How to..., LGBT, National Hate Crime Awareness Week

National Hate Crime Awareness Week 2014

TRIGGER WARNING: This Article contains details of a homophobic attack.

I was sixteen when I started going to a youth group run by Metro. One day before it began I was sat at a table in the upper seating area of a popular fast food restaurant. I was alone waiting for my girlfriend and friend to come up with their food. Recently I had discovered the wonders of liquid eye liner and contact lenses, so had gone all out with full emo get up (it was a thing once), complete with all black contact lens.

I was only sat for a short while when the table opposite began to snigger and point. On it were a bunch of girls who looked in their late teens along with their younger brothers. The boys looked between 5 and 10. I wasn’t sitting there long before the girls began:

‘You know your eyes are black?’

‘Are those contact lenses?’

‘You do know your make up looks rank?’

As someone who was often confronted about the way they dressed and from their persistent ‘curiosity’ I knew that it was no use ignoring them, so I politely answered with a smile:

‘Yes and yes they are contact lenses. I know people don’t always like my make up but I like to experiment with it, I guess today my experiment failed.’

A little self deprecation seemed to satisfy them, so I thought it best I didn’t leave the table in  case they got offended and followed me. Looking back its saddening to know how calculated I had to be whenever a potential confrontation revealed itself, how I knew all these possible outcomes from personal experience, how I know there are others like that in schools now.

A minute or two later my girlfriend and friend appeared up the stairs and sat down with me. Both of them with short hair and boyish beauty, the girls on the other table quickly latched onto the stereotypes and began to snigger. Loud enough for us to hear they started to indirectly hurl homophobic abuse around. No more questions any more.

‘Ugly fucking lezzas’

‘Fucking disgusting freaks’

We all sat uncomfortably for a while ignoring them. We all knew it was best not respond. Best not to say anything to each other that they might be able to latch on to.

After a while the girls grew bored of our attitude and started to throw their food at us. Laughing they began to encourage the younger boys to join in too – and they did.

So then it was my time for questions. I asked them whether they thought it was a good thing to be teaching their young brothers to act in such a way. The girls deemed me a lesbian freak, unworthy of giving out advice – I should mind my own fucking business and then they threw some ice in my face.

At this, my girlfriend and friend (who didn’t like my calm approach to the situation) got up, swearing at them, and getting to ready to leave. I thought as long as we could get downstairs we would be fine – where there were more people to see what was going on, where there were older staff members who might interject.

Its a bit of a blur what exactly happened after leaving the table. The ‘leader’ of the girls started shouting and challenging my friend to a fight, my friend swearing back at her, ready and willing to take her on. Food and cups of ice and soda were thrown at us, the leader got up, along with a few of the others, and followed us down the stairs. All the while shouting homophobic language, threatening violence and egging on the boys to join in.

What I do remember is getting to the door and having to act as a blockade between the Leader of their group and my friend who was fuming at the humiliation and hatred we had encountered. I remember looking at the staff and the customers as they stared back unsure what to do and then I looked at the girl in front of me.

My girlfriend was calming my friend down, pulling her away from the fight.

‘Please stop. We’re leaving now, okay? Just leave us alone.’

A little begging, a little self deprecation and some convincing from her friends and she went back up stairs with a last couple of homophobic comments and cackling laughter.

With the support and encouragement of the youth group we went to the police later that evening and reported what had happened, in the hopes that something would be done. We never heard anything back from the police.

A couple of hours later we went back to the restaurant and asked to see the manager. They told us that they weren’t aloud to help us because they had to remain behind the counter at all times. I asked them if any action had been taken such as calling the police at the time – it hadn’t.

Unfortunately we encountered apathy at the time. However I am if the situation had occurred ten years ago I am sure the situation could have gone worse and in the years since there has been good progress, not only protecting this community but all minorities.

A year after this incident happened the Equality Act was put in place and the nine protected characteristics were defined. There is now an LGBT liaison officer in every borough of London.

Despite this, two thirds of those who experience a hate crime or incident do not report it to anyone.

This week (The 11th – the 18th of October) is National Hate Crime Awareness week, so I recount to you my experience. An experience that was never resolved because of the time we were in – burgeoning on real change but not quite there yet. If you are a victim of hate crime I urge you to find the support available and report it if you can. Make sure it is clear that action will be taken and hate crime is unacceptable.

hate crime awareness

I’ve been verbally abused hundreds of times, beaten, spat at, pushed down stairs, threatened, strangled and even mobbed. But this occasion always sticks in my mind most. I think of those young boys and I wonder what they are like now.

I can only hope that their school and the people around them have made the effort to show them that equality, empathy and kindness are vital. And I hope that some of the work I do and that others do, combats this extreme prejudice through education, so that we can ensure a safer future for everyone.

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