By Lewis Henshall | @ljhenshall   
Photo © www.flickr.com/22704560@N07


LGBT hate crime is not just physical attacks in the dark.

One bright afternoon in 2004 I waited at a Manchester city centre bus stop for my regular journey home. Leant against the wall waiting, in my own world, my thoughts of the day were interrupted by “Oi! You!” I looked up to find a teenage boy glaring at me.

Met with giggles, I saw he was with a small group of young people, about four boys and two girls. He asked if I was gay, and I answered honestly. What happened next was short in time but has lingered in my memory.


Him:
“Are you lost? The Gay Village is over there.”

Me: “No I’m not, and what’s it got to do with you? We don’t just hide ourselves away for your benefit.”

Him: “You take it up the arse.”

Me: “No, I don’t. For your information, not all gay men are into that.”

Him: “Then how do you know you are gay?”

Me: “So you didn’t know you were straight until you fucked her?”

Him: *Confused face*.

Lots more was said in this brief encounter, but that’s the basic gist of it. He and his friends hurled abuse and took enjoyment out of their attack, laughing at me. I felt threatened and scared; was I going to be physically attacked, was I going to become an article in next week’s newspaper? After the bus finally came I travelled in silence, desperate to get home and find respite. When I got home I burst out in tears in the arms of my best friend and housemate.

Bad experiences like this can leave you looking back questioning what you did and didn’t do. Did I do something to bring it on myself? Did I deserve it? 

In one way it would have been easier to flee and get away from the threat but I’m glad I stayed put and fought. I’d been truthful about being gay but I had lied about ‘taking it up the arse’, I wanted to challenge their mentality and didn’t want to support their presumption. 

I don’t remember what I was wearing that day but I can’t think it could have been anything to ‘give me away’ as a man attracted to men. At age 20, finding my place in the world, I was experimenting with my appearance and going through an indie phase. I’d lost weight, had blond highlights, I was probably donning some bracelets and maybe even a necklace. I hadn’t quite reached emo phase yet so there definitely was no makeup.

What I do know is I hadn’t said a word, I was minding my own business, and then out of nowhere I got attacked because of my perceived sexual orientation. I did nothing to bring this on myself. I did not deserve it. And what would bringing it on myself look like, anyway? Even if I was kissing and holding hands with a boyfriend, flying a rainbow flag to the sounds of Cher and Kylie, it should not bring on, warrant or deserve such abuse.

What happened here was in broad daylight in a bustling part of town with many bystanders and passers-by but not one of them intervened, not even the two girls I saw holding hands. I remember thinking “those lesbians are here to save me,” but, no, there was no rescue. Even on the bus ride home, away from the bullies, none of those who’d witnessed what happened came over to comfort me.

At least I could find comfort in the support network of my friends. I remember telling my mum about it too, but holding back the upset I felt. 

As much as I always rationally knew I didn’t deserve what happened and the comments made had no merit, I don’t know how much it’s lingered in my subconscious. At the time I had a ‘you can’t keep me down’ attitude and carried on as normal and, if anything, I put myself out there more. This bad experience was followed by some really positive ones that countered the negativity.

Walking through an alleyway holding hands with a guy we got stopped by two men. I thought we were going to be battered. Imagine my relief when we found they just wanted to sell us weed! Then, snogging the face off a guy on Market Street on a Saturday night, a guy and girl passing by stopped to tell us they thought it was good to see and gave us a well done! I then had a boyfriend who had no qualms about us holding hands around the city centre, and we never had any problems when we did. Wonderful.

I was fortunate in my experiences. They proved that my bad encounter was rare. But what if I hadn’t had these good experiences? What if I didn’t have a support network? What if my sexuality was secret, for whatever reason. Who would I turn to?

If I could time travel back to the 20-year-old me I’d tell myself to get in touch with the LGBT Foundation right away to properly talk about what happened to me. Regardless of the good experiences I had following the bad one, and even with having a support network, I believe it would still have done me good to talk about what happened with someone impartial and trained to help with such experiences.

Also, I never reported this as a hate crime. I think then I saw the hate but I didn’t view the attack severe enough to be a crime. But, for all I knew, this group of kids could have been doing the same to others, you just don’t know. I didn’t have any cuts or bruises but, you know what, making someone feel so scared to run away and flee from danger is just as physical in its impact. 

A decade later, I’ve walked alone around the streets of Manchester countless times in light and darkness without incident. 

If you come across a group of homophobic attackers and you’re alone, remove yourself from the situation. Just get away. There is no shame in fleeing homophobia, you need not feel ashamed for simply protecting yourself. Fuck them, look after yourself. 


SUPPORT:

GALOP – for hate crime advice, support or reporting. Call 020 7704 2040 or visit www.galop.org.uk


THIS ARTICLE WAS TAKEN FROM ISSUE #149. 

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