July 9, 2019 at 11:33 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Man who confronted tourist with ‘MAGA’ hat hit with anti-gay slurs
(Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)

A gay public relations specialist and former LGBT media outreach official at the Democratic National Committee says he’s been receiving homophobic attacks on social media following his widely reported Twitter posts describing how he was ousted from a D.C. restaurant for confronting a tourist wearing a pro-President Trump ‘Make America Great Again’ or MAGA hat.

In one of his July 4 Twitter posts, TJ Helmstetter states, “Guy wears MAGA hat at my favorite restaurant. I say ‘hey are you from dc?’ He says ‘no.’ I say ‘we don’t tolerate racism in this city. His girlfriend then physically jabs fingers into my chest and starts threatening me. Management tells me to leave, not woman who assaulted me.”

In a subsequent post and in an interview with the Washington Post, Helmstetter said the incident took place at the Hill Country Barbecue and Market restaurant at 410 7th St., N.W. just after President Donald Trump delivered his “Salute to America” speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

“Just got thrown out of Hill Country DC for standing up to a Nazi,” Helmstetter says in another post on Twitter. “Don’t go there ever again. They support Trump and Nazis.”

A spokesperson for the Hill Country restaurant told the Post in a statement that the restaurant’s management became concerned after observing “a very loud verbal altercation” near the bar area.

“When two of our managers approached the area, they observed one of our guests being hostile towards another group of guests,” the statement says. “Our team was simply trying to prevent a physical altercation as they are trained to do and asked the guest yelling at the group to leave the restaurant immediately,” says the statement.

“There was nothing more to it from our team’s perspective and the incident was handled appropriately to ensure guest safety,” it says.

When contacted Saturday by the Washington Blade via email, Helmstetter responded by email saying he and his partner were on vacation. He said he would let the Washington Post story about the incident, for which he agreed to be interviewed via text message, speak for itself.

However, he added in his response to the Blade inquiry, “I’m getting a lot of anti-lgbt/ sexist/homophobic attacks in my DM [Twitter Direct Message] box and on other platforms. One guy on Instagram asked which of my partner and I were ‘the wife.’

Helmstetter continued, “Many of the messages toward me say ‘pussy’ ‘faggot’ ‘cocksucker’ [and] otherwise question my masculinity and threaten violence. That’s how these people operate.”

In the Tweets he posted on July 4 and July 5 Helmstetter expressed concern that the restaurant asked him to leave but not the woman whom he says “assaulted” him by jabbing her finger into his chest.

In one of his Tweets he says he called the restaurant’s manager after he was forced to leave and quoted one of the managers as saying the establishment was “an equal opportunity restaurant who welcomes all political viewpoints.”

Added Helmstetter in that Tweet: “Cool, except MAGA hats actually make clear that POC and LGBT are not welcome at all.”

He told the Post he felt compelled to confront the tourist wearing the MAGA hat because “progressives and any concerned person who thinks that we shouldn’t cage brown children in American concentration camps should respond vociferously to these people at every opportunity.”

The Post story about the incident says Helmstetter told the newspaper the social media attacks against him flooded his Twitter feed and private message inbox with hostile comments, prompting him to make his Twitter account private.

According to the Post, Helmstetter said he has become “burned out on politics in Washington” and that after many years working in the political arena, including at the DNC and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, he is starting a new business – a flower design studio.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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