When a Stranger Asks You, "Are You Gay?"

I’ve been watching this case in Duluth for a month now, and I’m still stunned that the County Attorney’s and Sheriff’s offices haven’t found it a hate crime.

You go to a graduation party for a friend’s sister. The only two people you know there are your friend and her sister.

Five minutes after you get there a stranger comes up and asks you, “Are you gay?”

In the case of Max Pelofske, 21, of Duluth he answered, “Yes, I’m gay. Is that a problem?”

The stranger hit him and threw him to the ground. A group of thirteen young men and boys started pounding on, kicking, and beating him. Max’s friend, 21 year old Kelly Johnson of Saginaw and the sister of the girl the party was being thrown for, tried to intercede on his behalf but was unable to stop the attack.

After, when Max and Kelly called the police to report the crime, more strangers to him claimed Pelofske was stealing beer and started the whole thing. The police have charged Pelofske with fifth degree assault and disorderly conduct. Johnson also faces a disorderly conduct charge. Five others face varying misdemeanor charges, and one felony.

When charges were filed on June 5, Assistant County Attorney Nathanial Stumme said people “we would presume to be his friends” did not support Pelofske’s allegations. Why presume Max had friends at the party when both Kelly Johnson and her sister Jenny have supported his statement that they were the only two people he knew there?

In an interview with the Duluth News Tribune Pelofske points out, “Look at me, I’m five-foot-six. Why would I instigate (a fight with) thirteen people I’ve never met in my whole life?” He also stated that while still at the party he had asked investigating officers for, and been given, a breathalyzer test. He and Johnson both blew zeroes. They had not been drinking.

Max Pelofske was jumped by strangers who chose him to assault solely on the basis of his being gay. Friends of the bullies claiming that Max was somehow responsible for the whole thing is a tired, predictable tactic to deflect attention from the bully onto the bullied. Unfortunately, in this case it worked.

“This is the first time I have ever seen the victim of a hate crime be charged at the same degree as the perpetrators,” Rebecca Waggoner, anti-violence program director for OutFront Minnesota is quoted as saying in the same article.

Wake up St. Louis county. What happened to Max Pelofske was a hate crime that you’ve allowed to be treated as just another ‘kid stuff – boys will be boys schoolyard scrap’. Thank goodness the physical injuries to Max were slight, but because he wasn’t permanently disfigured or killed does not give St. Louis county the right to ignore federal law and pretend it wasn’t what it was.


“Are you gay?”
“Yes, I’m gay. Is that a problem?”

That is a hate crime. Max Pelofske was singled out and assaulted solely on the basis of his sexual orientation.

I’m calling on St. Louis county to drop the charges against Pelofske and Johnson and to reevaluate the charges against the five. If you’d like to add your voice to mine please contact:

Duluth Courthouse
100 N. 5th Avenue West, #501
Duluth, MN 55802
Telephone: 218-726-2323

Let St. Louis county and their attorney know that defending yourself during the commission of a hate crime is every citizen’s right and should not be punishable by law.

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