I think most gay people, myself included, have been verbally assaulted at one time or another, and have likely even felt physically threatened. There are no official statistics on these sorts of incidents, generally because people tend to keep it to themselves. What’s alarming, though, is that physical assaults are still startlingly under-reported. This is why I was encouraged to hear about a rally of over 2,000 marchers that took to Davie Street, Vancouver, after a hate-motivated assault last month left Jordan Smith, a gay man, with a broken jaw for doing nothing more than holding hands with a friend.
Smith brought a message to the rally that resonated with me:
I was scared to be completely open prior to this event. I preferred the status quo. I no longer want to be silent. […] I’m proud to hold my friend’s hand in public.
This is an important message to understand and spread. Last week, a family member called me in complete shock over continuing anti-gay rhetoric heard from an acquaintance and otherwise generous host while out of town. While I’m not as easily shocked over that sort ignorance and hatred, I was disheartened by the reaction: “This is why I think you should hide more,” I was told.
While I trust completely that this advice was motivated by concern and love for my well-being, I regret that I cannot distinguish this reaction from those who outright threaten or abuse gay people, even though the motivations are clearly different. (Call it the Slap Doctrine, if you will.) The consequence of both actions is clear: to make gay people invisible and live in fear.
But Jordan Smith is less afraid after a violent assault than before. That’s because he understands, first hand, how hiding prevented nothing and why invisibility after the assault was not an option.
Silence in the face of homophobia is tolerance of homophobia, and unless you’re capable of living your life without ever mentioning the person you love most, capable of filtering all your words and actions as simple as holding hands, and capable of doing all this without feeling you’re worse off for it, then silence stands in the way of happiness. Stand up to homophobia, report and challenge hateful incidents, and don’t live in fear.