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LGBT STREET HARASSMENT: A THREAT TO PHYSICAL SAFETY
“Faggot!” (Just ignore them.) “HEY! FAGGOTS!!” (Ok. I guess we should have known better, we shouldn’t be kissing outside.) “I like your watch, fag.” (Please don’t take my watch. Uh oh, they got his phone already! Where did all these other guys come from?)
My friend Rob recently told me how he was street harassed in France last year. A group of men targeted him with antigay slurs, and then immediately escalated into physically attacking Rob, hitting him on the back of his head and trying to pull his watch off of his wrist.
Unfortunately, this is a common pattern, because all forms of street harassment are a type of violence. For people who think it’s alright to invade another’s space with verbal street harassment, it can be a short step to a physical street harassment attack. What do these different types of attacks have in common? They all serve the purpose of making the target feel scared or uncomfortable, and making the harasser feel powerful. Street harassment is about intimidation— putting someone “in their place.”
Many LGBT people have experienced street harassment based on how their sexual orientation or gender is perceived. When an LGBT individual is harassed in this way, the harasser’s message is clear: “You don’t belong here, and this is not your street. I can enter into your space and deny your safety, because you do not fit my personal expectation of sexual orientation/gender.” This denial of the right to exist in public space is directly related to the physical safety of LGBT people.
In New York City, we have seen a scary rise in gay bias-related crimes in 2013, all beginning with street harassment. There was a murder in Greenwich Village earlier this earlier this year, as well as several additional attacks. These hate crimes impact the entire community, laying out a blanket of ever-present discomfort and anxiety. As Jae Cameron of Hollaback! described it,
just as I begin to shake off that sense of self-consciousness and dread that follows me into public spaces, I hear it….just what I’ve been expecting, a shout from the other end of the bar, “sweet, lesbians!”, followed by the usual personal space violation and an unrequested “can I join in?”
The good news is that you can help your public spaces be more LGBT safe. One way you can do this is to take the bystander pledge, and learn how to safely intervene when you see harassment happening. Feeling energetic? Join us in this year’s pride parade – we will have streamers! Let’s make our streets safe and fun for everyone.
Was running across the street and a man leaned out of a door of a truck to scream at me. Something like, “run big Bertha”
Hollaback! recently published our Employer’s, Union, and Service Provider’s Guide to Ending Street Harassment!
Check out this short video with author Debjani Roy, Deputy Director of Hollaback!, outlining what the guide offers and what you can do right now to stand up to street harassment.
You can read and download the full Employer’s, Union, and Service Provider’s Guide to Ending Street Harassment on our site here.
Leered at and catcalled while walking to the grocery store.
While I was biking to work a man in a nice car pulled up next to me and said “hey, beautiful.” He looked like the man who raped me and I’ve spent all day wondering if he’s found me again.
I was sitting in a bakery eating and an old man from the next table started talking to me. I was being polite but the conversation wasn’t ending. He eventually got up and stood close to me and my table. I was uncomfortable but I hadn’t been on my own for very long so I wasn’t sure how to respond. He abruptly grabbed my face and tried to kiss me. I pulled away and he continued talking to me as if he’d done nothing! He eventually left and I was left to sit in shock.
I have too many stories of this nature but I will tell you the most recent. I get out of work at 9pm twice a week. I have a bus pass from school but it expires during the summer. To save $, I walk as its only a half hour from work to home. I was on my cell and 6 young men walk past me. A few of them start catcalling me. I just keep my eyes forward and ignore them. They keep walking their direction but call me “a bitch with a attitude.”
So I was at a restaurant with my friend. She went to the bathroom and this guy, who was at least 25, came up to me and started hitting on me. I told him I was 15, but he wouldn’t back off. There was barely anyone in the seating section where I was, so no one saw. He kept sliding towards me on the booth, saying how hot I was, rubbing my leg. The other side of the booth was a wall, so I couldn’t climb out. My friend finally came back and she threatened to tell the manager. He finally backed off.
I was shopping at a thrift store with my 1 year old son sitting in the cart and I noticed a guy would show up at whatever aisle we were in. He would brush by the cart staring at my son so I would randomize which aisle I was in and sure enough he followed. I hid in the furniture section and I saw him looking down each row. I figured that if I stood in the women’s section there would be no excuse for him to follow me there. I waited a bit and saw him run out of the store looking angry.
I was staying in shelters when I was 18 and I would read the newspaper inside cafes until the shelter opened up at night. One morning a sailor from out of town who had been out all night clubbing asked to sit down at my table. After a ten min conversation not only had he suggested that I “party” with him but made unwelcome comments about my tongue ring, called me a bitch when I refused him. He ripped the paper out of my hand and crumpled it on the ground giving me a death glare. Creep.