Take Action

As I read in the last edition of OUTinPerth, of two young men being attacked (apparently) because they were presumed to be gay, I got to thinking of how things change but they don’t change.

Apart from similar reports in recent years of other attacks on other gay men, in various settings including suburban streets, “cruising areas”, and leaving the Court Hotel in Northbridge, I remembered my own experience last century as a younger gay man.

Back when I used to go to Connections every weekend, one night I was walking across the brightly lit car park behind the club and ended up getting a punch to the side of the head. Although afterwards I did have a drink or two in quick succession, to calm my nerves, I did take other steps.

Chris Puplick, a former President of the Anti-Discrimination Board of New South Wales said “Gay, lesbian and transgender communities in Australia continue to be disproportionately and unacceptably the victims of high, perhaps even increasing levels of violence. Moreover that violence is perpetrated against them for no other reason than that of their sexuality. … We know that gay men are four times more likely to be the victims of assault, and lesbians six times more likely, than other men and women.”

These sorts of problems are not unique to Australia or new. I remember on my first visit to the gay mecca of the Castro district in San Francisco. I saw stencilled on the sidewalk, only a block or so from the Gay strip, “A Gay Man was Murdered Here”. But this wasn’t about the murder of Harvey Milk, and way before the murder of Matthew Shepard.

As I thought about my own experience, I also recalled my other response to getting a punch in the head. It was, despite being a pacifist at heart, to start going to self-defence classes. While it is decades since I went to those classes, I remember thinking that I wasn’t the only ‘Friend of Dorothy’ in that class. Furthermore, I can still remember, decades later, the basic moves to fend off an attack.

I’ve also remembered a now deceased friend who was attacked as he was walking his dog one night in the late 1970’s. With injuries that involved months off from his work as a Pharmacist and, (as I recall being told), permanent brain damage. He took up Jiu-Jitsu. He also later sued his attacker for damages and loss of income, on top of the criminal compensation.

Another former Perth activist took up boxing after a serious attack. In Sydney the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has organised workshops for the LGBTIQ community.

Seeing these recent reports in OUTinPerth and elsewhere, also reminded me of psychological research from 1996 asking “Is Homophobia Associated with Homosexual Arousal?” The research suggested that those who engage in what used to be called ‘Poofta-bashing’ are in fact ‘turned on’ by attacking those they believe are gay.

While in the longer term, initiatives like the Victorian based Anti-violence Project (www.antiviolence.info) and Wear it Purple (www.wearitpurple.org), both eastern states based, and the National Safe Schools Project are all worthwhile and worthy causes addressing the root of the problem, they are not of much direct help to us, while we are being physically attacked.

So the bottom line for me, is that regardless of whatever support we give to broader community moves to stop or reduce violence and discrimination against members of the LGBTIQ community, I feel we all need to be prepared to take active steps to learn how to defend ourselves from unprovoked violence; whether that is via LGBTIQ specific or more general, self-defence training. We need to be proactive, as you can’t really fight back if you are seriously injured, in a coma, or murdered.

Colin Longworth, apart from being a psychologist in private practice, has also been a volunteer phone counsellor for Living Proud (formerly Gay and Lesbian Community Services) since 1981. The views expressed above are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Living Proud.

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