It was a beautiful thing to see so many people come together at the West End Integrated Neighbourhood Network (WEINN) open house at the West End Community Centre, Jun 11.
It’s not every day you get so many West Enders from so many walks of life under one roof, especially for constructive conversation.
Talk of queerbashing wasn’t really the reason for this gathering (see story pg 13) but it seemed to be the one topic that arose over and over in the conversations I had. It’s something to be increasingly concerned about and for good reason; people tell me it’s queerbashing season.
BC Persons with AIDS Society (BCPWA) secretary Robert Nickerson told me about a BCPWA member who was recently attacked by an allegedly fag-hating thug and badly roughed-up in the early evening on Davie St while on a trip to the pharmacy.
“It’s happened to a couple of our members over the past couple of weeks,” he told me. “There seems to be a rash of it.”
Davie St Community Policing Centre vice-president Ron Strandberg told me about friends of his; a straight couple living in the West End. She has so far never felt unsafe moving about the neighbourhood, but her husband has been harassed by homophobic hoodlums while he was walking their dog late at night.
He now has second thoughts every time he leaves home after dark. He doesn’t want to get gaybashed.
Strandberg told me: “If you don’t feel safe then you organize your life so you don’t have to feel threatened.
“I think there’s a personal responsibility as well,” he told me. “I think some of the gay community, when they come screaming out of the bar at three in the morning and carrying on in the street, they set themselves up for a target for bashing.”
Strandberg says he doesn’t stay home himself and he doesn’t want us queers to cower in our homes under a curfew. Admirably, he just wants to keep people from getting hurt.
Clearly, gay people ought to have every right straight people do to talk loud and draw a crowd. We deserve to move freely about the city in safety, in daylight and darkness, alone or not, even if we are making spectacles of ourselves.
We sure as damn well need to demand safe passage to and from the pharmacy.
Those rights exist for us on paper, but that hasn’t so far stopped queerbashing as a summer sport for homophobes.
It’s not right, it’s not fair, but it is ultimately up to us as queer people to defend ourselves.
We can’t do it from the safety of our living rooms. Talking about community solutions, although necessary, has its limits. Victim services workers and outreach literature are helpful, but only after blood has been spilled, teeth have been broken and dignities have been violated.
We have to adopt a war mentality against this problem and that means abandoning our victim mentality and finding the courage to face the problem eyeball to eyeball.
As difficult as it is, we must force ourselves to carry on as we like and not as we think we will be most safe.
We have to call police each and every time we experience homophobic threats or violence even if we’re afraid they won’t come, or that they’ll tell us we had it coming.
Most of all, we have to find the courage to publicly tell our stories when violence occurs.
If we simply accept queerbashing as a fact of life, every once in a great while, in the future as in the past, there will be senseless fatalities.
It has to stop.
If you’ve been bashed, tell us about it and give us permission to write about it. Let us photograph your bruises so we can show the real results of queerbashing. The crimes against us need to be counted and people need to know about them.
Do it not only for yourself but for the next victim of fag-hating hoodlums, and the next one, and the one after that, too.