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.