1. Our Words are Powerful
This past Saturday marked one month since a gay couple in Philadelphia was brutally assaulted by a group of drunk 20-something strangers. What we know so far--allegedly, at least--is that it began with an exchange of words. The assailants asked if the 26 and 28 year-olds were a couple, and when they said "yes," screams of "You dirty faggot!" and bone-breaking blows rained down.
The older of the two victims watched as his boyfriend's head was slammed into the pavement, fearing immediately that he was dead. Both of the men survived, but the boyfriend who hit the pavement fractured his eye socket and his jaw. His mouth is wired shut and will take at least two more months to heal. Both of them, in an effort to remain anonymous, have been stripped of their names. The younger man has been stripped, literally, of his voice. The older of the two spoke out: "It's not just us."
In a way, it doesn't matter what their names are--because they represent a number of people. This past week also marked sixteen years since Matthew Shepard's murder. And it marks countless other instances of kids who are "different" getting teased at school. And it marks more legislators gathering to decide who can and cannot marry, and who can be excluded from legal rights.
And we need to talk.
2. LGBT Individuals are NOT Protected Under Pennsylvania Hate Crime Statues
In the wake of the assault, it came as a surprise to many that the instance is not considered a hate crime. In Pennsylvania, hate crime legislation protects only those who are targeted for their race or ethnicity, but not those who are targeted for their sexual orientation.
The same applies to many other facets of life--LGBT people are also not protected under housing, employment, and anti-bullying state laws. Fortunately, legislators are making moves to introduce changes. But for the moment, the incident is not recognized by Pennsylvania as a hate crime.
3. Good People Can Do Terrible Things
Punk Out's founder and co-director, Michael, watched as his boyfriend experienced the assault with an added level of surreal disbelief. As the images from shop cameras were passed around to identify the suspects, he clicked the link and realized that he recognized faces. For several days, he was bombarded with text-message-gossip from people that he hadn't spoken to since high school. "It's the strangest thing," he told us. "I know them. I had classes with them. I saw them every single day while I was coming out--and some of them even defended me. You know, if someone started giving me shit about it, one or two of the guys in those photos--they'd stick up for me."
That's one of the scariest perspectives that I've heard since the news originally broke. These people weren't the "bad guys" that we typically look to blame. There is absolutely no excuse for what they did--but there were the added dangers of alcohol, a mob mentality, and adrenaline. They were able to, in that moment, think that their actions were justified. That's what's scary. They hadn't seemed capable before, and now they're on trial. They're not just unfamiliar names in the headlines, they're friend of friends. It's not just them.
4. People Care
One of the reasons why the suspects were so swiftly identified is because Twitter users (who had no personal connection to the victims) banded together and took on their own investigation. Twitter user Fansince09 retweeted photos from security cameras to thousands of people, who worked together on several social media sites to pinpoint the suspects' names and a timeline of their evening.
People want change. People--especially Pennsylvanians, now--are fighting for change with renewed energy. People are demanding equal treatment, equal protection, equal value.
5. Salmon Never Looks Good
If you're leaving the house for a fun-filled evening of drinking with your ol' high school pals and maybe assaulting a few people out of hatred or fear, you probably shouldn't wear that salmon vest. It's not particularly good for anonymity.