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The LGBT community has suffered from gay-bashing for years, and although 2011 has brought much change and many cities are more open and accepting of same-sex relationships, one-on-one hate crimes are still on the rise.
A few weeks ago it was brought to my attention that hate crimes against the gay community are still occurring in not only traditional neighborhoods, but also in gay-friendly and even "gayborhoods" (where high concentrations of LGBT people live, work and spend their money); but these incidents just don't always make the news. Hearing this compelled me to interview a variety of people to hear about their own experiences.
Here are a just a few of those stories:
Steven was holding hands with his partner while walking down the streets of Norway. He heard some men yelling gay remarks and profanities out of their car window at him and his partner.
The car pulled over and Steven and his companion began to run.
The men took chase on foot until Steven and his friend ran into the nearby police station, where their perpetrators finally took off.
"It was very scary and we didn’t want to leave (the police station)," Steven said.
Jessica and Cory found themselves facing challenges they certainly didn’t expect to have on a Sunday afternoon. While sitting at a laundromat holding hands, they were confronted by a woman who passed about two feet in front of them and began to yell profanities at them.
She called them “faggots and maggots,” said she was “disgusted they were out in public in front of her son,” and yelled other profanities. Jessica also reported that the woman had threatened to hit them and her rage had scared both of them.
"It came out of left field that I had no idea how to respond," Jessica said. "My heart broke to see Cory’s sad face as she sunk into the seat holding my arm. I felt helpless."
Joseph was on a date in New York. He was walking down the street in the “gayborhood,” holding hands with his date, feeling comfortable in the gay-friendly district.
All of a sudden, a man approached and began to harass them, saying, “Faggot, is that your boyfriend?” Joseph, completely thrown off-guard and confused, was then hit on the side of the head by the man.
As Joseph and his date tried to get away from the situation, the attacker's six friends joined in. Thankfully, Joseph and his friend were able to escape the men’s physical and verbal abuse without further injury.
Brian was in a different situation than the three couples mentioned above. He was walking home alone … not holding a partner’s hand, not showing affection to a mate, and not even exposing his sexuality. He was simply walking home alone in Hillcrest, the well-known “gayborhood” in San Diego, when men walking behind him began calling him a “homo” and throwing out various other disrespectful comments.
“Oh looks like he’s alone, they always die of AIDs alone, too,” one of them said.
Brian was furious with the situation, yet knew he had to keep walking. “I got pissed off because they aren’t letting people just live,” he said.
Still room for change
These stories are just a few of the many hate crimes / anti-gay attacks that occur throughout the United States. Despite how far the country has come regarding acceptance of the LGBT community, the truth is, hate crimes are even on the rise in some cities, where a backlash to LGBT progress seems to be the case. In these situations, perpetrators appear to be getting brave; because not only do these hate attacks occur outside of the gay-friendly districts, but they are also occuring in gay-friendly districts, as well.
More often than not, these verbal and physical attacks get over-looked or just aren’t discussed until someone dies and/or the story makes it into the mainstream news. As I interviewed each victim about their personal experience, my heart sank to hear how badly they were disrespected and attacked.
From a therapist‘s perspective, I was curious as to what helped them bounce back and take control after such attacks. Here are a few tips of advice from these victims, as to how they recovered from these hate-filled attacks:
1. Talk about it and seek support: Your mind needs to process the situation and move through it. Talk about the situation with your partner, with your friends, and/or with your family. Or possibly take it a step further and seek support from the LGBT Center or with a therapist to work through the feelings. Cory said, “It was helpful that I didn’t have to go through it alone.” She got support from her partner and friends.
2. Report it to authorities and your community: Take control by reporting it to the local authorities (in San Diego, this would be SDPD and Stonewall Citizens Patrol) and get the community more aware of the attacks. Reach out to a local LGBT news source. Steven reported it helped him take back control and gave him power by informing the community.
3. Regain your personal power: Don’t let this attack keep you down and feeling powerless. Gain power over the situation and take back control … Steven did just that. Steven said that talking with friends was very powerful. He said, “The more I talked about it, the more I [regained my] power over it. The more I kept it secret, the more isolated and ashamed I felt.”
4. Justify your decisions at the time of the attack: Even though the attacker did wrong and you may have felt helpless, trying to change their mind wouldn’t have helped. If you decided to ignore or escape the attacks, and/or tried to avoid causing more problems, you did the right thing. Remind yourself that your actions -- to ignore the situation and walk away – were okay. “The woman’s rage was so threatening that standing up for [ourselves] would have only made things worse,” reported Jessica.
5. Know you are the better person: People who often attack or degrade others do it because they have low self-esteem and are intimidated by what they don't understand. It also makes them defensive due to their own fears and they lash out. Brian said, “People don’t understand things [and they lack] the knowledge or education [about homosexuality] and are scared.” Be proud of who you are and stand tall in your acceptance of others, regardless of your attacker's inability to do so.
6. Don’t Take it Personal: Even though the attacks were directed at you, know that it wasn’t really towards you personally. The attacks are the perpetrator’s lack of awareness and their personal issues surrounding homosexuality in general. Steven says that he was able to process the events quicker, “knowing it was towards the community and less about me.” Cory also reported, “I realized it isn’t about me and to not take it personal. It is the other person’s issue.”
7. Don’t Buy into the Hate: Remember that you are better than that. Don’t buy into what they say or did. Stand up strong, tall, and confident in whom you are as a person, as a gay person. Go on with your life … and keep living to the fullest. Joseph says that he reminds himself that he is better than the attackers. Brian told me, “People are trying to ruin your life. You have to go on with your life and move on. It is their problem, not yours.”
From this interview process, I learned that people are resilient and can bounce back from such hate-filled attacks. This type of anti-gay verbal or physical abuse can come from all angles and can be extremely painful. Know your surroundings and be aware of the gay-friendly and not-so-gay-friendly districts.
Steven reported that he is now more aware of the areas near his home that are more accepting and gay-friendly. Both Ryan and Joseph’s circumstances proved that sometimes you can’t even count on the gayborhood to keep you safe from such an attack. If someone is harassing you, try to leave the situation and avoid it at all costs.
Brian said, “If you don’t feel [you are] in danger, ignore it.”
And a message to the attackers … I hope that one day you will be able to see people as people, feel remorse for the pain you caused others, and learn how to love yourself and everyone around you, for who they are.
If you have experienced an attack, share your story below and tell us what helped you bounce back!
NOTE: The names were changed to protect the confidentiality of the interviewees.
Jennine Estes is a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego with a private practice in Mission Valley. She has appeared as a Relationship Expert in Redbook Magazine, Martha Stewart Publications – Whole Living Magazine, Social Work Today Magazine, San Diego local news stations, and more. To learn more relationship advice from the author Jennine Estes MFC#47653, visit her relationship column Relationships in the Raw or her new San Diego Couples Therapy website.