Philadelphia's Recent Flash Mob Gay Bashing

I've come to believe that only losers travel in large packs when they go bar hopping in the city. People who need a lot of people around them whenever they go out on the town strike me as people who are stuck in a high school frame of mind. They are much like wolves, who also travel in packs. Then, of course, there's the infamous pack mentality, often described as crass and animal-like.

Bar hopping packs are plentiful in Center City Philadelphia, especially on (formerly sedate) Sansom Street, which has become the city's west end version of South Street. Sansom Street on a weekend night is more crammed than the Wildwood boardwalk, with most people traveling in groups upwards of 12. Most of these alcohol-fueled packs are not dangerous. There's nothing especially wrong with a bunch of people in a happy-clappy drunk mode as long as things don't turn... violent.

Center City is a melting pot of many different groups: College students; young professionals; elderly theater goers; geeks on bicycles; homeless people holding cardboard signs; raging maniacs in white robes (and crowns) preaching death to all light-skinned people; the "happy hour" corporate executive with alcohol stains on his dress shirt; the lonely suburbanite looking for the address of a restaurant or bar; con artists; couples in love; lipstick and butch lesbians; gay couples; transgender prostitutes and regular prostitutes; an occasional Mennonite or Amish family, and an increasing number of women in burkas. This list only scratches the surface, but the message should be clear: If you cannot take Center City's diversity -- from women in burkas to transgender women in stilettos -- then you had better not come into Center City at all. By all means, stay home with your microwave popcorn and be comfortable.

But if you do happen to venture into Center City, please keep your 'editorial' disapproval of certain people in check: Don't sneer at women in burkas; don't make rude comments to elderly, barely-able-to-walk white haired couples coming out of the opera; don't eyeball hipsters in plaid shirts, dorky glasses and skinny jeans; don't sneer or shout "Get a job" at panhandlers sitting on the sidewalk. Think what you want to about these people; bitch in the car or bus on the way home -- "Why isn't the world the way I want it to be? Why isn't everyone like ME!" -- but you have no right to get in anyone's face about who or what they are. No right at all.

I'm thinking of that male and female twenty-something group out on the town recently who attacked a gay male couple simply because they were gay.

This isn't something you expect to see in Philadelphia; Cheyenne, Wyoming, perhaps, or North Dakota or maybe even Alabama, but not in this city of tolerance founded by William Penn. And yet it did happen. It was doubly shocking to read that many of the attackers were Archbishop Wood grads, ideally people who should know better.

Think about it: what about the catechism lessons these Wood grads must have heard about loving your neighbor as yourself? What about the morality of physically attacking someone to such a degree that there's a risk of breaking the Sixth Commandment -- Thou Shalt Not Kill? The most important lesson any religion class should teach is the value and worth of every human person, whatever their status, orientation, unpopularity, or perceived "sinfulness."

It's hard to get into the mind of a basher. Maybe this pack of thugs was looking for an excuse to beat up anybody. Perhaps if an Asian person had crossed their path, the results would have been the same. Anti-gay prejudice used to be called the last acceptable prejudice, but that has changed in recent years. Despite societal advances, many still believe that being gay is a major sin. Although one can believe this and still be respectful of gays as persons, the concept can become twisted in the minds of rabble rousers. The quaint saying, "Hate the sin but love the sinner" may sound good on paper but the concept never quite works in reality. In real life, the "hate" part always filters down, like leaky battery acid, into the so called sinner himself. The sinner becomes the sin, despite the bad theology that tries to do otherwise.

What some self-righteous bashers don't realize is this: If you are going to hate the sin so much that there's an overflow into the "sinner," then you had better be prepared to be tested under scripture's repeated warnings against spiritual pride, considered the worst sin of all. As soon as anyone basks in feelings of spiritual superiority over others, he or she is doomed. Saint Maximos the Confessor once wrote that the spiritually advanced who, on becoming puffed up with pride in their spiritual progress, are then "rightly handed over to hardship and suffering for the express purpose of humility."

Mental health experts say that it is often the men who make a big show of their hatred of gays (by violence and use of the "F"-word) who have the most to hide. Ironically, this type of individual at times comes out of the closet years down the road because their violent reaction to everything gay actually indicated a fear of what they found within themselves.

This is why whenever I hear a younger man constantly using the "F"-word, I say to myself, "Ah, most likely he'll be hitting the gay bars in three years."

The Center City bashers did accomplish one thing: the complete ruination of their lives. Already a basketball coach has been forced to resign. One could get away with this kind of behavior in the 1970s, 80s and even the 90s. The police very often weren't very cooperative then. Many times they didn't take bashing incidents very seriously. The police in those days often assumed that the basher had a good reason to do lash out. Sometimes the police even had sympathy for the bashers, so there wasn't much of an inclination to find the perpetrators.

Years ago, at age 23, I went to a bar in West Chester, sat at the bar and ordered a beer. I'd driven over from my parents' house in Frazer, where I was visiting temporarily. As I sat at the bar, a guy sat next to me and started up a conversation. He asked what I did for a living. At the time I was writing for The Drummer, a Philadelphia underground newspaper. The guy mentioned that he had seen the latest issue of the paper that carried a feature about Center City's underground gay nightlife.

"You're part of that scene, aren't you?" he asked, a touch of hostility in his voice.

"If I said I was, would that matter?" I replied. "The Drummer is an underground paper. The editorial policy is to cover every scene in the city."

"I saw the way you were looking at me."

"Actually, dude, I was looking at that mounted stuffed moose head over your right shoulder."

When I went to leave the bar, I felt something queasy in my stomach. My stool mate had gone to the back of the bar where he talked with friends. I paid my bill and left, walking casually to the exit and out onto the sidewalk when I heard the rush of footsteps behind me, four or five guys in hot pursuit.

Luckily, I managed to get to my car in time, but while driving away I saw them cursing and raising their fists through the rearview mirror, their faces crunched up as if they'd been hit by a spray of... battery acid.