On Sunday afternoon, in the middle of the very gay neighborhood of Chelsea in Manhattan, my partner and I were called "disgusting" by a man passing by as we shared a quick goodbye kiss. It was the kind of short peck that, in most places around the world, would likely be seen as no more a public display of affection than that between any two friends, of whatever gender, greeting one another.
Apparently the man saw us as he approached from several feet away and made the comment to David after we'd departed. I was already on my way when David yelled back at the man, and at me, pointing to the man and yelling, "Homophobe!" The man was shocked to be confronted as David yelled to me that he'd just called us "disgusting." As I approached the man he darted into the street, swerving around taxis while screaming "faggots," then scampered back onto the sidewalk, then into the street again, trying to get away from us.
When he came back on the sidewalk I called him a "bigot" over and over, pointing to him for people to see, and David continued condemning him as a "homophobe." He was cornered, and I got in his face and asked him why he was running away like a pathetic coward, and who he was calling a "faggot." Clearly stunned, he stammered a bit, and then mumbled, "Um, I, um... I meant me... I was calling myself a faggot."
Yeah, right. We followed him, hounding him, basically chasing him out of the neighborhood as his fast gait turned into a jog in the middle of the street. Hopefully we ruined his day.
Unlike the wonderful story that has received much attention in which two men in Columbus, Ohio, who experienced similar insults got support from fellow customers as they stood in line to get some pizza, no one else, in the heart of Chelsea, on the street or in the barber shop, the bakery or the pet store, said anything. Then again, few people probably could figure out what was happening, and it's not uncommon for people to be screaming in the streets of Manhattan. The only interaction from anyone else came from some people yelling out their windows for all of us to "shut the f**k up!" Very New York.
I tweeted about the incident right away, from the very gay gym a few doors away that I'd been heading toward, and the most interesting response from people around the country was surprise.
"Clearly he didn't understand anything about Chelsea," responded one person.
"In Chelsea? Or even in NYC?" responded another. "That shocks and saddens me."
One woman, expressing the sentiments of quite a few, wrote, "This must have been a tourist. Only an idiot tourist would say something bigoted like that in Chelsea, of all places."
But trust me, this was not a tourist. Tourists to New York are not that cocky and confident and generally are too awestruck and slightly intimidated to do something like this. No, this man is someone who lives in New York and is secure in the fact that many of his own family and friends agree with him.
Contrary to what many may believe -- and contrary to the Associated Press' banning of the word -- homophobia is alive and well, and we may be seeing it expressed more than before in the most "pro-gay" places. New York now has marriage equality and full civil rights for gays and lesbians, and while a majority of New Yorkers support that, we often forget that in most polls the minority that is opposed is still rather large, over 40 percent. Many of those people are frustrated and engaged in an angry backlash. In 2012 we saw an outbreak of anti-LGBT violence in some of the country's most gay-friendly cities, like New York, Washington, San Francisco, Dallas and Atlanta. 2011 saw the highest number of anti-LGBT murders ever reported, with transgender people the hardest-hit victims.
But it's clearly not just those who would engage in violence who are expressing the hate. It's lots of ordinary people who, for whatever reason, feel threatened by the strides of gay rights and who will exert dominance if they're allowed to get away with it. In Chelsea I had a similar confrontation last year when a man standing next to me, a young hipster who appeared to be heading to the art galleries with his girlfriend, called a bicyclist, an effeminate-appearing man, a "faggot" after believing the bicyclist had cut him off. I unloaded on this guy, too, as he ran off, and I told his startled girlfriend, who was still standing there next to me, that she really should dump his sorry ass. I doubt he will ever do that again.
Gays are winning more at the ballot box, in the courts and in the legislatures. That's precisely why the homophobes are getting frustrated and desperate and are now taking it out further on the streets. And I am not staying silent. I spent too many years trying to let the hate roll off my back. You internalize it as it eats away at you, and your dignity shrinks.
I've not come to this age in my life, to this stage of the game in the fight for LGBT rights, to have someone call me "disgusting" in my own neighborhood. And it's time none of us let them get away with it. I'm not saying that I or anyone should stand up to everybody engaged in a homophobic act every time. Obviously you have to be wise and safe. But whether it's on the streets of Chelsea or in Columbus, Ohio, all of us, straight and gay, must speak up when we can. Stand up and fight back. Because if we don't, they win.
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