cooper said they want to see all those involved in the attack charged. He said, "We definitely do want hate crime charges because that was, for sure, a hate crime."

In their statement, MSU Police said if anyone receives a targeted or personal threat or has information relevant to the investigation, they should immediately contact them at 517-355-2221.

In case of an emergency, contact 911 – call if you can, text if you can’t.