ACA.hatecrimevictim.adv.1

Holden White

As the victim in a weekend stabbing improves, LGBTQ activists are asking police to consider the role the teen’s gay identity may have played in the attack.

Holden White, 18, described his appearance as a “hot mess” Tuesday, according to his family.

The sarcastic comment represents significant progress in White’s recovery. Just one day earlier he’d been on a ventilator and a feeding tube, unable to communicate at all except by nodding his head or shrugging his shoulders.

White, who is gay, suffered life-threatening injuries during a Grindr date gone wrong Saturday and has been fighting for his life at Lafayette General Medical Center ever since. He is still in the intensive care unit but is in good spirits.

“His spunky and funny attitude is back,” said Faith Roussel, White’s 26-year-old sister. “The fact that his sense of humor is back and he’s calling himself a hot mess and things like that — He’s in the hospital. He hasn’t even seen himself. How would he even know if he’s a hot mess?”

White suffered traumatic injuries Saturday at a residence in the 400 block of Maryview Farm Road. His injuries include stab wounds to the neck, strangulation wounds, blunt force trauma to the back of the head and cuts so deep into his wrists that his hands were nearly severed, according to the family.

Chance Seneca, the 19-year-old man charged with attempted second-degree murder in the case, had his first court appearance Tuesday morning and remains jailed with a $250,000 bail.

Lafayette Police spokesman Sgt. Wayne Griffin said the attack is not being classified as a hate crime and said evidence points to other motives. Griffin would not comment on the evidence or other specifics about the case, citing the ongoing investigation and Seneca’s future prosecution.

Hate crimes, which are often violent, are those motivated by prejudice because of race, religion, sexual orientation or other specific criteria.

Griffin said he does not expect the crime to later be classified as a hate crime.

Matthew Humphrey, president of LGBTQ-ally group PFLAG Lafayette, said he’s concerned by the police department’s statements that the attack was not hate motivated. Humphrey said he feels the declaration is premature given a full week hasn’t passed since the attack and PFLAG will be watching closely to ensure all aspects of the crime and Seneca’s background are investigated.

“The police are put in place to do due diligence and get to the bottom of things and investigate thoroughly and I don’t know how you’re able to say anything definitively about any type of crime four days in, especially something this heinous,” Humphrey said. “I don't know how you can look at [his injuries] and not think there was a significant element of hate involved.”

Humphrey said PFLAG Lafayette has reached out to White’s family to offer support and will be taking cues from the family before applying public pressure to the police department for the attack to be reconsidered as a hate crime.

There has been an overwhelming amount of support for White and his family, Roussel said. A GoFundMe page started by Roussel has raised nearly $50,000 in two days.

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Gage Suire, a 21-year-old Kaplan native who performs under the drag name Ashley Hall, has been actively sharing updates on White’s recovery and promoting the fundraiser on Facebook. The two men attended Kaplan High together, were in the school band and worked on school musicals together, bonding as two of the few openly gay young men at the school, Suire said.

He described White as an outgoing guy with a big smile who stood up for his beliefs and whose “confidence and radiant personality” you could feel when he walked in the room. Suire said he was returning home from a drag event when he learned of White’s attack and was gutted.

The 21-year-old said the horrific details brought to mind past attacks against gay men and the violence the LGBTQ community has historically faced, and he felt like his community was under attack, whether Seneca intended to inspire fear or not.

Suire said he hopes investigators don’t brush aside a potential hate crime motive. The use of the app Grindr, which is geared toward gay and bisexual men, indicates Seneca may have intended to harm a gay man. If White weren’t gay, Suire said he doesn’t think he would have been victimized.

More than anything, Suire said he wants justice for his friend.

“I don’t ever want for a second for Holden to have to know that the person who did something like this to him is walking freely on the streets, or there’s a chance that it could happen again to him,” he said.

White’s family has questioned the Lafayette Police Department’s decision not to charge Seneca with a hate crime in the case. They believe Seneca attacked White because of his sexual orientation. They also believe the attack was planned because of Seneca’s posts on Facebook, including a profile picture of Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous serial killer who admitted to murdering and dismembering 16 men and boys from 1978 to 1991.

Tara Guy, former president of Acadiana PRIDE, said she was also concerned by Seneca’s Facebook photo of Dahmer and said she’d like law enforcement to more critically consider how White’s identity as a gay man may have played into the attack. She questioned whether Seneca targeted White to act out struggles with his own identity, or if White was easy to isolate and draw in because Acadiana’s LGBTQ community is small. Those facets should all be considered, she said.

Guy said she felt given the description of events and White’s wounds that the 18-year-old was preyed upon. She said she was shocked and confused when she learned the details, struggling with the knowledge this happened in the Acadiana area and not in a horror film.

The local activist has been actively sharing White’s story and called on community members of all backgrounds to speak out against the crime. Guy said whether White’s attack is officially classified as a hate crime, fear has been stoked in the LGBTQ community.

People with gender identities and sexualities considered outside the heterosexual, cisgender norm are still targeted and made to feel less than or ashamed, she said.

“We live in a place where so many people are pushed in the closet and pushed to stay in the closet,” Guy said.

Now that White is awake and able to speak, though with some limitations due to his injuries, his family said they will take a step back from discussing the specifics of the case and their views on the motive behind the attack. They’ve also met with an attorney.

“We just want to thank the community for all the support,” Roussel said. “There’s been little to no hatred, and our family is very thankful for that. I know once Holden gets his phone and is able to go back on social media, he’s going to be blown away by all the support.”


Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com