Lawrence man says he’s victim of a hate crime after assault on Mass. Street last Friday

Rudolph Neugebauer III was injured in what he calls a hate crime against him because he is gay. He said he was attacked in the 600 block of Massachusetts Street early Friday morning after a group of strangers had offered him a ride.

Longtime Lawrence resident Rudolph Neugebauer III sits down at a tattered grand piano he’s attempting to restore.

As his fingers dance across the keys, the sound that comes from the piano is beautiful, although slightly out of tune.

The 27-year-old Washburn senior has had to take a break from finishing his restoration project, and when he looks up from the keyboard, it’s easy to see why. His eye is purple and swollen shut. His eye socket is shattered, and he has an indentation in his face where his cheek bone used to be.

“I’m just in shock. I don’t know what to say,” Neugebauer said. “This is Lawrence, and I thought, I’m good. I just made the wrong choice.”

Neugebauer claims to be the victim of a brutal attack that occurred a little after 2 a.m. Friday in the 600 block of Massachusetts Street. And what makes the crime even worse: Neugebauer says he was attacked because he’s gay.

“I’m a normal person,” he said. “Being gay is a part of me, I’m not a part of it. I’m not the only one this happens to. Hate crimes happen all the time, and people are too ashamed to say anything. It can’t be like that anymore.”

Neugebauer said the incident happened after he accepted a ride home from a group of people he didn’t know. He said that after growing up in Lawrence he didn’t think twice about jumping in the car with the strangers, but when one of the men in the car asked him whether he was gay, Neugebauer said things went downhill quickly.

“The guy next to me muttered something about being gay,” he said. “Then the driver turned around and said, ‘What? Are you gay? This isn’t that type of party. You can get the (expletive) out.'”

Neugebauer said he turned to get out of the car and was sucker-punched from behind. He ended up in the emergency room at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, and Lawrence police are now investigating the attack as a possible hate crime.

“This needs to stop,” Neugebauer said. “This is ridiculous and appalling. I’m a strong individual and I will survive, but if it was somebody else, they may not have.”

Mase Hakes, the youth coordinator with the Kansas City group Show Me Pride, said it’s hard to believe such intolerance still exists.

“It’s 2010. This really should be gone and done with by now,” Hakes said. “We should be able to walk down the street without having to worry about being attacked.”

The incident caught the attention of the Kansas City gay pride group, which will attempt to raise funds for Neugebauer during the Pride Week activities that kicked off Monday.

“Once we heard about this, I contacted the board, and everyone unanimously agreed: We should try to shed light on this,” Hakes said.

Neugebauer said he’s appreciative of the support he’s gotten across the country since posting his story on Facebook. He’s hoping the suspects, whom he describes as four men in a 1990s silver or gold Honda Accord, will be caught.

“They will be found, and justice will be served,” Neugebauer said. “I will be there to make sure my voice is heard.”