While none of the qPDX.com staff were able to attend last night’s community forum due to conflicts in our schedules, we’re excited to see that the event, organized by JustOut columnist Daniel Borgen and Stephen Cassell, was well attended, and that Portland Mayor Sam Adams was there to hear concerns from the community first hand. According to coverage by JustOut, one of the main concerns of the forum is the difference between actual homo/transphobic incidents that we all experience, and the rate at which they are reported to the police. At this juncture, I want to share a little story with you about gay bashing, about violence, about police reporting, and about why it matters.
In 2004, was the victim of a brutal gay bashing along with three friends. (two gay women and one gay man) We were attacked by a group of five drunken men completely without provocation, in a well lit, well travelled area, with passers-by in earshot, in an area with CCTV, near restaurants, nightclubs, and a 24hr bus station. One of my friends, a childhood cancer survivor, (who is as a result of this illness about 5 feet tall and weighs circa 90 pounds) was jumped on by a guy twice her size, grappled and choked, while another friend of mine got punched in the face multiple times without warning. I still remember seeing the blood spurt sideways out of his mouth and nose. I tried to pull one of the men off my friend, and was in turn thrown to the ground, punched and kicked in the face, chest, and stomach, all the while being insulted with homophobic slurs and insults.
Eventually, the men stopped attacking us, and backed off, still shouting at us, while one of them defiantly stuck his middle finger up at me as I picked myself up off ground, and called me a “fucking dyke” before disappearing into the night. Our crime? Being visibly queer, putting our arms around our drunken friend to walk him home. A few months later, my friend was attacked by a man who also screamed “fucking cunt dykes” from a balcony window on the second floor of an apartment building, after spotting us congregating on the sidewalk outside the building. He then ran down onto the street and punched her in the face, knocking her towards the middle of a road, where she fell flat on her face, unconscious, and on the ground in the way of a stream of traffic after a stoplight changed to green. We scrambled to pull her body off the road before she got hit by a car and only barely made it. The man didn’t even check to see if she was still alive.
In the first incident, we filed a police report, but the men who attacked us were never found. In the second incident, my friend brushed off reporting it, saying that she didn’t believe the police would take it seriously, and that we had been “kinda loud on the street”, insinuating we had invited trouble. Despite my urging to file a report, she was too wary of being taken seriously by the authorities and refused. These specific incidents happened in Brighton, England…with the first one taking place about 100 feet (if that) away from the main gay area (Kemptown), which is touted as the “gay capital of Britain“. This was not the only time I have been physically or verbally assaulted for being visibly queer, in any of the four countries I have lived in (Germany, England, Australia, the US) and the over 22 countries I have visited. I have heard every single slur under the sun in more than one language and I still do. And I know many of you have similar stories of things that have either happened to you or someone close to you.
I don’t tell the story of the gay bashings I have endured or witnessed often, in fact, even people close to me will not necessarily know the details of the kinds of things I have seen and endured, as I find it quite triggering to speak about my experiences. Also, I find that many times people don’t want to be confronted with the truth as I see it, namely that for most visibly queer people, it is not a question of whether you will be attacked or threatened, but of when. But I maintain that for most of us, this still holds true.
And when that happens, you need to know what to do. That involves making sure you get to a safe place, that your friends do as well, and that you then file a police report. Don’t dismiss small stuff as “not worth the trouble”. It’s not “just a punch” or “just a threat”. None of us be afraid to walk the streets. None of us should be afraid to hold hands with our lover. Don’t write it off as “well, it is Rose Parade, Memorial Day, Starlight Parade, St. Patrick’s Day“. None of us, regardless of our gender identity or appearance deserves to be threatened or attacked. Everytime we minimize the crimes against us, we play into the hands of those who attack us. Get angry. Turn that anger into a weapon against complacency. Gay complacency, straight complacency.
Please, everyone: If something happens to you: file a police report. Ask a friend to come with you who has your back if you are uncomfortable doing so. Regardless of whether you support the police or not, file a police report. Let the city know they need to do more: More outreach, more education, more safety.
I know many of us are weary of fighting for the most basic human rights: To have our relationships validated, to gain a sense of self-worth in a still intrinsically normative society that regards white heterosexuality and gendernormativity as the baseline of acceptability. Many of us our outcasts on more than one level…because of our social class, the colour of our skin, our physical abilities. But I ask you once again, especially as Pride will soon be upon us, to consider one more right you may need to stand up for: You have the right to expect to be taken seriously by the police and that the authorities treat you with the respect and sensitivity you deserve.
And until we start marching into the police stations, and schools, and colleges, and workplaces, and city hall, and the military, and capitol hill, and churches, before we take a stand…in public, out and loud and proud and queer and strong and visible and united as queers, lesbians, gays, transwomen and men, genderqueers, intersexed folks, bisexuals, allies and any possible variations of the above, as humans, as human beings, until we take ourselves seriously and demand protection and respect from others in our community, from the city, from our government, we will never cease to be targets of abuse and hatred. We must start taking ourselves seriously.
Be proud of who you are – not just during Pride. You are beautiful and loved.
Portland Police Bias Crimes Investigations can be reached at 503.823.0887.
Have a safe and happy weekend everyone.