Last night I was the vicim of hate crime in London. I was on a date with a boy in Shoreditch, and at around 1am we shared a kiss on Shoreditch High Street. The occupants of a car held at traffic lights, all white, male and in their 20s, began shouting homophobic abuse at us. I shouted back at them, at which point the driver of the car got out in a quick, aggressive manner and began walking towards us. Being a little drunk, with someone I instinctively wanted to protect, and holding a couple of years' boxing experience, I went into the road to meet him.
He did nothing. I mean I won't lie, I wasn't angry, I was fucking furious and I was hardly hiding it. I imagine that he'd expected the boy and I to automatically run away at his action. Confronted by an alternative prospect he did little more than uncertainly continue to mutter homophobic slurs. People from the busy high street quickly came between us, he got back into the car and drove off with one last 'fucking queers'. Today I reported the incident on the London Met's online crime reporting service.
I'm not writing this to paint myself as a hero for standing up to somebody, and in retrospect my rash actions might have been foolish. Neither is this a call to arms, that all gay men should begin boxing. As much as I believe personally in having the ability to defend myself, fighting fire with fire is more likely to deepen division than create harmony. And a harmony created by bigoted homophobes being scared of militant gays is no real harmony, for it doesn't address the gnarled, twisted root of the problem.
I am writing this piece about hate. I think we tend to, or like to, believe that hate crime is something that happens in other countries. In Russia under the cold-blooded Bond villain that is Putin; in pious Uganda with their 'Kill the Gays' bill; in Iran where they hang gay boys with hoods over their heads. But hate happens all the time in the UK. As recently as 2011 a gay man named Ian Baynham was kicked to the floor by three teenagers, and then had his head stamped on until he died, in Trafalgar Square. All for holding the hand of his partner.
After I heard this news, I began my boxing. But of course the flames of hate transcend sexual orientation as their spark. Hate, conceivably, knows no boundaries. It purrs in the stabbing of Nahid Almanea for wearing a hijab, it stirs in the reprehensible words of Anjem Choudary, and nuzzles with Britain First's invasion of mosques. For many, it laced the name of Mark Duggan. It's there between the vowels of UKIP's 'palatable racism'.
Because hate stems from division, hate comes from us being 'us' and them being 'them'. Hate is a fear of difference, and an inability to see that a shared humanity underlies differing social constructs. That because someone is transgender does not make them any more able to absorb hurt, or less able to experience love. We dehumanise the homeless with the term 'crackhead', and likewise our lexicon of derogatory insults from 'faggot' to 'chav' to 'nigger' is a form of depersonalisation.
We live in a society to relate to one another, otherwise we might as well just build walls around ourselves and run our own private Tescos forever more for our personal consumption. Before this incident happened to me, I had already organised a special event of Spoken Word London to the theme of 'Anti-Hate'. It's designed to tackle forms of discrimination and to create, through both speaking and listening, a greater sense of empathy. I believe even more now in its importance but are those four men in the car going to turn up and listen with open minds? It's unlikely.
Perhaps instead it begins with the next generation, the generation being born right now. I have heard my own generation, those in their 20s, be described as 'the lost'. But I'm already seeing my peers have children and rather than lost, I feel we have an immense power and responsibility to make the world of the future a place less of hate, and more of hope.
Spoken Word London: Anti-Hate is on Wednesday 23rd July at Vogue Fabrics, 66 Stoke Newington Road, N16 7XB.