“From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate.” ~Socrates~
I think that quote pretty much sums it up. Some of the most homophobic people I’ve ever met in my life have come out of the closet at later times in their lives. As sad as it is for me to admit it, I was once incredibly homophobic. No, I didn’t participate in any hate crimes or anything of that nature, but I did joke around about other kids in my high school who were very obviously gay as well, though none of us were out at the time. My crass joking enabled me to make friends without them questioning my sexuality. I used the other kids as a defense to prevent myself from a similar fate. It is definitely not a part of my life I am proud of, but it happened nevertheless.
I’ve been affected by homophobia my whole life. I know I’m not alone in my thoughts on the matter either. I was recently discussing the random thoughts running through my head and the precautions I take without realizing it. The friend I was talking with said she’s got another friend who voiced similar experiences to her. Sometimes I do things to protect myself without even realizing it. For instance, a few years ago, I was at the store purchasing a Valentines Day gift for my boyfriend. The item I bought was clearly for a man, I also bought a Valentines Day card to go with it of course. As I set my items on the conveyor belt at the register, I placed the card down first and the other item on top of it. I just did it, without thinking twice about why. Then I took a step back and evaluated my reasoning on a deeper level. The conclusion I drew was that I was trying to prevent other people in line with me from seeing I was buying a card to go with a gift for a man. I’d deliberately hidden the card beneath the other item. It irritated me that I did that. I’d been out for nearly five years by that time and I was and am completely comfortable living as a Gay man. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that people around me are so comfortable with my sexual orientation.
Another example happened just a few weeks ago. A girl I work with was throwing a birthday party for another coworker. There were several of my coworkers there with their husbands and boyfriends. I tend to feel incredibly uncomfortable around straight men I don’t know. People kept asking me if I was okay and wondering why I wasn’t my usual self. I was at the party for over an hour before I finally opened up and started having a good time. I tend to withdraw and hang in the shadows until I can be sure that the straight men there won’t think that I’m coming on to them for merely making conversation. Sadly, I’ve heard horror stories about gay men having a good time in social situations, but the minute other people find out they are gay, suddenly they’re getting beat up. It’s a horribly reality, and frankly it scares me.
A close friend of mine (we’ll call her Jessica) actually avoided an incident this last weekend. She has a second job as a bar tender on the weekends. The bar she works at is a straight bar, but there is a transvestite who comes in fairly regularly (we’ll call her Tina). This last weekend, Tina was dancing and another patron came over and was dancing with her. No one seemed to think much of it. Later that evening, Jessica overheard another man telling the guy who’d danced with Tina that she was in fact a man. The conversation continued and multiple homophobic comments were exchanged. One of the two men decided they needed to teach Tina a lesson and proceeded to make plans to beat her up. At this point, Jessica approached them and said that there was no place for their bigoted, homophobic attitudes in her bar. She then informed them that if they even touched Tina, it would be the last thing they ever did. A while later, she heard them making comments again, then one of the men got up from the table and started walking toward Tina. Luckily Jessica was able to step in front of him and ask him to leave. Then she stepped over to the table where he and his friends were sitting. She proceeded to pick up the beers and pitcher they just ordered and pour them out. When the other men protested she spoke up and said, “I told all of you that homophobia has no place in my bar! Your friend has made it so none of you are welcome here anymore tonight. Please leave.” Luckily for Jessica and Tina, the men left without further incident.
The last incident I wanted to share was not necessarily one of hate, just intolerance in general. A close friend of mine lives in the heart of Downtown Salt Lake City. He’s less than one block from Temple Square. Needless to say, twice a year, when the LDS Church holds their Semiannual General Conference, finding a parking space anywhere near the area is unheard of. In fact, the parking garage to my friend’s building is normally closed for public access, but they open it up and charge people to park there during those two weekends each year.
The big weekend happened a few weeks ago. My friend made plans in advance so he wouldn’t need to leave his condo for any reason. He and his boyfriend were getting things done around the house and decided to take a walk to a nearby grocery store. As they were making their way back, they each had a hand full of groceries and had linked arms. They weren’t kissing, or even holding hands. Furthermore, it was during the time between Conference sessions so there weren’t a lot of people out. There was a group of people near the corner standing and talking as they approached. Suddenly, a man left the circle and approached my friend. He casually said, “There are people around here who don’t appreciate that kind of display and I would like to politely ask you to leave.” I can’t even fathom the audacity of this man to feel this sort of request is even remotely appropriate. My friend was not strolling through Temple Square, he was walking on a public sidewalk along South Temple, further than one city block from the Temple grounds. Clearly this man was a visitor to this part of the city. I happen to drive by this stretch of road every day and I’ve seen gay couples holding hands and walking together on multiple occasions. It’s not out of the ordinary. Despite the reputation of Utah and the surrounding area, Salt Lake City is quite tolerant and accepting of each other’s differences.
In reaction to this strange request, my friend looked from the man, to his boyfriend and back. He was already irritated at having to stay inside for the majority of the weekend and here was this man asking him to leave. His response was much calmer than it could have been. He looked the gentleman in the eyes and said, “I live in the building on the corner. I will not leave because I’m going home and I do not know what display you are referring to which is inappropriate! When did it become inappropriate for two people to walk along a city sidewalk with their arms linked together?” He didn’t wait for a response before they began walking again, this time a little quicker but their arms remained linked nonetheless.
People fear what they don’t understand. I know this is true, but why do they so often feel the need to act on this fear? Whether it is action against gay people, people of different religious groups, races, or cultures, we hear all too often stories of hatred, animosity, mistrust, oppression, judgment, and condemnation. As a human race, we need to take a step back from other people’s lives and ask ourselves, “Does this actually have any affect whatsoever on my life?” If not, then leave it be and move on!