“Hi babe — I just got punched in the face. A guy ran up to me, called me a fag and punched me.”
Jerad Williams recalled that his boyfriend’s phone call shocked him.
A photo of the incident, though, would go on to shock the Internet.
About 20 minutes before the Thursday evening call, Williams — a first-year in zoology — had just parted ways with his boyfriend of one month, Cole Ledford, a third-year in business real estate.
Returning from a friend’s house, Williams and Ledford traveled down the university stretch of High Street at about 11 p.m. in the rain, planning to eventually split and go back to their respective homes, one on campus and the other off. The two held hands during the walk.
Along the way, a group of men Williams said were in their 20s called the couple “fags.” Williams said this was the first time he had experienced prejudice for his sexuality.
The two decided to separate about five minutes after the incident, arguing in jest and kissing each other goodbye before parting.
“(Williams) crossed the crosswalk, and the next thing I knew, someone yelled a gay expletive at me and then punched me,” Ledford recalled.
The assaulter — whom Ledford also described as a man in his 20s — kept walking, leaving Ledford on the ground. There were few people on the street because of the rain, he said, but no bystanders stuck around to help him.
Ledford said he could not remember the 10 to 15 seconds after the punch, but remembered thinking that he needed to “go home and solve the situation from there.”
Once home, he called Williams to let him know what happened and planned to report the assault to the police the next day.
Ledford then took a picture of himself — a portrait of his swollen left eye and cheek in the beginning stages of bruising. He wrote a caption in the notes of his iPhone, reading:
“I’m sorry that you called me fag. I’m sorry you hit me for no reason. I’m sorry whatever insecurities you have don’t allow you to accept others for who they are. I’m sorry I threaten you. I’m NOT sorry I’m gay. I’m proud to be this way. I’m proud to be confident enough to love who I love and to love me. I’m proud to have friends and family that love me regardless of me. Honestly, I’m not sorry.”
“I didn’t want to have to go about my next day explaining (the assault) to friends,” Ledford said of the photo’s original purpose. “I thought if I posted it (on Twitter), all of Ohio State was here, I could raise a little bit of awareness and I wouldn’t have to explain myself.”
Though it was intended for his friends, the tweet from Ledford’s account, @ColeLedford11 — which included his photo and the screenshot of the caption he typed — was retweeted more than 32,000 times and favorited more than 64,000 times on Twitter as of Sunday evening.
Multiple international news sources picked up Ledford’s story as well, including the Telegraph and the London Evening Standard in the U.K., and he said he is set to give interviews to media outlets in Singapore, Taiwan, South Africa and Scotland, among others. “Pitch Perfect” actor Skylar Astin also gave him a shoutout via Twitter.
Ledford said the “wonderful support” changed his outlook of the assault, and because of that, he did not file a police report of the incident.
“It was something that I was really upset about, but it turned into something so positive that it helped me,” he said. “And now I’m seeing that it helps others.
“A young boy in Texas just emailed me and my boyfriend telling us that because of our story, he came out to his parents. So the good that came from this is more than enough.”
This is not the first time Ledford has been in the public eye. In 2012, he was featured in multiple episodes of TLC’s “Extreme Couponing,” which follows shoppers as they use coupons to spend a minimal amount of money.
Ledford explained the difference between the attention he garnered from the TLC show and the tweet about his assault in terms of Twitter followers.
“This is unlike anything compared to (‘Extreme Couponing’),” Ledford said. “I gained 2,000 Twitter followers in less than 24 hours off of (the tweet about the incident). I only had 5,000 in the three years of doing TLC, so this has been unbelievable.”
One of the more stunning aspects of Ledford’s assault, Williams said, was that it happened in Columbus. He said he considers the city very LGBT-friendly and strong in the area of LGBT activism.
However, Columbus has seen its share of hate crimes against gay men in the past. During a week in June 2013, a string of crimes against gays in and around the city was reported, including an assault near East 5th and Indianola avenues, a beating and robbery in Old Towne East and a beating at East Moler and South 4th streets.
“After (Ledford’s assault), I kind of cautiously thought about holding his hand and the repercussions of it because of the event,” Williams said. “Going forward, I decided that I will never censor myself and my affection for him in terms of other people’s opinions. No matter what people think, I’m going to do what makes me comfortable.”
Despite some negative feedback from the tweet — which Ledford described as hatred similar to that of his assaulter — Ledford shared Williams’ sentiment.
“(Kissing) is going to continue to happen,” Ledford said. “I’m not worried about it.”