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What Would You Do If You Were Gay-Bashed?

Gay Slurs

A couple holding hands in Miami Beach was attacked this month. Daniel Wells ponders how queer people can keep themselves safe.

When I learned of the attack on the couple following Miami Beach Pride, I was saddened but barely surprised. For all the significant strides towards equality we've made over the last few decades, it only takes one incident to remind us that there are segments of our society that have barely taken two strides out of the cave.

When I read the article, when I watched the footage, and when I saw the picture of one of the victims, I had a moment of reflection - that could have been one of my friends. Hell, it could have been me. Or my partner. Or us. One day, worryingly, it might yet be.

How would I have responded? Would I have stood my ground and fought? Would I have fled the scene and called the police? Would I have had the presence of mind to deliver a paralyzing bon mot (and then fled the scene)?

It's hard to say, for I am completely in the realm of speculation here. I am fortunate. I have never been physically assaulted - not on the grounds of my biology or for any other reason. I have experienced the odd furtive glance and furrowed brow, the occasional under-the-breath tut-tutting. I was yelled at by someone hanging out the window of a passing car once, but their messaging left a lot to be desired, and for all I know, they were complimenting me. But I've never been in a physical altercation.

It is depressing that we have to spend time and energy speculating as to how we might respond to attacks, but as members of a (still) vulnerable community we probably should.

It may be somewhat satisfying to conceive of completely contrived reactions to the terrible circumstances that confronted the couple at Miami Beach Pride. We can imagine that we successfully and skillfully defend ourselves against an aggressor or aggressors, either by word or deed, as if it were a scene from a film. But for me, I know that that is complete fiction. I know my reaction would not be particularly dignified or worthy of celluloid.

Realistically, we would most likely surrender to our "fight or flight" instincts. Perhaps this is as it should be. You don't get to the top of the food chain without possessing some skills. We instinctively know when the odds are stacked against us or if we have a fighting chance. Perhaps we should just go with our gut. I suspect many of us would.

I think that for most of us, had we been in those circumstances, it would have played out pretty much as it did. When you are outnumbered two to one, there are only so many ways it is going to play out. And for me, I think what happened afterwards is exactly what should have happened - the victims went public (and kudos to them for doing so), the police got involved, and the aggressors turned themselves in. Now let justice be done.

But what about aggression lower down the scale? What about slurs and insults from passersby? What kind of response do they warrant?

I think what holds true for acts of physical aggression holds true for slurs and insults. Whatever our response, the priority should surely be to live to fight (or perhaps not fight) another day.

I am ordinarily loath to invoke the lessons of Christianity, but given so much of its intellectual property has been appropriated from other sources, I will. Perhaps it is better to turn the other cheek and hopefully live to tell the story. While an Oscar Wilde-esque witty retort may make you feel better in the moment, chances are it will not find a particularly receptive audience and you won't feel better in the moment that immediately follows.

The fact is, the couple in question is still alive to remind people of the threats that still confront our community. That's a good thing. It's a timely reminder that laws can change more quickly than hearts and minds. And while the LGBTI community in the West has much progress to celebrate, the struggle remains. Let's remember that.

The rule of law is seemingly prevailing in this matter. That too is a good thing, because it hasn't always been thus. In Australia, gay men were taunted, hunted, and beaten up by law enforcement in the '70s and '80s. Now, instead of locking up those who march in the Mardi Gras parade, the police are in lockstep beside them. Let's celebrate that.

And let's continue to tell our stories of discrimination. Let's call out those who would abuse us for something as innocuous as holding hands. If that means abandoning a skirmish to wage a more important war, then so be it.

DANIEL WELLS is an occasional writer and a frequenter of cinemas and concert halls. He is evangelical about film music as a legitimate art form and leads a generally jolly life in Canberra, Australia.

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