I've experienced homophobic abuse in London three times. The first happened when I was 22, and I was caught in a heaving Friday night crowd outside Tottenham Court Road tube station. Across a sea of faces, I made eye contact with a young, white male with a shaven head. He snarled at me: 'fucking poof!'
I was shocked, as I took some pride at the time in an outward masculinity that hid my sexuality. But the crowd shifted and guy was gone. Walking down to the gay bars of Soho I felt angry, but also embarrassed that all the other people in that crowd had heard the slur. Like Panti Bliss, I checked myself to see what had given me away, and I attributed it to maybe wearing a slightly flamboyant scarf. I remember though, that it was very important to me to not take off the scarf.
I didn't even think to report it. Abuse was just abuse, not a crime. But the next time I experienced hate was this year, during the summer. I wrote a detailed piece about it, but essentially the facts were: I was kissing a boy on the streets of Shoreditch in July, and a group of white men in a car began shouting abuse at us, throwing a beer can. Five years older and far more confident in myself, it culminated in a heated confrontation, which was only broken up by passers-by.
I immediately reported this crime, for unprovoked abuse on the streets is unacceptable. I know there are gay men who won't kiss in public because of this fear. But hiding is not the answer: for surely a kiss is a good thing, isn't it? I've never understood 'get a room', other than originating from jealousy, as I love it when I see people kissing on the streets. It's a tender beauty between two people, whatever their sexuality or gender.
The third incident involved a far closer time period than five years. It, in fact, happened two weeks ago. We'd just finished the Dark Fabrics Cabaret show at Vogue Fabrics, and five of us were having a cigarette outside the venue. A British-Asian guy in his early twenties approached us, as his friends hung about up the street, watching.
'Are you queers?' he asked.
'I'm gay, yeah,' I replied.
He sniggered. A pause ensued, as he didn't seem to know what to say.
'I don't like queers,' he said, half-laughing and not making eye contact.
He was not a particularly big guy, and seemed drunk. I'd deliberately taken a boxing stance as we spoke. Let's be clear here, I'm hardly Amir Khan, but I do the training at a gay boxing club in part because of self-defence. He slipped around me to start aggravating other members of the group.
It was playground bullying of the most immature masculinity. He bragged to the girls of his straight sexual prowess, and tried to intimidate a smaller gay guy. I followed him around the group, trying to use reason, asking him why he didn't like gay people, until he left and ran up the street. I don't think he had an answer for my question.
'I never thought this would happen in Dalston,' said my friend.
But the truth is it can happen anywhere. Soho, Shoreditch, Dalston: all three large gay areas. London is a wonderful, largely safe city, and I've kissed a lot of boys on these streets with no abuse. Yet hate knows no limits of geography or physicality. I've noticed some gay people when they speak out about hate on Facebook tending to blame Muslims or immigrants. However, my first two examples here were both white English. Lack of empathy and fear of difference transcends your religion or nationality.
National Hate Crime Awareness Week began this weekend with an event at St Paul's Cathedral, where many people go to make their stance against hate, and for hope, from every nationality, religion, race, sexuality and gender. Because kindness and love also transcend any social divisions, and we should all be able to kiss on our streets, rather than receive abuse.