Do these homophobic attacks mean well again have to hide our same-sex relationships? | Amelia Abraham

I like to hold hands with my girlfriend in public. But now we know its still not safe to do this, says author Amelia Abraham

Not a safe space. This is what my girlfriend half-jokingly whispers at me when I reach for her hand if were in a place where she doesnt feel comfortable with a public display of affection. She says it jokinglyto lighten the situation, which is in reality a depressing one, but also because the threat of violence doesnt feel totally real to us. We have never been physically attacked because of our sexuality. Being middle class, white and feminine presenting in London puts us in a relative bubble of safety and privilege. Yet where and when we can hold hands, or whether we should do it at all, is something we constantly have to negotiate.

On the one hand I feel a duty to utilise my safety and privilege to be publicly out and proud as a gay woman to not shy away from public displays of affection. But on the other, I understand the complicated conversations and situations this can lead to. If we hold hands in public it will normalise it, I argued to one ex, who hated public displays of affection mostly, she admitted, because of gay shame. Why is the onus on us to normalise same-sex displays of affection? she responded. To which I would wonder: Well who else is going to do it?

It feels like a political imperative to refuse to hide my same-sex relationship. That is, until something happens that reminds me why I might need to, like the news last Friday of a violent attack against a lesbian couple on a London bus. Melania Geymonat, 28, and her partner, Chris, were in Camden travelling home from a date when a group of young men demanded that they kiss. When the couple refused, the men assaulted them, robbed them, and left one of them passed out on the top deck with a broken nose the police are treating it as a hate crime.

When I first heard, I cried at my desk. Partly because I felt guilt over all the times I had told a girlfriend it was important to my hold my hand in public. And partly because I knew the attack would make me alter my behaviour. I knew that, for a while at least, I would stop feeling so comfortable with behaving affectionately when Im out in public with my girlfriend, and that the constant negotiation of what you can and cant do in certain spaces would feel more complicated and strained at least until the memory fades a little.

Lucy
Lucy Jane Parkinson and Rebecca Banatvala had stones thrown at them from a vehicle. Photograph: BBC South

I also knew that something horrible would happen again, another jolting reminder that were not as safe as Id like to think.

This time I didnt have to wait for long: on Saturday, a female couple were attacked in Southampton. On the way to work at the Nuffield Southampton Theatres, where they were acting in the play Rotterdam, Lucy Jane Parkinson and Rebecca Banatvala had stones thrown at them from a vehicle.

In a statement the women said: The attack happened because we were embracing. Theres no mistake that this was a homophobic hate crime. It was a cowardly attack. Our community shouldnt have to tolerate this.

Many will be shocked that another attack occurred so soon, but this kind of crime is much more common than we think. According to research from the charity Stonewall in 2017, four in five anti-LGBT hate crimes and incidents go unreported. For LGBTQ+ people, on the other hand, these attacks wont come as a surprise. The same study found that a fifth of us had experienced a hate crime in the past year; and government research in 2018 found that two-thirds of us dont feel comfortable holding hands in public.

As someone who writes about LGBTQ+ issues for a living, I often hear first-hand stories of how trans people and gay people of colour disproportionately experience violence and discrimination.

In my personal life, I know a drag queen attacked on their doorstep in east London, a lesbian couple who had a pint poured over their heads by a stranger in a south London pub, and a black gay man who was spat at in the street for putting his arm around his partner. I have experienced homophobic comments myself: the blokes laughing can I join in at a bar, the oi-oi yelled across the street when I kiss my partner, or the fucking dykes spoken quietly under the breath.

Of course, its easy to tell ourselves weve made progress in Britain regarding LGBTQ+ rights and visibility. We have had the introduction of same-sex marriage; increased LGBTQ+ representation in parliament; and banks and commercial brands are falling over themselves to sponsor the Pride festival. I can buy a magazine with a trans woman on the cover and read it at a branch of Wagamama adorned with rainbow flags, while wearing an outfit from the H&M Pride collection.

But there is a disconnect between these signs of acceptance and what occurs at street level. We have approval of LGBTQ+ rights on paper, and yet we live a society that still finds the idea of two men or two women kissing to be repugnant. Or worse yet, worthy of a violent reprisal.

The news of what happened to Melania and Chris last week, and Lucy and Rebecca at the weekend, will hardly be a wake-up call to LGBTQ+ people who have to frequently deal with discriminatory acts, carefully considering their visibility in public. But I hope these attacks will be a reminder to everyone else in this country that we havent come as far as we think we have. In 2019, it seems being gay is OK, but doing gay still isnt.

Amelia Abraham is the author of Queer Intentions, A (Personal) Journey Through LGBTQ+ Culture

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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