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Hate is alive - even where we least expect it

One of my best friends from high school turned 30 this weekend, which means that I am next on the list of people turning the big 3-0. He decided to celebrate in style and rented an amazingly hip, mid-century modern vacation home, where about 15 of us stayed over the weekend.

We drank, we swam, we hot-tubbed, and some of us got a little wild. I was having a great time until I decided to stop for a few things I needed before heading to Hunter’s nightclub on Saturday night. I was very quickly reminded that hate is still poignantly alive, even in places where we "think" we are safe or free from it.

I certainly was not expecting the most enlightened crowd to be hanging out at a Wal-Mart in the Inland Empire at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night. But with Palm Springs being home to such a large gay community, I did not expect to be repeatedly called a “faggot” by a car full of tough looking boys as I innocently walked back to my car.

I did nothing to them, had no previous interactions with them; I was verbally attacked solely because I looked a certain way. It was also 10 p.m. in a dark parking lot. The fact that there was a car full of them versus only me added to the fear factor. I’m in no way equipped to fend off a group of boys (I continue to call them boys because they do not deserve to be called men), even though my personal trainer has been doing a great job “buffing” me up in the gym. Fighting is not my thing, and therefore I just ignored them, as hard as that was.

After I settled down a bit, I started to reflect on the last ten years or so that I have been fighting for LGBT equality alongside so many amazing activists and community members. We have seen ups and downs over the years, and sometimes forget that the most basic, but troubling element of our struggle is still deeply ingrained in a great deal of the population.

I, like many of my friends and fellow community members, have been victim to hate speech and crimes more times than I can count. I have some gay friends who have told me that no one has ever harassed them for being gay, and all has been good for them. But then I ask if they have ever been walking and heard “faggot” yelled out a car window at them (and I’m not talking about when their gay friends pass them on University Avenue and yell “Hey girl, what are you faggots doing?” out the window of their Jetta with Miley Cyrus blasting in the on the car stereo). Most can recall at least one or two occasions when that has in fact, happened.

In 1999, I was 19 years old when the San Diego LGBT Pride Parade was briefly stopped after a tear gas bomb was set-off along the parade route. I was volunteering for the first time at the event and was stationed just across the street from the bomb. Going from the excited, happy state of watching a fabulous parade to suddenly not being able to see and experience a choking sensation was terrorizing.

I remember hanging out at the old Living Room Coffeehouse (now the site of BITE restaurant) in the late 1990s/early 2000s and many nights having eggs and “faggot” epithets thrown at us as we sat on the front patio sipping our mochas.

In January 2006, I wrote a column in the old “Update” newspaper about a hate incident I experienced in Balboa Park after a New Year’s Eve event. And the list goes on.

On Sunday morning, after reading my Facebook post about the Wal-Mart incident, a friend texted me saying “I guess you got called a faggot too last night.” It turns out that he went out to a bar in North Park on Saturday night and was asked by another customer in the bar if he "was a faggot.” My friend was like, “um, yeah, is that any of your business?” The customer told my friend that he “had no right to be here – faggots shouldn’t be here.” And this was in North Park of all places.

Many of our activists and community volunteers are working hard every day to “change hearts and minds.” They are canvassing, phone banking, and doing a number of other activities to enlighten people about the LGBT community. This is great work, however, I do not feel that we are necessarily reaching the average “boys” out there that are perpetuating hate every day. Unless a major event happens in one of these people's lives, like a family member coming out as LGBT, they are not likely to change their hateful lives. We need to continue to stand up against this type of hate every time we see it - when it is safe to do so, of course.

It is sad that in 2010 we are still dealing with people who are calling us “faggots,” attacking us, and murdering people because of their sexual or gender identity or orientation. Unfortunately, I cannot offer any sort of solution to this problem, just a constant reminder to stand up to hate when we see it.

In my situation (this weekend), it was not safe to do so, but I am speaking out about the incident and hopefully this will empower you to stand up whenever you can, and whenever it is safe to do so. Sadly, I don’t believe I will live in a completely hate-free world in my lifetime, but I hope that I can do my part to educate and enlighten people whenever possible.

Other than this hiccup, Palm Springs was a great time. I have learned to process and think through these hate incidents, but I do not let them get me down anymore. Sure it hurts every single time, but we cannot let ignorant people control our lives.

That said, I look forward to my next trip to Palm Springs and all the wild debauchery that comes along with it!

Ben Cartwright is SDGLN's Higher Education & Nonprofit Liaison and has been a campus and community activist in San Diego for over 10-years. His community involvement began as a student at SDSU and from there he launched into a number of other community activities. He has written for a number of local publications including Update, Hillquest, and GLT. Cartwright won the Lambda Archive's 2007 "Community Hero Award"; 2008 Nicky Award for "Outstanding Community Activist"; and a 2009 Nicky Award for "Outstanding Writer/Columnist".