Sunday, June 22, 2014

A gay bashing in NH

An acquaintance recently shared that he'd been verbally harassed for being gay at a business up in New Hampshire. He's a decent sort, aside from being regrettably liberal in his politics (many perfectly good folks are liberal and after life and experience, recover - moving on to a healthy libertarianism or some form of fiscal conservative/social liberal stance). Because I'm a rather wordy sort, I'll respond here and post a link. My comments are in bold.

I was the recipient of an anti-gay confrontation two nights ago which hit me hard. I will post about it but quite frankly, I cannot handle all of the well intentioned, "you should have's" that everyone will post. I know what I should have done. I should have verbally fought back or gone to the police or demanded a response from the management. But I didn't. I froze. I fucking froze. I continued to take the bullying and did nothing. And now I live with the knowledge that "I could have" done something and didn't.
I'm sorry you had to put up with that sort of experience. But it happens - we live in an imperfect world where bigotry persists, with the main variables being how obvious and how physically dangerous any individual incident of bigotry may be. As a bonus, any verbal confrontation or resistance may, utterly unpredictably, devolve into physical violence - putting you at risk of hospitalization or worse.

Bigots (and bullies of other sorts) are predators, and when faced with a predator you have three choices as valid responses - fight, flight or freeze. All high-mindedness aside, when you've been designated as prey by these creatures (and usually there isn't a lot of clarity whether they intend emotional harm, physical harm or simply to drive you from their presence) it is deeply unlikely that educational efforts or reason will do you any good at all (or persuade them of the error of their ways).

Flight is an absolutely great solution, if it still works for you (for me, it's more an exercise in comedy - run 100' or so and fall over gasping isn't a valid safety strategy, exactly). Fight, whether it is a verbal confrontation (and unless you are a hulking behemoth that can persuade the bullies/bigots du jour by your mere physical presence that physical interaction is a dangerously bad choice - verbal confrontation can escalate to physical with blinding speed and horrifying results) or a "right from the start" physical assault is the most socially beneficial strategy. 

Regrettably, consideration of the realities of physical self-defense (particularly with *tools* to balance inequalities in physique, age, health and numbers) - which any rational person must factor into deciding on whether verbal confrontation is "worth it" - is both discouraged in  the LGBT community (leading, all to often to well-meaning folks finding themselves in well over their head) and in the state of your recent domicile ("All I'm saying is that...we really try and discourage people from self-help." - Martha Coakely, MA Atty Gen. re the father who punched out the guy he caught molesting his 4-year-old son).

More pithily, "don't let your mouth write checks your ass can't cover" is almost always good advice, followed with equal pithiness by "when seconds count, the police are only minutes away." Police are dandy at investigation and prosecution - but usually arrive well after the fun is done and injuries are accumulated. You are responsible for your own safety and that of those you care for until the nice officers meander up to the scene.

Finally, "Freezing" is what prey do - and unless you are lucky, can result in visit to hospitals or morgues.

What started the verbal assault against me? The aggressors were quite clear. They read my license plate as I drove into the sandwich shop. It is "EQL MRG". (Equal Marriage) and amazingly they got it. Then they saw my "rainbow belt" which they called out as confirmation of "the type of person I was."
 Outside of protected enclaves, even today, simply being ourselves is an act of courage. To do so deliberately defenseless and unable to effectively flee (whatever the reason) is either an act of courage, an exercise in near-delusional optimism, deep-seated ignorance or just plain old-fashioned dumb - or some combination of all of the above.
It wasn't even a rainbow, for god sake, it was a cotton green and orange stripe. But that was all they needed. And what is even worse, this happened in the town in NH that I was buying my house...directly across the street. My real estate broker, who is gay as well, said something as disturbing. He said, "Tom, you'll be registering your car in NH. Get a regular license plate." Stiff upper lip is all I keep telling myself. I am still shaking after two days.
 You can still go to the police and file a report. You can complain to management/ownership but realize that they are very likely nearly as powerless to intervene as you found yourself - recall that any confrontation (even by management) can get physical and create vast liability for the business (so can failure by the business to intervene, in a bit of a catch-22).  The businesses best course if they observe that the behavior is objectionable and unwanted is usually to call the police - who on national average are a minimum of 11 minutes away. Swing your fist into a pillow - how long did that take? How does that divide into 11 minutes?

The societal benefit of fighting back, such as it is, is that it persuades bullies and bigots that we are not submissive and easy targets - and of calling bigots on their bigotry. Personally it's a little more complex - 10:1 are bad odds (so is 2:1, for that matter); pushing 50 and in ill health  v. pushing 20 and built like an NFL tackle is also bad odds.

You can tilt the playing field in your favor. But the choice to carry a weapon (and do so lawfully) is one that requires serious examination of your ethics and priorities, study of local law on use of force (not mandatory study in most areas, but deeply prudent) and ideally *quality* training (target practice AND training vastly superior to that required for a Concealed license).

These are personal choices. You have my best wishes as you make them, and I am happy to either answer any questions within my expertise or pass you on to those brighter and more knowledgeable than I. And yes, I have contacts in MA that could help out if you choose to explore more active/effective personal safety strategies.

Again, I am saddened that you had this experience - though unsurprised.

1 comment:

Old NFO said...

Agree with your reply, but I personally think there is 'more' to this story than is being put out there... Just sayin...