2 min

Russell Young’s courage protects us all

Queer-bashing will always be with us if we keep it to ourselves

When Russell Young walked out of Numbers on Davie St in Vancouver in the early morning of Jul 30, he was merely hankering for a snack.

In a matter of seconds his life changed forever. He was cold cocked, blacked out, and lost all ability to defend himself or to escape while two men he didn’t know allegedly stomped and punched on him until his leg was shattered and he was soaked with his own blood.

What if his alleged attackers had stomped on his head instead of his leg? What if Aaron Webster’s attackers hadn’t connected that one shot Webster took to his head that ruptured the blood vessel in his neck that led to his death?

How can we measure the value of the life or health of one gay man? How can we sum up all the attacks verbal and physical, fatal and not, serious and minor that queer people have endured over time?

“It’s wrecked every part of my life really,” Young told me Aug 13.

Young will be off work for at least three months. He will likely need months of painful physiotherapy before he’ll even know if he’ll regain full use of his leg.

He was looking forward to the Pride Parade and festival, but he missed it. He had to cancel a planned camping trip. He was looking forward to a trip to a car show in the US, but now he can’t go. He’s expecting the birth of a couple of grandchildren in another city, but he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to travel.

Young has resolved not to go out alone anymore. He’s decided not to stay out late because he worries it’s not safe. “I’m kind of protective and a little shy about being around crowds of people anymore. I’m sort of staying to myself,” he says.

He’s had to turn to the people in his life for support and care. Those people have willingly adjusted their lives to help him, but their lives are affected too.

What of the alleged assailants? They’ll live with this forever too. If convicted, they should expect jail time, criminal records, parole, stigma and surely resentment from the queer community. Hopefully, their feelings toward queer people will change, but maybe they’ll just come to hate us more as time passes. Like Young said: “I wonder what goes through their heads to make them this way.” I wonder too.

It took a great deal of courage for Young to talk to Xtra West. I could see it was painful for him to remove his bandages so we could photograph his wounded leg.

I had to ask awkward questions of him so I could write about his experience in his own words.

I suspect he was apprehensive about what I was going to write and what it would be like to have his picture and story splashed across our pages and website for all to see. I hope he won’t come to regret it. I hope we’ve done right by him.

All this for what? It’s just dumb. We have to find some positive little shred in this mess to prevent this kind of stupid waste and needless horror in the future.

Young’s decision to share his story publicly is that positive shred.

It’s critically important for all of us that we publicly document random attacks against queer people, like Young has. Only by shining the light of public discourse on this bashing problem can we ever hope to get our fingers around it so we can stop it for good.

Anonymous reports of queer-bashing aren’t verifiable, and they don’t put a human face on the issue. Conjectural, third-hand accounts help us only to commiserate among ourselves. Sadly, they do nothing to empower us to stop this once and for all. For those victims who don’t notify the police, their attackers are only further empowered, their hateful attitudes only reinforced and their barbaric behaviour validated.