Why I (Still) Don't Feel Safe as a Non-Heterosexual Woman

As an LGBTQIA+ person (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, etc.) person: do you feel safe in this world? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

No, I do not feel safe in this world. Granted, I don't feel like a target every single moment. Even as I sit here dictating in a brightly lit room with no shades drawn, and a large empty parking lot behind me, I know that I'm more likely to be injured in a drive-by shooting than in a homophobic rage.

These are not events that I particularly like to dwell on, but since you ask, and given the day on which you ask (the night after the Orlando shootings), I feel compelled to a painfully complete disclosure.

When I came out of the closet in my senior year of college, my dorm mate tried to have the University of Pennsylvania expel me from student housing. After an extensive investigation in which she reassured them that I had not "made a pass" at her; she was just uncomfortable sharing housing with a gay person (and I should mention that we had separate one-person bedrooms), the University of Pennsylvania felt that she was the one who should leave the co-housing. But that was one long and ugly month in 1974.

In 1975, a gay rights bill was introduced to Philadelphia City Council. At some point, the head of the Council ordered that the Gay Activists be removed. And removed they were, frequently by being dragged by their hair or their shirt collar down four long flights of steps. I'm a coward at heart, and when the police said go, I went. I did remain at the bottom, and saw what would've happened to me had I not been a coward.

Around that time, I was applying to law school. I had taken the LSAT and received a score in the 97th or 98th percentile; I had good grades at the University of Pennsylvania with a difficult double major (molecular biology and political philosophy), and I attended a seminar in New York on gays in the professions. I found out that no gay person could be a lawyer, because we were of unfit moral character to be a member of the bar in 49 states. (Illinois was the outlier, which is why both Playboy and Hustler were printed there). I walked away from a full tuition scholarship to NYU law school and devoted the next five years of my life to changing the law for gay people, out of purely selfish motives.

In 1976 or 1977, I was on a local news commentary show. The next morning, I was riding the trolley car to work. If you're familiar with trolley cars and buses, I was standing up holding on to an overhead strap, because the seats were already filled. The woman sitting at my knees looked up at me and said, "didn't I see you on TV last night?" I said that she very well may have, because I was on TV last night. She then went on a long, loud rant against homosexuality which captured the attention of increasingly more of the passengers. Eventually, the trolley driver stopped right in the middle of the street. I did fear that he was going to eject me in a not very safe neighborhood, but instead, he demanded silence on the issue so that he could pay attention to his driving. Whether that was company policy or personal courage, I thank him to this day.

In 1978 I was working as an auditor for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. I closed the audit with stellar results, the best the hospital had ever received, and asked for transfer into another department now that the audit was over. My boss, Bob Staeger, told me he was going to have to lay me off because the people in that department didn't want to work with me. When I challenged him on the unfairness of his decision, he very correctly informed me that it was not his job to be fair; it was his job to run the office as smoothly as he could, in keeping with the law, and discrimination against gay people was legal. He not only fired me, but I was denied unemployment for the same reason.

In 1980 I started law school, and in 1981 I organized the founding of "Law Students for Lesbian and Gay Rights," a typically closeted umbrella name that a person could join and still claim heterosexuality. And in fact, in a legally brilliant move, the co-founder of the group, Richard Brown, made sure that the first five or ten names on the petition were of people of impeccable character and heterosexual references. In our first year of existence, we had our bulletin board slashed with knives, set on fire, spray-painted with swastikas, and other lesser, sometimes comedic events. I tried to brush it off as the cost of starting a controversial group, but fires and knives did make me very nervous.

I bet you're getting sorry you asked by now! You can take a break and visit the restroom and grab a drink.

In 1982, the law school was hosting its annual "Barristers' Ball," the equivalent of a prom. When the student government president tried to sell me a ticket, I laughed, telling her that there was no way I was coming without my lover, and no way that I was coming with her. She said she would take it is a great personal favor if we came as a couple, and since I knew that she was a lesbian deeply in the closet, I asked Connie and she agreed to go. We were very carefully seated for dinner at a table with some very liberal faculty members and other liberal student groups. When the dance music started, Prof. Traylor and his wife asked me and Connie to join them on the dance floor, so we did. About the end of the first song, the vice president of the Student Council came over and told us that he'd been assigned as our security, and if there were any problems we should let him know. Since the only problems were bombardment with ice cubes and peanuts, we decided that silence was the best course.

In 1985, I graduated law school, but I didn't sit for the bar. My Dean said that I was of unfit moral character to be a member of the bar, and I had to go to a hearing, which takes a full year. I won the hearing, and the Dean was fired, but I wound up taking the bar exam two years later than my class, and was unable to get a job. That's when my business started.

Around that time, I was visiting one of my professors at the law school; it was a lovely spring night, and we were sitting outside on a bench, enjoying the breeze. When it was time to say good night, we stood up and hugged each other. Some guy started yelling in the background, and I eventually realized that he was yelling at us, screaming, "You can't do that out here in public! I know who you are! I'll have you arrested!" I got pretty scared, because big men screaming at me frightens me. Sharon, my professor, nearly fell on the ground laughing. I tried to explain to her that this was really a serious situation and I couldn't see anything funny in it. She responded, through gasps of laughter and tears, "He knows who you are, but he doesn't know that I'm his professor." At that point I also fell over laughing. Sharon had a wonderful time in class the next day explaining about the odd event that had occurred the night before.

I'm sure there are 10 or 20 more; after all, that's only brought us up to 30 years ago! There are stories of landlords and evictions, homophobic bullying of the trolley car sort, being banned by various student groups on college campuses.

The scariest of all didn't involve me. I was in ceramics class, probably in 2006. One of the regular students didn't show up for the quarter; in the second week of class, the teacher and some of the other students realized that she had been murdered while camping over Labor Day weekend. The terror that I felt all the time was brought home to many people in the class, because the young lady was not a lesbian; the person she was camping with was her mother.

Enough! I can't take any more! Yeah, there were a lot more; probably once or twice a year. Enough that you can't ever really forget; enough that I put no bumper stickers on my car, wear no badges and buttons except on Gay Pride Day (the last Sunday of June in New York), and even take them off before I go home. Gay Pride Day in New York is the only day of the year that I can stop being afraid for a good twelve hours.

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