A new, 213-page study on gaybashing by a recent graduate of the University of Manitoba says that bashing victims suffer long-term consequences that affect both themselves and the queer community as a whole.
Chad Smith, a 40-year-old counsellor at the Men’s Resource Centre in Winnipeg, writes: “What my study discovered was that despite being out and being comfortable with who they were, the gay men that experienced physical bashings had ongoing trauma that lasted for years.”
Smith interviewed six gay men in Winnipeg — four white, one black and one Aboriginal — who had been bashed as recently as 2007. He also did extensive research on the subject, which he found to be “surprisingly limited.”
At least three of the men in Smith’s study showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, including one who was diagnosed as bi-polar. Some of the men turned to drugs and alcohol, and three contemplated suicide.
Chillingly for the queer community as a whole, each of Smith’s subjects also reported some degree of retreating back into the closet and “minimizing or downplaying their sexuality.” This included changing their dress (so they wouldn’t look like “a walking stereotype”), avoiding the area where they were bashed (even if it was a popular gay spot) and avoiding cruising at night.
One subject, who Smith identifies in the report as ‘Rick’, says, “I don’t advertise [my sexuality] as much as I used to. I’m open if I’m asked, you know, I say yes. If they don’t ask, I don’t tell.”
Another man, ‘Jeff’, told Smith that he now thinks twice before holding a partner’s hand in public. “You choose your moments more carefully,” he says in the report. “It hasn’t made me petrified to do it, I’ll still do it. But it has heightened my awareness of homophobia, you know, some of the risks of being truly openly gay.”
For Smith, researching and writing the report also brought back memories of his own gaybashing, in 1992. After saying goodnight to a guy he was dating, Smith was jumped and beaten by three men near the intersection of Assiniboine and Kennedy, which is well-known as a popular cruising spot in Winnipeg.
Smith thought he had put the incident behind him, until he started transcribing the stories of the men he interviewed for his study. In the report, he writes, “Sometimes I dreamed of the men I interviewed being bashed, sometimes I dreamed of their story, but with myself in the role of the victim, living out their story in my nightmare. The dreams became a mixture of me and them, of my story and their stories, night after night, bashing after bashing.”
Like most of the men in his study, Smith didn’t report his gaybashing, because he was still closeted at the time and didn’t want his family to find out. “That’s not uncommon,” Smith tells Xtra. “As a counsellor, I’ve spoken to lots of men who don’t come forward or go to authorities.”
What’s worse, says Smith, is when the community itself doesn’t support victims of gaybashings. Most of the men in his study were told by friends or family that they must have done something to provoke their attackers. As well, community members said that they should accept some sort of violence — either verbal or physical — as a consequence of being queer.
“It’s disturbing that in our own community we can do that instead of holding the perpetrators accountable for their crimes,” Smith says. “We need to support our members when they experience violence. Minimizing and blaming are not helpful things we can do as a community.”
Smith is happy to hear about the recent march against gaybashings in Vancouver (in response to an assault there last month), but feels that the queer community in his home city of Winnipeg is growing too complacent. Since most gaybashings go unreported, no one knows exactly how many occur, “but even if there’s only five bashings a year,” Smith says, “that’s still too many.”
“This is still happening and we need to understand how it affects us,” says Smith.
Smith is currently writing a summary of his study which he plans to distribute to Winnipeg’s Rainbow Resource Centre, the Winnipeg Police Service and other organizations. As well, he is scheduled to speak on the subject of gaybashing this June at the World Outgames in Copenhagen.
A gaybashing case in Winnipeg was supposed to go to trial last week, but the victim arrived at the courthouse to discover it’s been delayed.
Last summer, a gay man was beaten up in broad daylight in downtown Winnipeg, near the corner of Portage and Furby. He knew his attacker, who allegedly shouted homophobic slurs before striking him in the head and injuring his eye.
Chad Smith accompanied the man to court last week, along with Shelly Smith, executive director of the city’s Rainbow Resource Centre, and Katie Owen, a counsellor at the centre. But when the group got there, court workers apologized and said the case was being postponed indefinitely.
Chad Smith says that Victims Services had alerted the man that the trial would be starting, but didn’t warn him of the delay. “He psyched himself up to go to this,” says Smith. “It’s a really interesting comment on how disrespectful the court system is.”
Smith says that, for now, the man is reluctant to speak publicly about the incident. “He’s hoping that the justice system will come through for him,” says Smith. “If it doesn’t, he’ll go to the media.”