“What are you looking at faggot!” he snarled at me stopping me in my tracks.
It was a random Friday night in Honolulu in 1991. I think. My Friday night routine back then was to go to The Wave. A fun bar in Waikiki that had a live band that played alt-rock music and a DJ who played some great music between sets and after the band left. It was not uncommon for me to roll out of there at 4AM on a Saturday AM. And like I usually did, I parked my car at Fort DeRussy, a military reservation on Waikiki where you could park for free if you had a DoD sticker on your car. It really was a great location to park. So on this Friday night, it was probably around 930PM (gotta get into the Wave before they started charging a cover at 10PM!). As I was walking towards the Wave, I could hear, and eventually see, a man and a woman arguing. He was undoubtedly military. And he was just yelling at her and she was crying at this point. I had no idea what rank he was, but I’d hazard to guess enlisted and I was a brand new Lieutenant Junior Grade (LT JG). So I walked over to check on the woman to make sure she was okay and to read the enlisted guy the riot act for treating her this way. But then he said it.
“What are you looking at faggot?” And I was stunned. This wasn’t the first time I had been called a faggot. Fairly certain that was middle school, definitely high school. Nor would it be the last. I don’t remember all of the times I’ve been called faggot, but I remember this one. This is the first time the word didn’t just roll off my back, or that I just didn’t kept going while it silently burrowed into my psyche. No this time the word made me stop in my tracks. And while I clearly should have done something to make sure the woman was alright, that word had somehow made me powerless. And the ironic (?) part is that I wasn’t a “practicing homosexual” at that time. I’m not a gold star gay and it would probably be 3-4 years before I would admit to myself that I was gay. Much less act on it or come out. But the power of that accusation just hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m ashamed (even to this day) that I didn’t muster the courage to confront that guy and to make sure the woman was okay. But I didn’t. I walked away.
So why bring this up now? Well during the insane and asinine conversation earlier this month about “Straight Pride”, one of my friends mentioned that almost every gay guy (and I’m sure this is true for any LGBTQ person) has been called a faggot from a moving car atleast once in their life. And every time that happens there is this sense of panic wondering whether the car would stop. Would angry men (and let’s face it it’s usually men) get out of the car and beat them up. It’s not an irrational fear. You only need to look to the news to see LGBTQ bashings, assaults, and even murders. LGBTQ people are more likely to be targets of hate crimes than *any*other* minority group. And it’s not just physical violence that the LGBTQ community has to worry about. In a recent Public Religion Research Institute poll, a small but increasing proportion of Americans think it should be permissible to turn away customers based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or race. Our ability to live our lives, as full (ish) members of society is still under attack.
So as we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and the start of the LGBTQ civil rights movement in the US and around the world, we need to recognize that there’s still a lot of work to be done in the march to full equality under the law, and in society, as a whole. Not only here in the US, but around the world. Don’t get me wrong. Go out this weekend and celebrate how far we’ve come, walk proudly in that parade, and dance your ass! But then come next Monday, we need to buckle up and get right back to the fight for Equality!