3 min

Gaybashing’s last gasp?

When are we going to decide that bashings are not acceptable?

What is wrong with us as a community? We seem to have accepted as a fact of life that people will attack us for being gay.

Sure, we occasionally protest when gaybashings surge; we organize marches, attempt to take back our streets and ask Crown counsel to punish our attackers more severely.

But when are we going to truly believe that gaybashing is bullshit and say enough is enough — and mean it enough to make it stop?

I was shocked to discover editorials in our archives much like the one I’m writing now published more than a decade ago.

“What is going on?” my predecessor Gareth Kirkby wrote in 1998 in a column entitled “Fagbashing Unlimited.”

“We need to show the Crown attorneys and judges that our community is sick, absolutely sick, of seeing our friends beaten to a pulp.”

Kirkby was writing in the midst of another gaybashing surge, one that saw a gay man named Steven Gian take multiple blows to the head in a vicious attack near English Bay. Gian’s attackers left his body by the water. They were never caught.

Gian died earlier this month, having never fully recovered from the brain injuries he suffered that night.

“What’s going on here?” Kirkby wrote at the time. “Is this a fact of life on Davie St? Are there more bashings now, or not? And what can we do about this?”

It’s incredible how some things don’t change. Eleven years later we are still trying to figure out if gaybashings are on the rise or not. We are still faced with insufficient data as hate crime statistics are kept erratically across the country, if at all. And we are still wondering why people feel so free to attack us. To punch us and kick us, to bash us in the head with blunt objects. To act on their hatred.

I now have a detailed database of all the gaybashings Xtra West has covered in BC since 1994. My breath catches every time I read the column on injuries sustained.

“Multiple blows to the head with a blunt object, stitches on head, cracked vertebrae, broken wrist, beaten with metal bars and wooden clubs, stabbed with six different knives, punched in the face, kicked and choked on the ground, beaten to death.”

And the list goes on.

What is going on here?

Are these attacks the final outbursts of a handful of homophobes increasingly pushed to the fringes of polite society, lashing out in a vain attempt to stem the tide of tolerance?

Are we witnessing gaybashing’s last gasp? If that’s the case it’s a pretty long last gasp.

Besides, fringes are sustained by societies reluctant to discredit them.

Polite society may be stifling its more explicitly homophobic remarks but it’s far from profoundly shifting its culture to challenge the hatred that fuels anti-gay violence.

Kids are still taking their cues from classrooms that generally ignore gay lives and rarely weave our accomplishments, let alone our existence, into the fabric of life as presented in those formative years.

If kids were taught instead that society has many threads, each unique and all valuable, we might see significantly different attitudes emerge from our education system. But we’re not there yet.

And BC’s new education minister won’t even return our calls. (We’ve been requesting an interview with Margaret MacDiarmid for more than a month.)

Nor, for that matter, will BC’s new attorney general speak to us about how Crown counsel prosecute gaybashings already in the court system. I want to know if Mike de Jong will order his team to seek hate crime designations in all gaybashings. It might not change the culture that sustains gaybashings but it could send a powerful message of condemnation and deterrence. De Jong hasn’t returned our calls either.

Funny how the two ministers with the portfolios best equipped to address the recent surge in reported gaybashings (at least 10 attacks that we know of in the last 12 months in Vancouver alone) won’t even take our calls.

Funnier still how docile our community can seem in between protest marches. Has the time finally come to insist that gaybashing won’t be tolerated?

Or will my successor be astonished to find my editorial 11 years from now?