Seeing Homophobia up close

I’ve never publicly, or explicitly written about LGBT issues and rights online before. I didn’t feel I had a need to until today.

I don’t think I’m any different, at least that’s what it feels like in my head – which is a bizarre turn given I spent at least 10 years hiding from my mum, and nearly 19 from my dad, step-dad and close family. Being a teenager and growing up knowing there was something that was different, perhaps still slightly taboo to how most people seemed to behave was terrifying. I tried to suppress it for a really long time and was nervous about anyone finding out.

I was a bit of a sheep, I wanted so badly to be what I considered ‘normal’- a heteronormative kind of normal. Why? Because I was scared of being ridiculed, judged, pointed at and made fun of for being different.

Coming out as ‘something’ was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I kept having to do it over the years to new friends or colleagues. Only last December I called both my dad and step-dad and piped up the courage to tell them about me and my partner. This Christmas, we spent time exchanging presents between all of us, having dinners and getting to know each other. I feel closer to all of them more than ever before because I finally feel like I can be me and they get to know who I am.

It has been terrifying to think about rejection, that you don’t fit the heterosexual mould. Again luckily, despite what I thought, I’ve been accepted by friends and family for who I am.

I feel more normal and loved than I’ve ever felt.

Even though I got over choosing to be in a relationship with who I want to (and believe me I never EVER until I was about 18/19 felt that I’d get to that stage and have other people ‘know’ let alone be OK with it), I’ve always felt awkward in public showcasing affection and emotion for fear people would stare or comment until very recently. Finally, thanks to my beautiful partner I stopped giving a damn about what people might think and started relaxing. We hold hands in public, we kiss, I lay my head on their shoulder when I’m tired. I feel so loved all of the time and so proud that we’re together. I started to re-think my ‘everyone will look at me’ stance and that we continue to progress positively in our society (thanks to some amazing courageous people in our history).

I’ve never felt any direct discrimination, maybe a quick re-look or two but nothing, and in recent months I just stopped caring. Until yesterday.

Train to Alloa, off to Stirling. Board train. We’re happy and excited we’re off to climb the Wallace Monument.

20 minutes in, whispering starts, a ring leader of a group of woman in their 40s and 50s who are on their way to Alloa starts corralling the group to look at us.

We notice, and my hand squeezes tight. I feel sad and victimised immediately. I start to feel upset because I know they are talking about us.

‘Lesbians’
‘Look at that, can’t believe it’
All in hushed tones.

There’s 10 of them and it starts to get intimidating really quickly. She moves from whispering to announcer.

‘Disgusting’
‘Don’t flaunt that in my face’

It’s like the leader of a pack of wolves. She’s staring right at us and making all of her friends laugh. She’s trying to rally them all behind her.

‘I cannae believe what I’m looking at here’
‘Disgusting’
‘Lesbians’
(names disguised) ‘Sandra, Sandra, come here, turn around, check these two, look at this’

I can’t look, I’m frozen and I feel small.
I’m 29 and I’m being publicly bullied by someone in their 50s.

I turn to my partner and my eyes start to water. I want to be strong but I don’t. I feel weak and helpless. I’m being attacked on the inside for who I am and for just being happy and in love.

It gets louder and more intimidating.

I’m angry at myself for getting upset, and not being strong for the two of us.

I then hear,

‘Get your cameras, put this on Facebook, this needs to go on Facebook’

That’s it. After being told it’s f*&^$%# disgusting, being ridiculed and some other phrases I’d rather not write down I do not want our faces ridiculed online by her and her homophobic friends.

I turn and say lets move. I begin walking towards the carriage door and I can’t look at her – but I look straight into the eyes of her friend next to her. She looks sheepish and looks down, she sees me crying.

My partner is behind me and says,

‘I hope you’re proud of what you just did’

The lady says,

‘No I’m proud of who we are’ and she goes to stand up. She’s clearly looking for a fight.

We move into the next carriage and I’m physically shaking. I believe myself to be a strong person, but I’ve never been subjected to verbal abuse like that in a public space.

I feel weak. In hindsight, we did the strongest thing we could do and walk away. We’re safe, just shocked beyond belief and sad that this kind of hatred exists.

Why am I writing this?

Three reasons. A public thank you, an ask and an announcement.

Thank you:
British Transport Police. Your service was fast, friendly. You called us back within 5 minutes of texting. You assured us it was right to call. You informed us about Section 38. You called us up the next day to ensure we came into the station to report it formally. You told us it was unacceptable and you did everything to make us feel comfortable about both giving statements. You have already requested the CCTV and you took us seriously. Thank you, we feel heard.

To the lady who attacked us in public. I’m angry, upset, shaken and sad for all the reasons above. But thank you – you’ve reminded me that I need to be stronger and be myself at all times in public. Thank you for reminding me there is still more work to be done and not to become complacent about equal rights.

I’m sorry you’re so angry inside.

An ask to you:
If you ever hear abuse, on any subject being directed at someone stand up and ask them to stop and make sure that person is OK. Don’t ignore it. Sadly there was no one in our vicinity yesterday but us and them and we chose to move carriages but if I had witnessed it and would of intervened or gone to get help.

If you hear discrimination of any kind in conversation, politely correct people. Most of this is about education and calling it out – discrimination of any kind is unacceptable and we will only move forward if we say it’s not OK.

An ask to Scotrail – I tweeted you for help and was told to speak to a station rep. I did, and whilst they were nice they didn’t know what to do. They said the BTP (which I worked out to be the British Transport Police, acronym solving happens to be a skill of mine) weren’t ‘on’ that day and we should of got the train manager (we could’t, he was past the woman and we didn’t want to go back) and she hoped it didn’t happen again.

There is no policy or links on your website about homophobic abuse or protocol, and only until this morning did I get advice to contact BTP directly. Luckily another person suggested it. Could you fix this please?

BTP said they should of been alerted and would of met the woman at Alloa if they’d known when we got to Stirling.

I understand you work closely with the BTP but you should make sure to have all staff fully trained and the information easily findable online with an explanation of how you treat discrimination to passengers of any kind.

I also don’t want a link to your ‘customer feedback form’ online as a solution when I’m still on the train and this has just happened.

An announcement:
On the 13th August we’d love to initiate a small pride party in Alloa. There’s a bar we can rent out, and we’d love see an #alloapride begin. This might be a pipe dream but it’s important. If anyone is out there and wanted to drink pints in Alloa for an evening with a rainbow flag get in touch. It might not happen, but it’s worth an ask.

What happened on Sunday isn’t by far a bad experience in comparison to what some people go through, but it still hurt and we’re lucky it didn’t escalade to physical violence.

This post isn’t about me, it’s about equal rights and that we all have a role in being kind to each other and respectful of our personal choices, our backgrounds, who are we are and who we choose to love.

Thank you to my partner for being my hero and saying something to the woman and calming me down. You are courageous, comforting and so strong. I have so much admiration for you.

And thanks for reading this if you did, I felt compelled to share this and write it down. It’s important we recognise these outdated attitudes still exist in 2016 and we must stand up and report and tackle abusive and discriminatory behaviour everywhere.

sarah@wearesnook.comSeeing Homophobia up close

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