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When is it a Good Idea to Stand Up to LGBT-phobic Abuse?

Published: 07 August 2018 Tags: By James Harris

For the LGBT community, the threat of verbal or physical abuse in public is still very real, even in places with full legal equality. Here James Harris takes a look at 21 year old Blair Wilson's recent experience with such abuse, and explores what we can learn from it.

Gay 21 year old Blair Wilson was walking to his mum’s house for tea, alone and minding his own business, when the words “you’re a poof” were flung at him unprovoked from a group waiting at a bus-stop nearby.

“At first I just laughed, because I thought, ‘what makes you think you can say that to me?’ I was gonna walk away but then I thought, ‘I shouldn’t be letting this happen in a place where I’ve lived for 21 years of my life.’ So I walked over and asked ‘why?’”

It’s a difficult situation to find yourself in, and none of us can know for sure how we'd react unless in that situation ourselves; do you ignore it and walk on, or stop (after carefully weighing the risks) and challenge it?

The deciding factor that appears to have persuaded Blair to confront his abusers was the realisation that he was the subject of abuse in a place where he should never be made to feel unsafe. In fortunate circumstances, our home environments are where we grow up and from a place of protection learn to trust the world; they’re one of the few remaining sources of refuge left before we’re forced to retreat into ourselves. And once we’ve withdrawn as far as that, it’s often a struggle to come back.

There’s a point beyond which the danger of challenging hostility becomes less harmful to our wellbeing, than the damage we do to ourselves when we allow others to take away our sense of safety and security.

After being unable to reason with the guy who shouted the abuse, Blair sensibly started walking away, but was followed:

“I turned round and he kicked me in the chest, then punched me in the face; that’s when my nose started bleeding.”

Clearly, if he hadn’t confronted his abusers he probably wouldn’t have been physically attacked. But although challenging LGBT-phobic abuse is always a serious risk because you can never tell for sure just how violent the retaliation might be, perhaps in his particular case the damage to his self-confidence and self-worth would have been much worse if he had done nothing.

A witness to the incident eventually came over and broke it up. Immediately afterwards Blair took a bold photo of himself grinning defiantly – despite the blood dripping down his face – and later shared it online. A striking image that sends a powerful message to the world: ‘You can break my skin but you cannot break my spirit, because you cannot shame someone who knows there is nothing wrong with who they are. These cuts may bleed and these bruises may hurt, but – though you would like me to believe otherwise – they are not deserved.’

He describes the response:

“It was immense. I had comments from people all over the world, saying how much they looked up to me, and how needed my story was. I believe that what I experienced is common around the country, but that the majority is more accepting and loving.”

For a couple of days after the incident Blair didn’t leave the house, not wanting to be outside:

“I didn’t feel safe, but after seeing how many people were giving me support, I realised there’s no reason to be scared.”

Wise words from someone who could easily be forgiven a more bitter, disillusioned outlook on society after such an ordeal. An important reminder that to allow the attitudes of a few shape our perception of the many, is to risk becoming blind to acceptance and support when it's offered, and let the haters undermine the continued integration of LGBT people into society.

There are many stories like Blair’s – LGBT people are verbally and physically abused on a daily basis, even in comparatively progressive societies like the UK. But what touched and inspired the world so much about his particular story was the way he stood up for his right to feel safe somewhere he should not feel vulnerable to harm, and – despite his injuries – emerged with his positive attitude intact. Indeed, his faith in humanity wasn’t reduced, but reinforced by the warmth of the support received in response (including the individual who came to his aid during the incident itself.)

Though he took a risk that has, in the past, resulted in many others suffering far more serious injuries or even losing their lives (we should ALL remain vigilant of this), he saw a positive opportunity in the wake of a negative encounter and took it.

His choice in that moment helped unify an already strong, global community, reassuring us that it is possible to withstand abuse without losing ourselves.