A 19-year-old student at Vancouver Island University is leaving Nanaimo for good after he says he was attacked at a party for being gay.
Spencer Frey, an interior design student at VIU, says he was targeted at a weekend house party in north Nanaimo that was attended by other VIU students.
Frey said from the moment he arrived at the party, the mood was unfriendly. Around midnight, things escalated.
“I was just talking to my friend, and then some kid tapped me on my shoulder and goes ‘you’re disgusting,'” Frey told CHEK News Tuesday. “I go ‘excuse me?’ He goes, ‘yeah, you f**ing smell. You’re disgusting,” and I go ‘what?’ And he goes ‘Yeah, f*g.'”
Moments later, another partygoer came up behind him and squeezed his buttocks, and then as he was preparing to leave, a third male came at him from across the room.
“He goes, ‘you’ve been looking at me all night,’ and then I’m like ‘nobody’s been looking at you.’ And then I just get punched,” said Frey. “I just get punched right in the face.”
The next few moments were a blur for Frey as his friends reported several males ganged up on him, with Frey being punched several times.
He said his VIU classmates then pulled him from the house, and he was later taken to hospital where RCMP were called to report an assault.
He suffered severe facial bruising, a black and bloodshot eye and was left with a mark around his neck which he believes was caused by his attackers pulling at his T-shirt.
But the biggest damage done may be to Frey’s sense of safety after what he describes as a traumatic, hate-motivated assault.
“It’s just disgusting and it’s literally left me traumatized in a way that I could get beat up for just being myself,” he said.
Nanaimo RCMP have confirmed they are investigating the assault but will not say whether they’re deeming it a hate crime.
In a statement, VIU says it is aware of the attack and that it is taking the incident “very seriously.”
“As of Sunday morning, VIU has been in contact with the student and family and are offering ongoing support. The student is recovering with support of their family at home,” the university said.
“If anyone has any information that could help in the investigation, please reach out to directly to the Nanaimo RCMP. Our focus is to remind students and employees of the supports that are available to them. VIU is continuing to work with campus partners to enhance training and awareness activities that help build allyship.”
Frey’s mother, Erin, said while the family lives in Phoenix, Arizona, she happened to be in Vancouver visiting her other sons when Spencer called her distraught following his attack.
“It was a terrible feeling, like awful. He should be able to go to school as a Canadian citizen, anywhere he wants in Canada. And I shouldn’t have to worry that he’s going to get beaten up,” she said.
While RCMP aren’t confirming whether they have identified any suspects, the Freys say they’ve been told two of the males involved are well-known to authorities.
Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog, who has been tagged in social media posts created by Frey’s brother regarding the assault, condemned the attack Tuesday.
“I’m disgusted by the thought that in 2022, anybody would say the kinds of things that were said and then to follow it up with a brutal attack, is just appalling,” said Krog. “Those people who committed that act deserve to be prosecuted and they deserve to grow up.”
Frey said while he was meant to enter into his third year at VIU next semester, he will not be returning to Nanaimo and will complete the final two weeks of his term online, only returning to pack up his residence before moving away for good.
“I just want the message to be that this is not OK,” he said. “The message just in the town that this is not OK and not something to just brush off and say ‘it wasn’t a gay attack.'”