Friday, May 17, 2013

Shocking Indeed: International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

The BBC this morning is reporting shock over a European Union poll on anti-gay violence across Europe. "A quarter of gay people surveyed in a major EU poll say they have been subjected to attacks or violent threats in the past five years," reads the headline.  I'm not shocked at all.  If anything, I'm surprised that the number is only 25%.

Violence is a constant fact of life for all LGBTs regardless of gender, race, class, age, or nationality.  The very real threat of violence is always there, and so much a part of daily life for us that sometimes we fail to even notice it.  I remember participating in a kind of sharing group for gay men in New York in the mid 1990s; not a therapy group, more just a get together and share experiences group (the AIDS crisis was still at its peak at the time).  The group was mostly affluent professionals in their 30s and 40s, mostly white.  I remember a session when the subject of violence came up, and the moderator of the discussion asked if anyone had ever been physically or verbally assaulted for being gay.  The first reaction was general denial, each participant said that they had never suffered any abuse for being gay.  But then after awhile, the memories and the stories began coming out.  By the end of the evening, it became clear that just about everyone in that group had been singled out and abused in some way for being gay.  A couple of participants in the group told harrowing tales of being badly beaten.  One of them told a story about being very badly beaten in Central Park and barely escaping with his life.

Michael was a regular victim of violence and intimidation in his younger days.  The humiliation and assaults he suffered in high school were so bad that he seriously considered dropping out.  He still thinks dropping out and getting a GED would have been preferable to sticking it out for another year.  In his senior year, he finally had enough.  One of his tormentors pushed him too far one day.  It took a vice principal and a football coach to keep Michael from drowning the dude in a toilet in the boys' room.  Another one that year got a broken nose after he pushed Michael too far.  I don't agree with or advocate violence in any way, but Michael did enjoy a few weeks of peace at the end of his senior year.  People left him alone.
Since Michael doesn't exactly blend in very well with more conventional crowds, he still can be a lightning rod attracting verbal abuse.  Curiously, a lot of other more conventional people love him for it (he's a celebrity at the diner across the street from us with the waitresses, the retirees, the crossing guards, and the city sanitation workers who work or regularly have breakfast there; they always greet him by name).

I consider myself to be very fortunate.  I certainly have been menaced and threatened many times, especially when I was younger, but I've never been physically assaulted.  I certainly knew a lot of people who did suffer more than verbal assaults, and had the scars to show for it.  I remember back when I lived in Kansas City, MO back in the late 1970s, gay men there were very closeted and sitting ducks for violent crime.  I knew many who got robbed and beat up on their way home from the bars and discos on the weekends.  I knew one young man with a mouthful of silver teeth; he was pistol whipped in the mouth during one such robbery.

I knew lots of trans people who were assaulted so often that they expected it.  In New York in the 1990s most of them were prepared for it.  The tranny girls I knew all carried pepper spray and many of them carried knives and knew how to use them.  They all had many stories to tell about being jumped or punched or stabbed out on the street.

Mindful of all of this, that Good Christian People who've long dominated everything cry that they are "oppressed" just because they now find themselves and their views newly marginalized is the height of unmitigated gall.  Tell it to Harvy Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, Fanny Ann Eddy, Daniel Zamudio, Matthew Shepard, or David Kato among thousands of others who really did walk that Via Dolorosa all the way to their deaths.


So, what are your experiences?  Did you ever have to escape with your life?  How about you straight folk out there?  Did you ever have to take it on the chin (verbally or physically) for being our friend?

Assault on a Russian gay rights activist last year


I wonder how many people remember this massacre of gay men here in the good ol' USA, the 1973 Upstairs Lounge fire in New Orleans that killed 32 people?  This remains the deadliest fire in New Orleans' history.  The crime was never solved.  Radio DJs in New Orleans made light of the victims.  Churches in the city closed their doors to funerals for the victims.  Fr. William P. Richardson held a memorial service for the victims at St. George's Episcopal Church and for his trouble was reprimanded by the local bishop and received complaints from 100 parishoners and a mailbox stuffed with hate mail.


I sometimes think that gay men in particular have a conditioned reflex not to take ourselves or our experiences seriously.  Never is that more clear than when it comes to the violence that many of us have experienced and which menaces us all.  We can't even remember what happened to us individually or collectively.
I wonder if anything similar is true for lesbians?  I suspect this might also be true for trans people.  What do you think?


Unknown said...

I remember the 73 fire, and all the rest and it is sad we haven't grown further beyond this hate and the terrible actions it causes.

Leonard said...

Isn't that interesting. In your group the memories emerged during the meeting...down they were, tucked away. Just like me. I just remembered, just now, being punched in the stomach for just walking on a well lighted overlook spot in Santa Monica at night (true, it was above the Gay, Crystal Beach). The guy ran as I gasped for breath.

Leonard said...

I was 16.

JCF said...

I was bullied for being queer before *I* even knew I was queer! (Starting age 7)

But bad as it was, it was "only" verbal. To the best of my recollection, I've never been physically attacked. [The closest was probably the phobe who stole my sign *right in front of me* Election Night 2004 (my sign was against the SSM-ban in Michigan, which passed that cursed night). It was pretty clear to me that if I had attempted to hold onto the sign, the robbery would have turned physical]

Memory eternal, victims of the Upstairs Lounge fire (this is the first I've heard of it. I hope there's a 40th anniversary commemoration next month).

Kittredge Cherry said...

This makes me really hope that I have the chance to meet Michael someday. My experience is more like yours and my partner’s experience is more like Michael’s.