Travis James Johnston felt alarmed when he realized that the men hurling homophobic insults at him and his friends were following them down Davie St.
“I was in shock,” he says. “I’m used to being able to go down Davie holding a guy’s hand, and it’s never really been an issue before.”
The shock quickly turned to anger when one of the men allegedly threw an umbrella at his face that split open his lip and chin.
Johnston, 32, was holding another man’s hand and walking with a group of friends after leaving The Junction Pub in the early hours of Sunday, Oct 9, when they were allegedly accosted by one Caucasian man and three South Asian men in their mid-20s.
“[They] started shouting ‘faggot’ at us and homophobic slurs,” Johnston alleges. “They followed us across the street, half a block down Davie after Granville and confronted us, and they continued to call us ‘fucking faggots.’
“One of them had an umbrella and he struck me on the face with it, splitting my lip and my chin,” he continues. “It was the end of the umbrella. It was like a missile.”
Johnston says police officers must have been nearby because they were on the scene in less than a minute, apprehending and cuffing the alleged perpetrator.
According to Vancouver Police Department media relations officer Jana McGuinness, the department’s Robbery/Assault Unit is looking into an alleged assault that took place early Sunday morning in the 600 block of Davie St.
“We’ve also referred the case to our Hate Crimes Unit for a review, because there were some comments made that need to be investigated more fully,” says McGuinness.
When speaking to Xtra on Oct 13, she was unable to confirm whether any arrests were made or charges recommended to the Crown.
“We are investigating it very thoroughly. Incidents like this we give the highest priority,” she says.
“Initially, it didn’t seem like they were that supportive in terms of pressing charges,” Johnston says of the police department’s response. “But within 24 hours it’s been a complete 180. I’ve been contacted about five or six times by officers who assure me that they’re taking it very seriously. They’re full-on with this now.”
Johnston is hopeful that something positive can come out of his experience. He wants those responsible to be held accountable by the justice system so a message can be sent “that they can’t come down here and do this to us.”
He also hopes it will encourage more people to report gaybashings when they happen.
“A lot of people don’t have faith in the system. A lot of people don’t think that there is support out there from the police, and I’m saying that there appears to be,” he says.
Johnston has been feeling more apprehensive since the assault, though he doesn’t intend to let it change his behaviour. “I think people should feel safe on Davie, and I think this a very progressive city. I just think that maybe a little more vigilance is needed,” he says. “It’s not 100 percent safe, and there’s still clearly a lot of hatred out there towards gays and the gay community, and people aren’t afraid to express that physically.”
He believes that the community should be aware of incidents like these but doesn’t think that means that people should be afraid.
“People need to know it happened,” he says. “On the other hand, I don’t think it’s a reason for people to stop holding hands in the street. I don’t want it to have that effect.”