There has been a sharp rise in homophobic hate crimes in New York, with a 70% increase up to May this year, and a likely doubling by the end of the year.

The New York Daily News says that the New York Police Department investigated 54 hate crimes against gay people last year. But so far this year, there have already been 68 anti-gay incidents, which means the city is on track to see the number of attacks double by the end of 2013.

In early May, Nick Porto and Kevin Atkins were walking along the street hand in hand, when several men clad in identical basketball vests shouted at them from behind, knocked them to the ground and beat them, while passersby took photos and video on their phones.

In a report in the New York Times and an associated video, the couple describe their ordeal, while pointing out that they were just one of seven such assaults that month, and that despite lots of photographic evidence being available, the perpetrators are unlikely to be caught.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is running to be New York’s first openly gay mayor, told the New York Daily News: ‘I would argue it’s worse both in number and severity. I mean, a man was shot dead in Greenwich Village because he was gay. I thought those days were long, long behind us.’

The murder happened just a short walk from the Stonewall Inn, the scene of the 1969 riots that gave birth to the modern gay rights movement and which are remembered both by the Stonewall organisation and the Christopher Street Day parades in many countries.

Sharon Stapel, who runs the New York City Anti-Violence Project, said the hate crimes could be a backlash to civil rights advances, such as the legalisation of gay marriage. ‘[Gay] people still aren’t safe in this city or in this country,’ she said. ‘We are angry that this kind of violence is still happening, and we are motivated to come together to stop it.’