The AfterEllen.com Huddle: Our Stories of Homophobic Harassment

Ali Davis: The first time it happened to me, it was because a dude just couldn’t stand it that I didn’t find him delightful. I was 22 or 23, tending bar at the Second City in Chicago. Steve joined the staff and kept telling us he was really a commodities trader, apparently not realizing that his brag actually told us that he was such a bad commodities trader that he needed to tend bar on the side.

Thing is, he was also a terrible bartender. And he thought he was irresistibly handsome, so he would spend most of his shift trying to flirt with female customers and rolling up huge wads of unused paper towels and ostentatiously basketball-throwing them into the trash because he thought that was adorable.

It was not adorable, especially when it left me handling 300-plus customers essentially by myself. Steve, though dim, could tell that not only did I not find him dreamy, I loathed working with him for some strange reason. He tried to solve that by playfully grabbing my ass in front of a full bar one night, and I gave him an earful. I didn’t rat him out to management (which I totally should have done), but I did tell a couple of our fellow bartenders, and one of the larger ones may or may not have threatened to murder him.
 
So Steve decided I was a lesbian, because who else could resist? The funny thing was that I had not yet made my majestic march up the Kinsey scale—I was about 85% actively attracted to men and 15% Strange New Feelings that I hadn’t quite dealt with yet. In my head, I was just a straight (or mostly straight, except for that one woman at my other part-time job…) woman who could not stand him for the very good reason that he was a dickbag.
 
One night as I was walking to my bus stop after work, a car full of dudes (Steve had mentioned going out with his buddies that night) screeched past me and a guy yelled “Goodnight, lesbo!” out the window. Which didn’t bother me until I heard the car again and realized that they had rounded the block and were coming back at me again. It was late, I was alone, and I thought I was in real danger. Instead they just threw some trash out the window at me.
 
I can’t prove it was Steve, but I did tell the whole crew about the mysterious car (Who could have been inside?) from the night before, and I know my awesome manager’s ears went up. Steve was a terrible enough bartender that there were plenty of reasons to let him go when they did shortly afterward, but I’m guessing that added a little weight to the pile.
 
Anyway, if you’re a commodities trader in Chicago and you have to work with a jackass named Steve who brags about how alllll the ladies loved him when he was a bartender: No, they didn’t, and yes, our whole staff hated him as much as you do.
 
But that was just an asshole being an asshole in one of the many ways he was capable of doing so. The only incident that really stung was on election night in 2008. I was volunteering for the No on 8 campaign, standing whatever designated feet from polling places and handing out cards. As the evening went on, the main office knew from exit polls that we were losing, so they started moving teams from easy-pickings polling places to more politically mixed neighborhoods where we were far less welcome.
 
Our last spot as election night was winding down was in a neighborhood that definitely had some liberal hipster pioneers in it, but was mostly bedrock conservatives. One woman pulled up in her car and told me I was not allowed to stand so close to a school. (Though she did apologize after the election officials told her she was wrong.) It was dark, my group had split up for better coverage, and three teenage boys, maybe 15 or so, came my way. The leader of the group stopped and asked, “Hey. Who’d you vote for?” I said Obama, and suddenly these three kids and I were best buds. The leader fist-bumped me, and it was this magical little This Is What America Should Be moment: A young Latino kid who had grown up in a West-coast city fist-bumping a white woman who had grown up in the East-coast suburbs and both of us feeling hopeful about what the future might hold.
 
And then they saw the cards in my hand.The leader got in my face and yelled “That’s SICK!” and then the three of them ran away down the street screaming the standard insults. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to explain that I’m actually bi, and they needed a slightly different set. I know that 15-year-old boy is the stage in life where gay stuff is the very scariest, but for some reason, it really hurt. The happy ending is that a sweet (straight) hipster dude came rushing out of his election night party to ask if I was OK, then offered me a slice of vegan pizza and offered to stand with me if I didn’t feel safe. We lost on Prop 8, but the Presidential candidate who didn’t make fearing gay people a part of his campaign won. And the furious reaction to Prop 8 sparked the wave of gay marriage acceptance that’s happening now. So, yeah, sometimes the path sucks, the arc of the universe does bend towards justice.
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Anna Pulley: Most of the harassment I’ve faced has been of the fairly benign, bro-ish variety—dudes who would look at me and my girlfriend and wink dramatically and applaud us like monkeys. One even tried to “seduce” us up with the line, “I used to be a lesbian!”

Others have yelled things from cars like “fucking dykes!” or said they would pray for me, and most recently my gf and I were bashed at a cupcake truck (in the Gay/Bay Area!) by a man who asked us to stop being affectionate because it was “confusing his son.” I was like, “What’s confusing? Two people who love each other? He doesn’t understand that?” We got into it and I felt very victorious for standing up to him (I hate confrontation), but it really ruined my damn cupcake. 
 
Dana Piccoli: Just the other day, a man called me and my wife “fucking dykes” as we held hands on a crowded street in Astoria, Queens. He then shoved his middle finger in our faces, but thankfully we were able to walk away from the situation before it escalated. I was just taken aback by how angry he was and how much he hated us. Literally used the word hate. It had been so long since anyone had said anything to be, that I’d forgotten how scary and unsettling it is. It made me think back to when I was a freshwoman in college and after returning from a weekend at home, my dorm room door was vandalized to say “Dana the Dike”. Spelling mistake or not, my dad saw it and it was a very embarrassing situation for me. When the cops came, they told me they couldn’t really do anything about it since it wasn’t a hate crime in Michigan. The officer felt bad, I felt bad, my dad felt bad. I wrote a letter to whoever did it, and posted it next to my door. What really blew me away though, was when a group of girls who lived on my floor, signed it in support. Good can come from bad sometimes.