DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA) — A vicious attack against a gay man shook the LGBT community to its core in Decatur.
Sunday, dozens of demonstrators came out and marched to show him support.

The event organizer August Francis said, “It’s very strange for something like this to happen in Decatur now.”

Police arrested Ethan Dickerson Thursday. He faces hate crime charges, accused of violently attacking his gay neighbor in a homophobic tirade.

“It’s something that was a lot more prevalent and a lot more of an issue, obviously, back when, you know, this was more prevalent,” Francis said, “but now, this is the first we’ve in a very long time.”

He said when he heard the news of what happened he suffered flashbacks.

“It was devastating. It immediately, the first thing I thought of was when I came out to my mother,” Francis said.

That moment was his mother’s biggest fear.

Francis said, “Her first reaction was just intense fear that something like this would happen to me. Something like this could happen to my husband, or to my friends or my family.”

He said after the initial gut-wrenching feeling he was motivated to bring the community together.

“Make sure that the survivor knows that he’s loved was the next step,” Francis said, “I started a group chat, I reached out to everybody that I could think of that’s been involved in local activism, and encourage them to invite all their friends”

More than 100 people chimed in on the group chat. Shanon Miller showed up to support people she loves. She said everyone should be able to be who they want to be.

“It’s the sad thing when people are afraid to live that life. And I can’t imagine not being able to be who you were,” said Miller.

Francis said that a violent act towards an LGBT person could affect more than just the victim.

“It sets us back years, decades. But doing something like this, where we all show up, and we make sure we are visible, and we are allowed and we are proud, hopefully, moves us forward again,” said Francis.

One transgender activist we talked to told us that he had recently been a victim of violence because of his gender identity. He said events like this remind him he is not alone.