A few weeks ago, I co-facilitated a daylong workshop on personal storytelling and participatory media for staff of Futures Without Violence. At one point, I asked participants to respond to a timed writing prompt and then pair up with a colleague to share and discuss the experience.
I decided to address the prompt, too, and I was surprised by how quickly the following memory surfaced. It feels right to share it this month, in recognition of Gay Pride. While it’s true that things have changed dramatically since the time it occurred (in the late 1980s) – even President Obama acknowledged the importance of June this year; better late than never – a glance at the work of Human Rights Watch shows that fear and struggle are still daily realities for many people around the world who identify as LGBTQ.
In the U.S., a recent article in Colorlines reveals that hate violence is alive and well, and though increased reporting on the tragic topic of queer youth suicide has brought about efforts like the fantastic It Gets Better Campaign, I know from our Center’s storytelling work in partnership with queer youth initiatives that the depression and hopelessness which often result from having to confront homophobia and heterosexism continue to present grave dangers to the well-being of young people growing up LGBTQ and to their ability to advocate for their rights. This is not ok.
I’m grateful that my girlfriend and I were among the lucky ones so many years ago. The men who provoked us used only their words, not their bodies. And they stopped following us after a couple of blocks. A lot has changed in my life since the incident I describe below. But some things haven’t, like my commitment to supporting equal rights and social justice for all. Of course, I don’t really know what difference it will make to share this moment of my own terror. I guess I hope that in some small way it will contribute to the mission of my colleagues at Futures, which is, simply, to create a world of futures without violence. A world where people aren’t ever made to feel helpless because of their gender identity or because of who they love.
Here is the writing prompt I used at the Futures workshop: describe a moment when you felt helpless...
...and here is what I wrote:
The words were thrown hard, they pierced our eardrums like a fingernail scratching a blackboard.
My girlfriend walked faster, and I lengthened my steps to meet hers. We didn’t say anything; I just clutched her arm tightly. I felt cold in the crisp fall air. My heart was beating so fast I thought it would jump out of my chest.
We were in North Beach, on a dark, narrow street, late at night. I listened carefully to make sure their footsteps weren’t behind us. I couldn’t relax until we got to the car. As soon as we climbed inside, I locked the doors and let out all the breath I could, pressing my stomach to the back of my body. We looked at each other, we still didn’t say anything.
What was there to say? It was 1988. We were magically in love. We lived in San Francisco. Things like this weren’t supposed to happen.