"You're a gay-loving prick". The final words of a man who - so poisoned by hatred - continued to utter such bile as he was taken, handcuffed, to a police car. My partner and I had spent the previous twenty minutes trying to tackle his backward views but also keep him in place until the police arrived. The man he'd just attacked stood aside, angry and tearful. He'd been lunged at, kicked and called weird by Hateful Man. We saw it all. My partner broke up the fight. Together we challenged Hateful Man. But, it made no difference to him. His blinkers were iron-clad, dark and repellent. "Bet you're right at the front of the Pride parade", he said bitterly.
The man who had been attacked turned to us and said "No one has ever done what you guys just did. No one has ever stuck up for me". The catalyst for this aggression? Make-up. One of the many aspects of life that reinforces gender binarism and, consequently, entrenches people's belief that any form of fluid identity is an aberration. Nothing lures out society's bigots more than an individual who confidently defies expectations.
This week the charity 'Just Like Us' is striving to make difference A-OK. It's Diversity Week - an idea they came up with to encourage schools to commit to seven days of forward-thinking festivities. Teachers are encouraged to put up posters that challenge the traditional homophobic polemic, "That's so gay" IS NOT OKAY! Pick a different word!" hollers one. Children are encouraged to wear rainbow-coloured laces and turn their classroom doors into multi-coloured shrines to acceptance and diversity. The charity's goal is to support young and school-age people; to make sure they feel comfortable in an environment that's plagued with cliquiness, nastiness and the type of pressure only children can create in their bid to feel part of a crowd. Part of the charity's mission statement is to:
Reassure young LGBTQ+ people that they can be confident in who they are and do not have to hide for fear of being judged, bullied or rejected.
Former LGBTQ school pupils are invited back to school to talk about their experiences and offer advice to current pupils who may feel isolated, lonely, scared, rejected.
And, what kind of world do these youngsters face when the school bell rings for the last time? According to Home Office statistics, in 2014/15 there was a 22 per cent increase in sexual orientation hate crimes from the previous year and a 9 per cent increase in transgender hate crimes. Stonewall's 'The Gay British Crime Survey' (2013) found that more than three quarters of victims didn't report an incident to the police:
The reasons for not reporting include anticipation that it will not be taken seriously, a fear of negative response and a belief that there is little that the police can do.
That quote came gloomily to life in the aftermath of the Orlando attack. The lackadaisical, lacklustre response to the incident lays bare an embarrassing unconscious bias which leads to the type of shortsighted behaviour that's perhaps too uncomfortable to address. In the realm of social media it plays out as: *this incident* deserves a solidarity status update, a change in profile picture, a few shared articles complete with teary face emoji and *that incident* deserves little to no time and barely any sympathy. In the media, it's 24-hour news channels nonchalantly flip-flopping between a mass shooting and a monarch's birthday as if that's standard practice in news land. FYI, it's not! A deadly attack against a powerful, Western nation traditionally knocks any pre-structured news agenda sideways. There should have been instant, blanket coverage of a homophobic attack in a gay nightclub. Why did it take so long for the media to acknowledge that this was an attack against a specific community? Where were the commentators from the LGBTQ community in the same way other attacks/mass shootings instantly produce experts spouting expertness on the threat to Western society and values? This isn't about quantifying grief or telling people what they should feel upset about, it's entirely about addressing the prejudice that leads to incidents in which rational-minded people like Owen Jones have to walk away from an interview on live television.
Forty-nine people died and more than fifty people were injured during Orlando's moment of horror. An emergency police call records the gunman, Omar Mateen, pledging allegiance to the leader of Islamic State. It fits the troubling narrative of our time. It feels uncomfortably familiar to accept that this was another incident of terrorism. Important people trot out lines about stopping at nothing to eradicate groups and individuals who are a threat to liberal values, and the world hums in agreement. But, what if this was also an individual act of self-loathing and hatred shaped by a society which makes two men feel like they can't hold hands in public or forces a sixteen year old girl to feel too ashamed to tell her parents she's attracted to females? Some reports suggest Omar Mateen was struggling with his sexual orientation. Now is the time to be thinking about how everyday prejudice contributes to internalised homophobia - the way in which LGBTQ people can be socialised to believe their very existence is immoral, wrong and abnormal. If there is such a thing as the collective conscious it is clearly failing: there are too many pockets of darkness being allowed to seep into the minds of marginalised communities; poisoning their identities before being expelled as shame, hatred, low self-esteem, despression, suicide and violence.
More than ever we need charities such as Stonewall and events like Pride. But, we also need to stick up for one another and take responsibility for the messages - conscious or unconscious- we are emitting. We can't all pose for the front cover of the gay lifestyle magazine Attitude like Prince William did, but we can mirror his intent in other ways. Pride London comes to the capital this weekend and I am reminded of the lesbians, gays and Welsh miners who came together in the 80s to help each other through hardship. That small part of history is now a heartwarming film which celebrates tolerance, fellowship and empowerment. Dai Donovan, a proud member of LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners), sums up the importance of unity in the film: "It's friendship. When you're in a battle against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you, well, to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, well, that's the best feeling in the world."