Yesterday I bundled up and attended a rally for two women who self-described themselves as studs, and who were allegedly assaulted inside a South Side bar. The crowd that turned out was diverse, which is a good thing. I’m not naive to think that there still isn’t some separation between the black LGBT community and the white LGBT community, but I have noticed at several events I have attended in the past few years that the younger members of our community are more diverse and don’t tend to separate based upon race (or sex) which is a very positive development.
A woman was there who was reporting for an online magazine a friend of hers was starting. She asked me why I was at the rally. My response is that the LGBT community needs to stand up and be heard when someone in our community has been harassed or assaulted. It seems to me that LGBT people who are younger are coming out at earlier ages than my generation came out and that transgender people are also coming out and becoming more prominent in Pittsburgh. As this happens, we as a community will be subjected to more harassment and violence because of this visibility. Some parts of Pittsburgh might be safer than others for us, but even though it is 2013, there are still people out there who are threatened by us, for whatever reason, and so want to lash out at us.
As a small butch dyke, I am always cautious about where I go and how I behave. I don’t always conform to the gender norms I am supposed to conform to as a woman. I have yet to be harassed about using a bathroom, although a female friend of mine who looks more feminine than I do was challenged about using the restroom in a local restaurant. I do have the right to go where I want to go and live how I want to live, but I know I need to be cautious and that I could easily end up a victim. In fact, my partner and I were accosted by a male downtown who called us (mostly me) a dyke and threatened us because we commented on the fact that he almost hit us when we were crossing a street downtown. He exited his car to call us names and menace us. Fortunately, and ironically, a local gay businessman exited his shop to intervene and the guy got back in his car. But he drove past us several times screaming the word “dyke” and other pleasantries. It was scary. Last year in my neighborhood on the North Side a neighbor of ours and his friends heckled Sue and me by calling us dykes.
This brings up the question about how to respond when this occurs. With the man downtown, we got in his face when he began calling us names. Fortunately for us, neither Sue nor I was physically assaulted, but in that case it was pure luck as he exited his car when we said to him, “What did you just call us?” With the neighbor and his buddies, we chose to ignore them and not say anything, although in hindsight, I should have gone directly to his grandmother and informed her of his actions. It really is a judgment call and one that should be based upon the situation. Although now with the proliferation of guns, the best remedy might be to ignore the verbal slings and remember the adage “Sticks and stones might break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
As far as being physically assaulted, I think those should always be reported to the police and if the police don’t handle the situation satisfactorily, then a report should be made to the Citizen Police Review Board or the Office of Municipal Investigations. There has been a lot of discussion in our community about reporting crimes against the LGBT community. Many feel the police are not responsive or helpful or that it won’t matter. However, in my opinion, the only way to get attention to the fact that we are being subjected to physical and verbal harassment is to file police reports and hold the police accountable if they don’t perform their duty. Afterall, we are citizens of Pittsburgh and pay taxes too, so we deserve the same level of service as any other citizen.
The world is slowly changing, but there is still a long way to go, and we as a community need to stand up, be heard, demand action and accountability from our government and let others in society know that when we are harassed or assaulted, we are going to stand up for ourselves and for each other,