2 min

Dallas gaybashings leave Toronto gay man shaken

Brendan Healy’s semester in a community now on edge

Brendan Healy, right, and his boyfriend Alejandro pose in front of the Dallas skyline during his fall 2015 semester, as a series of brutal gaybashings stun Texas’ generally liberal city. Credit: Courtesy of Brendan Healy

The first attack goes something like this: it’s 10pm on Sept 20, 2015 — Pride Sunday in Oak Lawn, Dallas, Texas’ gaybourhood.

A man on his way to a friend’s house after the festivities is walking up Cedar Springs, Oak Lawn’s main drag. Not far from the local supermarket, he is struck on the head with a bat. His skull cracks on impact.

He is then dragged into a vehicle that speeds off. Inside the vehicle, he is brutally beaten by a group of men as it drives around the neighbourhood.

He is eventually tossed back into the street, bloody and unconscious, about a mile away from where he was grabbed.

I’m in Dallas for the semester to work on my master’s degree. I’m initially surprised by how comfortable I feel in Texas. Dallas has revealed itself to be a liberal city with a large gay community populated by some of the warmest people that I have ever met. But things happen to me in Texas that I find . . . strange.

Like, in a class, a professor tells me that I live in a socialist country. Or I go to a meeting for a university club called The New Feminists and it turns out to be an anti-abortion group.

Or I am told repeatedly that the size of my nose makes me look “exotic.” Or I get an email from the university’s president asking me if I think students should be allowed to bring their guns to class.

And I live in a neighbourhood where gay men are regularly attacked.

Since the Pride attack, 13 similar beatings have been reported in Oak Lawn.

One man is knocked unconscious and stabbed in the eye, neck and abdomen with a box cutter. Another is bashed in the head with a rock. Another is beaten with a crowbar. One man escapes by diving underneath an SUV.

Dallas police have yet to make any arrests. They claim to have beefed up their patrols, but locals question whether they have done anything at all.

(Police presence at the 2015 Texas State Fair, which opened five days after the first gaybashing in September./Courtesy of Brendan Healy) 

Weeks after the first attack, I go to the supermarket steps away from where it happened and there is a big bus in the parking lot with a huge Dallas Police sign on it. But the bus is empty.

By mid-November, a kind of paranoia instills itself within me. Cars that pass me as I bike to school seem to want to knock me over. At the gym, I notice dirty looks from a group of guys who do a prayer circle before their workout. Are my shorts too tight? Is it my earrings? My moustache? My tattoos? I no longer walk alone after sunset.

The whole community is on edge. People say to me: “Just you wait until those fuckers attack one of us who is carrying a gun.” I start to nod in agreement less out of politeness and more with the thought of “well, someone has to do something.”

I leave Dallas at the end of the term. The first night in my Toronto bed, I am awoken by the sound of gunshots on our street. Three days later, I hear the sounds of a man getting shot in broad daylight a block away from our apartment.

I never heard a gun go off in Texas.

Back in Dallas, the bashings continue and there are still no leads or suspects in any of the assaults. Police are encouraging residents to “take care of each other.”