Make no mistake about it: we have come a long way as a society. In the UK, it is now legal for homosexuals to marry. We are hired on the basis of professionalism and are not judged by who we decide to sleep with. It is illegal to dismiss someone because of their sexual orientation. We are allowed to adopt a child under the Adoption and Children act. We’ve certainly done ourselves proud, everybody, let’s pat ourselves on the back and celebrate our journey for freedom!
Or let’s not.
This year alone has seen a slew of homophobic incidents. In May, Aaron Corey was left with a broken jaw after being attacked in Brighton, and Dain Luka and his boyfriend were viciously assaulted by a gang in the same town after ignoring their homophobic comments. In June, two police officers who got engaged publicly during the London Pride parade were subjected to vile homophobic abuse on Twitter, whilst in Covent Gardens, thugs marched the streets chanting anti-gay slurs in the wake of Brexit. And of course, the entire world was shook to its very core at the horrifying shootings that took place in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in June this year, where 49 people were killed and dozens more injured by gunman Omar Mateen.
When we say we can’t afford to become complacent, this is exactly the kind of thing we’re talking about. Whilst it’s absolutely fantastic that we’re actually allowed to, y’know, live, what’s not fantastic is the fact that this kind of thing is still rife and is something that’s not going to go away, no matter how many people tell us how grateful we should be that we don’t get thrown in prison for what we do anymore.
I speak almost with certainty when I say that every gay or bisexual person has experienced homophobic abuse, whether it be a flippant comment, a physical attack, or a deliberate ostracisation from someone who doesn’t want you involved in their group or their life. But the question is, what can we actually do about it? How do we prevent further attacks? What do we do to protect ourselves and others?
I can’t claim to have all the answers. But some? Yes.
1. Be safe – evaluate the situation It can be very easy to jump to your defences when you hear someone shout something at you, or when you’re next to someone who gets called an offensive name. But what you always must do is look at the situation before going straight in there like a bull. Is it likely to escalate out of control to the point where someone’s going to get hurt? Are you putting yourself in danger? Are there people around who can help if things take a turn for the worst? Nine times out of ten, if it’s in the street, it’s far better just to walk away. Better to be stung for five seconds by words of an ignorant slice of malt loaf than be attacked by said malf load and be left with a broken nose. Pick your battles.
2. Call it out when you hear it – if you’re silent, you’re accepting it Point one still stands here, but a lot of homophobic comments are said in the safety of friends and family. As scary as it is, friends don’t realise how offensive their flippant comments can actually be. My favourite is when I get asked when I chose to be gay, and trust me, you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve been asked. And if anyone reading this who has asked me even dares to come out with some absolute gem like, ‘But oh no, I was just curious! I didn’t mean to offend you!’ Please refer to the time where I asked you when you chose to be straight.
Anyway, when you get comments like that, or you get someone saying they ‘don’t mind gays apart from when they show it in public’, or how they can ‘spot one’, or even if they try and dress it up like a compliment – ‘You’re gay but you’re all right’ – you need to say something. If you let it pass, you’re basically letting homophobia exist in your life. Silence is not golden. Say. Something.
3. Report any serious hate crimes Whether you’re a witness or a victim, call the police and get it reported. If it’s not filed, it doesn’t exist, and again, that’s taking steps backwards. Hate crime is thankfully taken very seriously in the UK, and things really do happen when they’re reported. Most importantly, if you’re a victim of a hate crime, don’t blame yourself. This is the fault of the ignorant shit snippers who obviously didn’t get enough oxygen to their heads at birth. You’re beautiful, you’re magnificent, and you are brave.
4. Share your experiences I am the biggest advocate for this next bit. Talk. Talk talk talk talk. There are so many places to share your stories – Facebook being the obvious one, and if you go viral, bonus points! – but if you’re struggling, Stonewall has an incredible support community where you can find forums and local support groups in your areas. Talking has been the best medicine for me for as long as I can remember. Talk to your friends, talk to your family, talk to your boss, talk to your counsellor, talk to your cat (and watch their look of utter superiority and indifference to your prattle), talk to the world!
5. Learn acceptance for everything – expect for homophobia There are some things you need to accept. Accept that some people will never come around to the fact that gay people are allowed to exist freely – I’m talking about that wizened old family member that crawls out of the woodwork every three years. She’s gonna die soon, and you can ask your mother if she’ll let you piss on her ashes. Accept your friends and your community for the love and support they give you, because it will get you through your toughest and darkest days.
But most importantly, accept yourself. Marsha P Johnson didn’t throw that first brick at Stonewall for you to just lie down and accept that homophobes can make us be quiet. You’re not going to change, and you’re not going anywhere. And you’d better make them all realise it.