It was Homecoming 1986 at Jamestown College in southeastern North Dakota. Scott Westcott, 19, was at the dance. So was Shaun Erickson, 28, a senior who lectures and writes widely about his homosexuality.

The room was crowded, and, according to Westcott, his eyes kept meeting Erickson’s across it. Young Westcott didn’t like that one bit. When Erickson tried to make his way through the crowd and “touched” Westcott on the shoulder in passing, Westcott ordered him to leave the dance and hit him in the face three times. Then he followed Erickson across the room and gave him one for the road. Erickson, who suffered facial bruises, didn’t put up a fight, but he did file charges.

At the trial before a Jamestown municipal judge, Westcott’s lawyer said his client was merely defending himself against what he perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a sexual advance. After all, Erickson was a grown man whose proclivities were well-known; Westcott was just an innocent, frightened young boy, and state law does permit the use of force in defending against sexual contact.

Erickson denied that he had gazed at Westcott and brought in a female friend to corroborate that testimony. He said that if he had in fact “touched” Westcott’s shoulder, it was inadvertent.

The city judge charged that Westcott showed “a gross deviation from acceptable conduct” when he molested Erickson’s face, and found him guilty of simple assault. Shaun Erickson was pleased: “There’s a lot of gay violence in this country and it’s getting worse, especially since the problem with AIDS. People need to learn more about AIDS and be a little more understanding.” It’s not known whether Scott Westcott was worried about catching AIDS from Erickson or simply didn’t want to be the butt of any jokes.

Before the altercation, Erickson testified, he had often been abused verbally. “I hope now they’ll just leave me alone,” he said after the decision, indicating that he had no plans to curtail any of his activities, literary, oratorical, or otherwise.

Scott Westcott appealed the case to county court, where, to almost everyone’s surprise, a jury recently reversed the municipal judge’s decision and found him not guilty of assaulting Erickson. The headline read, “Jurors: It’s OK To Beat Up Gay.” Shaun Erickson is upset, in no small part because the ruling cannot be appealed.