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Gay-Bashing and a Safe Community

Yesterday, a reporter for Pittsburgh’s City Paper, interviewed me as part of a follow up of last week’s brutal beating of a drag queen in the Bloomfield neighborhood of the Pittsburgh. Percolating in my mind most of the week, I’ve been wondering about what to write to sum up what the rally last Friday meant and what needs to happen now. The rally was a huge success in the sense that in less than 18 hours after the incident, with very little planning or work, a crowd of 125-150 people met in front of the Pleasure Bar to protest the beating of Veruca. As a long time activist here, I thought this was outstanding!

A friend had commented to me, that the gathered folks were “all the people you see out at the bars,” which 1) wasn’t my experience at all, and 2) even if it were, was a great thing! Let me explain. My partner Brad and I rarely go out to the bars, so I don’t have the personal experience of seeing all of these women and men in a bar, but if I did that would be awesome. Men and women, of different ages, but many younger, would be an ideal bar mix. There are two bar stereotypes. The bar is either all men or all women, and mostly all young people, and that the bar crowd doesn’t care about anything other than having a good time. This crowd illustrates neither of those stereotypes. This was a group ready to support one of their own, and tell the rest of Pittsburgh, that we, as a group, will not be pushed around and intimidated in the areas were we live, work, and socialize.

Earlier this week, writing on Pop City, Elaine Labalme, commented on how different Pittsburgh is from some other cities. Some here in the past, have viewed that as a negative. We have no gayborhood, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender folks live in practically every neighborhood within the city as well as the suburbs. Our bars, and the places we socialize are also scattered, and there are no shortage of “straight” establishments with a sizable gay crowd mixed right in there. I don’t know if the menu has changed, but the Harris Grill’s menu used to say something about being the 2nd biggest gay bar on Ellsworth. I always wondered if that was after 5801 or the Elbow Room. Even at some of the most “Pittsburgh” of Pittsburgh establishments like Big Jim’s, you will always find an awesome mix of folks including us fabulous ones. We really are everywhere, and straight people seem to love the gay bars too.

You can still find people who feel as if we need a gayborhood, if we are to be a strong and vibrant community, but in my opinion, that misses the point entirely. I’m with Elaine- we have a strong and vibrant community that is called Pittsburgh and made up of far more than LGBT folks. Walking within a gayborhood like West Hollywood might provide some visual sense of safety or numbers, but isn’t a barometer of anything real. It just makes us easier to count. I would have said, however, that a lack of any single gayborhood makes us harder to mobilize for activism, but the rally proved that wrong. We will turn out when we are needed. Maybe the activist/organizer just has to work a little harder to get the word out, and whatever difficulty appears, is also a visual allusion too.

The numbers of people interested and engaged was also visible to me in the stats of who was hitting my blog. Following the attack, my site visitor count skyrocketed to 20X my daily average. 20 times average- I couldn’t believe it! And while it has dropped some since then, it is still higher than I would have guessed it would stay. (Thanks readers!)

But what are the “take home” messages from what happened in Bloomfield (both the beating and the rally), and how do we see continuing benefits for our diverse community and the city as a whole?  So here are my take home messages. If you have any, please leave a comment and add yours to the list:

  • Be out of the closet and live open and proud lives, here in Pittsburgh. There is more support for you than you may know, and the only way to increase that support is to be visible.
  • Report problems when they happen! Nothing can be done formally to make Pittsburgh safer for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans persons when no police report has been made. We pay the taxes that provide those services, so use them. And report problems to others when appropriate. Know how to contact the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, the Allegheny County Human Relations Commission, the Mayor’s LGBT Advisory Committee, and local groups like the Delta Foundation, or PERSAD. and report problems more locally to business owners and managers.
  • Remember bigots have free speech rights too. I have every right to walk down the street holding my partner’s hand, and a bigot may have the right to say “Faggot”! I can choose to confront her/him, or I can chose to just go on  my way. The more we are out and proud, verbal harassment will diminish because it will become less and less acceptable. The two feed each other. Being out will lead to less harassment.
  • Get more engaged in activism! The safety and openness is also linked to the legislative progress (or lack of) as we try and get more laws passed to assure our full equality. Help elect gay and gay  supportive candidates for local, regional, state and national government. And become involved in pushing for issues like full non-discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

But if can only remember one take home message, it ought to be the first. Be out and proud! Act like you belong, and know in your gut that you do.

Violence happens. Bad things happen. We will never have a society fully free of all problems, but the incidence can be fewer, and less hate-crimes motivated, if we continue to make everywhere we live, work, and socialize a more open and accepting environment.