Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why GLBT People Cannot Rely on the Police or the Media

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.    

One thing GBLT people are often told when we face discrimination or violence or hate is that we should have gone to the police. This is often closely followed by urging us to go to the media.

Sadly, this advice is both na├»ve and privileged (and kind of assumes we’re not all that bright as well). I have gone to the police on numerous occasions when facing violence, harassment and that damn car-keying note leaver (I have a near book of these snide little things, I may bind it and sell it as an ode to pettiness. If nothing else, them suing me for the royalties might actually reveal their sorry selves). It has not been helpful. The amount of studied indifference is pretty stunning. I always have the nagging feeling I’m going to be charged with wasting police time for breathing the same air as them.


From domestic violence, to street harassment to being put in the hospital to having my big box full of nasty little notes the general response has been a strong sense of “is there a reason you’re telling me this? Here’s a crime number, go away annoying person”. I’ve met the same when accompanying those of my friends who have bothered to report to the police – all of them have had reason to, very few of them have bothered to do so. And the victim blaming is strong. “Did you touch him?” (no, of course not, in a crowded club I activate my 5 feet emergency gay space to ensure I never afflict the straighties with my touch) “Did you wink at him?” (seriously, do people still wink at people?) “Did you make eye contact?” (No sir, I know my place, I keep my eyes on the floor when around my straight betters) “What were you wearing?” (Why, being gay I was clad in rainbows, body glitter and stiletto heels of course! It’s our uniform). The gay panic defence is still a nasty ugly stain on our law and, even outside the court room, it oozes all over any interaction with law enforcement. When we’re the victims we’re still assumed to have instigated. And, of course “existence” is considered instigating.


Occasionally we will get that wonderful, sage advice “have you tried being more subtle?” Uh-huh. Of course, in the face of this many tempers fray – and then WE’RE the problem because we got angry, irate, unhelpful, hostile – insert term du jour. Even I became…  sharp after a police repeatedly called me “a gay”. Grrr, it’s not a noun people. But this leads to that over most unpleasant situation when the nearly-all straight police force isn’t just unsympathetic – but is often outright hostile. Tread carefully or you give them an excuse and get to spend some time in the cells being taught a lesson. And they do like their stings on gay clubs and their attempts at entrapment on gay “cruising” areas – followed by the wonderful “plead guilty and it stays quiet, speak and you get Outed” to ensure there aren’t repercussions.

Now, going to the police nearly inevitably means outing yourself – which comes with its own set of menaces. And if you want actual consequences for your attacker then you’re better be ready to shout your GBLTness from the rooftops.

So choice 2, the media. Well, first you’ve got to find media that gives a damn and that’s difficult. You can go to GBLT media – but, let’s be honest, our community’s media’s reach is limited and even if your story is picked up by it the readership is going to be a lot of, frankly, jaded GBLT people who have seen it a hundred if not a thousand times before (and the odd straight person who is SHOCKED! SHOCKED AND APPALLED!) But maybe, maybe you’ll catch the more mainstream news on a good point in the cycle, maybe your victimisation is dramatic enough, maybe it fits some national news, maybe it’s a slow news day, whatever – you may get lucky. But it is luck and you will have to seek it out.

And you will be Outed. And even if you are Out, there’s Out and there’s “in the local newspaper” Out.

And the consequence of that Outing?

Well this couple in Texas, after having their house vandalised with a death threat, went to the media (after the police ignored them) – and then found the harassment escalated. In fact, outed and reported, their employer lost work and local businesses starts denying them service. Thankfully, the GBLT community was there to help them (which is why it is so vital for us to look after our own), but it can get real nasty real fast.

And why people have to remember that the simple solutions of “police”  and “media” are so often not something we can rely on. And, sadly, why sometimes there just isn’t a solution at all – there’s only endurance and survival.