Content Note: Discussions of Homophobia, Homophobic Language and Homophobic Crime
On the evening of Sunday 29 March, I was sitting alone in a café researching LGBT+ sexual violence networks for the Cambridge for Consent website. The resources are woefully scarce so I was having to flick through a fair few sites. I slowly became aware that the guy slouched in his chair next to me was paying a strange amount of attention to my laptop screen. I felt slightly uneasy but didn’t think I had anything to worry about. This is Cambridge after all, pretty safe here right?
Suddenly, the guy downed his coffee and stood up to leave. He turned back to me just as he was going and his face contorted into a look of disgust as he loomed down upon me. Sneering “f**cking fag” through gritted teeth, he spat at me and stormed out.
I just sat there.
Having spent hours talking to my friends about the empowerment of women, not tolerating abuse etc – caught in the moment, I could think of nothing to say.
It gets worse: I was chatting to a friend on facebook at the time, and having searched back through our messages I find that my reaction was to type this: “ah well, should probably have happened before at some point so tis fine” and “don’t worry! it’s completely fine, worse things have happened/could have happened!”. To this day, I don’t feel too bothered about it.
This is rubbish. Homophobic harassment is so ingrained in the social norm that not only was I not particularly perturbed by what this man had said to me, I thought that somehow I had it coming – that because I hadn’t experienced it before, I deserved at least a bit of homophobic hate at some point. Luckily, my friend’s reaction was slightly more appropriate, with “What a f*ck” being her immediate response. I can only thank her for having a much better understanding of what society should be like than me. Having only been properly out since coming to Cambridge, I have in no way been subjected to the kind of treatment that many gay people experience on a day-to-day basis around the UK. The Stonewall website states that 1 in 5 lesbian, gay and bisexual people have been a victim of a hate crime in the last three years, with 1 in 6 of these being a physical attack. Although what I experienced was significantly less serious than the majority of these incidents, there is no denying that it was a hate incident and that it was due to an assumption that I was gay. Bizarrely, this guy had no proof whatsoever – yeah, I was on LGBT+ websites, yeah I had the whole ‘round neck jumper + collar’ look going on, but I hardly had the rainbow flag stamped across my forehead. Nevertheless, this man’s hatred for that which he perceived me to be was so vehement, so intense, that it overcame any consideration of the possible repercussions/nonsensical nature of his actions.
This kind of thing needs to stop.
Let’s face it, lots of people are gay. Clare Balding is gay, Neil Patrick Harris is gay, Chris Colfer is gay. Do these people fill you with anger and disgust? Probably not. Or at least, no more than any other group of people.
Unfortunately, the number of hate crimes motivated by racism, religion and homophobia increased significantly in London throughout 2014, by as much as 20%. This figure could be due to an increase in people coming forward to report the crimes (which is fab) but this can’t be the whole story. This does not even remotely account for the monthly 21.5% increase in anti-LGBT+ hate attacks since March 2014, or the total 175 reported to the Met in June alone.
I would posit that this is due to society not actually being quite as tolerant as we all like to say it has become. Yes, we have equal marriage in the UK, but this does not mean our problems are solved. We do not yet have full equality. The Church of England and the Church in Wales are explicitly banned from performing same-sex marriages, even if they would like to. In the event of the death of a same sex partner, the surviving partner cannot receive the full value of their spouse’s pension if it began before 1988. Trans people need to get written permission from their spouse before they can get a certificate acknowledging gender recognition. This effectively gives someone else a veto on that individual’s life choices and happiness. Non-binary genders are still not even recognised by law.
While this legislation ends one of the last major legal discriminations against LGBT+ people in Britain, this does not speak for the attitude of society itself. According to the BBC, 1 in 5 Britons would turn down an invitation to a gay marriage. This is a lot. Safe to say, Britain is still not completely safe for members of the LGBT+ community. With harassers waiting just around the corner (or at the next table) and an equalities minister who voted against equal marriage, I think we can all admit that the issue of homophobia, while greatly improved, is not solved yet.
The friend I was talking to at the time of the spitting incident went on to resignedly write, “Intolerance is everywhere I guess”. To this I say: It Does Not Have To Be. Cambridge is an amazing place to be queer – okay so the scene is hardly cutting edge, but the level of acceptance is incredible. The fact that this was the first time I had experienced anything even remotely homophobic, despite the figures stated earlier, is testament to quite how inclusive our community is.
I believe no real social change can take place unless everyone works as one, so let’s not be disheartened by what’s happening in the world. Let’s keep fighting for equality, together. Just because we are not there yet, does not mean we will not be soon.
If I ever see that guy again, I will not remain silent. Harassers need to know that their behaviour is not acceptable. Everybody: gay, straight, trans, bi whatever, if you see an attack like this – do not remain silent.
Hate crimes should not be tolerated – whatever the situation, whoever the victim – and it’s high time the whole world acknowledged this.
Rowan Douglas (Former GR. Deputy Editor)