Homophobes still out there, writer says

A voice from the inside presents a different perspective on LGBT situation in Victoria

Kermit the Frog told us it’s not that easy being green. Well, it’s not that easy being rainbow, either.

Often, it takes tremendous courage to be your true self. To stand in front of the crowd and say “I’m queer and I’m here.”

Like now. The barbarians are at the gate. They are rattling their sabres of hate and intolerance.

They toss spent bullet casings at the feet of gay men standing outside Paparazzi Nightclub and it is not a prank. It is not a bit of frat-boy, spring break-style buffoonery. It is an unveiled, cold and calculated threat.

Yet, perhaps in part because Victoria police Staff Sgt. Darren Laur says it is something he has “never seen” in his 27 years of policing, there appears to be a tendency to view it as a fleeting moment of madness. A one-off, if you will.

Indeed, the News, in an editorial on June 29, seems to suggest as much by telling us they “didn’t see that one incident as proof of a general lack of intolerance.” They went on to advise us that “such cases are rare these days, at least those involving police.”

In other words, “Hey, it happens once every 27 years. Everyone chill. Let’s talk about it again in 2039.”

Wrong. Do not go there.

Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community navigate their way through spent bullet casings every day. Sometimes the empty shells arrive in the form of words spoken or written, as was the case in early June when homophobic signage was taped to a shop-front window in Fernwood. And when vile, venom-laced attack verbiage surfaced on the Internet and took direct aim at the ownership and management of Paparazzi.

Hateful words are no less frightening. No less hurtful. And no less alarming when they include threats of violence and death.

The sole difference is that spent bullet casings provide a more disquieting visual than words on a piece of paper or a website. You sit up and take notice of spent bullet casings. The police are summoned. Television cameras roll. People are on edge, knowing there might be a wingnut out there who likes to play with guns. So why trivialize it as “rare?”

The soul of the LGBT community has been vandalized and this incident is, among other things, a discomforting and disturbing backdrop to Pride Week, when the queer-as-folk crowd rally as one for nine days of innocent pomp, pageantry and frolic, that culminates with the annual parade through the streets of downtown Victoria on July 8.

It is also another harsh reminder of the reality that the battle for acceptance continues unabated.

Again referencing the News’ editorial, it mentions “how far we’ve come as a community in dispensing with biases and stigmas against people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer and questioning.”

The very notion that bias and stigma have vanished is a misguided piece of pollyanna. There has been no dispensing of bias and stigma. An easing, yes. A dispensing, no.

“No one should kid themselves that there is 100-per-cent acceptance of queers,” says Art Luney, owner of the Castle Video Bar and Nightclub, a gay venue above Paul’s Motor Inn. “There are forces that would like to see our rights diluted. We shouldn’t forget that. The war is not over. Not by a long shot.”

Does Victoria offer an LGBT-friendly environment? Absolutely.

I can walk our streets unobstructed. I am treated with respect, courtesy and friendship by patrons and staff in shops, banks, markets, medical offices and the mainstream restaurants and pubs I attend. But I still see the stares. I still hear the whispers. I am forever conscious of the periphery, always on the alert, my built-in radar scanning for the next volley of spent bullet casings to fall at my feet. Or at a gay friend’s feet.

And, as sure as the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, it will happen. Which is why we have Paparazzi, the Castle and The Ledge, the three main LGBT sanctuaries in town. It’s why we have Pride Week with its fabulous fixings.

This is an opportunity to celebrate Canadian freedoms, not just for the LGBT community, but for its many allies as well.

We all can take pride in a country that is a world leader in LGBT rights. A country secure enough in its own skin that it is sending a gay man, Mark Tewksbury, to London as chef de mission for the 300-plus Canadian contingent at the Olympic Games later this month and into August.

Most of all, it’s a time to take pride in one’s true self. To flex one’s amour propre.

Three distasteful incidents in one month tell us that the homophobes are on manoeuvres and that victory over the beast is not at hand.

We can always hope, however, that it’s somewhere over the rainbow.

Patti Dawn Swansson is a former Black Press reporter who underwent gender reassignment surgery in November 2009.

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