Sheng Hua Yan was walking home Feb 29, 2016, when he saw two young men outside of his apartment building near the corner of Gerrard Street East and Yonge Street.
It was late, around 11:30pm, and the men were clearly agitated. One of them was kicking a sign and yelling about how someone had assumed they were a gay couple.
As Yan walked by them, one of the two men turned to him.
“He asked me whether they looked like a gay couple to me, and also said that I look gay to them,” he recalls.
Yan, a 26-year-old graphic designer, isn’t a gay man, but that didn’t matter. Before he could even respond, he says one of the men grabbed him by his hair and threw him to the ground. They both allegedly hit and kicked him in the face about 10 to 15 times.
“I really did not have room to negotiate with my perpetrator whether I was gay or not,” he says.
But, he says, he’s glad he didn’t tell his attackers that he was straight.
“I wouldn’t even call that a brave response,” he says. “I am actually quite proud that I did not condone their actions or their opinions."
The attack lasted about 30 seconds, he says, and only came to an end when other people passed by the scene. The two attackers fled.
Yan called emergency services and was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital. He says that he “luckily” suffered only from internal bleeding and injuries to his face.
Speaking to Daily Xtra a few days after the attack, Yan’s right eye is still bloodshot and swollen, and surrounded by yellow and purple bruises. His eye has started to heal and his vision has returned to normal, but Yan believes that if the attack had lasted just 15 more seconds, he could have been permanently injured.
“It could have caused a lot more serious damage to my eyes and maybe other parts of my body,” he says. “So I feel rather lucky to be only sustaining this amount of injury.”
Yan says he has filed a police report and hopes that the perpetrators are caught soon.
“The police has not as far as I know identified the suspects yet, but I trust they’re working on it,” he says.
Toronto Police media relations officer Jenniferjit Sidhu says an investigation is under way, and that the hate crimes unit has been consulted.
Yan hasn’t seen or experienced any violence in the neighbourhood before and never expected he would be the victim of a homophobic attack. He decided to go public about the attack in order to help people in the area stay safe.
“I hope that me speaking up would make others be more careful, vigilant and, of course, make those who would otherwise engage in this kind of activity to think twice before they acted,” he says.
"I would also like to stress that the realization that I had that this kind of incident can really happen to simply everybody,” he says, “and not only exclusively to the LGBT community."
Yan believes the straight community needs to realize that homophobic violence is everyone’s problem and not one that only queer people need to address.
“They should realize that this is very much part of the battle that they should be in as well,” he says.