Silence, Noise and Hate Crimes

I finally saw a map depicting the last six instances of gay-targeting hate crimes in Manhattan since April 1. Young men beaten into unconsciousness. Killed. All in places that I've considered part of my home, or my neighborhood, or where I've met friends time and time again. That pizza place. This diner. I walk past that spot every day. That used to be my commuting line.

Violence happens in this country every day. Many of us are privileged to never feel at risk. Assault is a horrifying experience to anyone who has had to experience it. In some ways these attacks are like every other random attack that happens in our world. In some ways they feel very different. The very nature of a hate crime makes all those who share in that targeted identity feel vulnerable. When this happens in our own neighborhood, it feels like it's happening to us. We feel empathy for those harmed, and we feel just as unsafe. There's the victim, and then there's all the people waiting to be victimized.

Our LGBT communities want to rally. Many of us did so this past Monday as a public witness on the West Side to honor the memory of Marc Carson and the others who were physically attacked. If I'm honest with myself, I already felt numb. I wanted to want to join the rally. But I couldn't draw myself out. I wanted to be normal for another day. I wanted not to have to go out and be gay -- publicly. I couldn't stir myself to feel like a rally would do anything. That same night, another gay man was assaulted, not far from my home, on the East side -- as if the rally had no meaning.

Having been the victim of years of assaults as a teenager, I can attest to how useless silence is. As victims, allowing shame to dictate how we respond does the opposite of helping the thing go away. Hiding the bruises under shirts rather than speaking up for help only opens the way for more bruises. That's the very trap of victimization. Be quiet and it will go away. Attack one, and a hundred will go silent. Harvey Milk -- and the knocking of the closet doors -- is the spirit within our rallies, our noise making, our communal commitments to not go quietly in the night.

Pretending that with all the strides in equality LGBT people have obtained, we're somehow safe now only sets us up for more harm. Thinking all the political movements, gains and losses, are just politics, sets us up for more harm. Each stride forward makes it easier for another one of us to feel comfortable enough to be ourselves. Marriage equality, or the end of "don't ask, don't tell," might not be the most critical wins we could have hoped for -- for all the members of our LGBT community -- but they're meaningful noise makers that remind us not to go numb. Not to stay silent.

And when we look upon the hate crimes that have occurred in New York City (and every town in our country), I place some guilt upon the hands of the people wielding the signs that lie that God hates LGBT people. I place some guilt on the hands of those who call "deviant" what is merely different (sometimes) from themselves. If our noise making for equality matters, then one's clamor for hate matters deeply as well. Hate can end in violence, but it begins with the voices of ignorance.

I want to thank the noise makers, especially when I'm too numb to make some noise myself. Continue to remind us that we are not alone, that there is a community we're part of, that we will not go away.