That Time I Got Beat Up In A Hate Crime
Scout Durwood recalls a horrific hate crime she endured. The justice system didn't treat her much better.
I’ve only been in one fight in my life, and technically it wasn’t a fight, it was a hate crime. Other than the hate crime, my life as a gay person has been fairly uneventful, or at least, not any more eventful than any of my straight friends’ has been. Really, with the exception of that one hate crime, my gay-person life has been easy-breezy; so much so that I used to feel embarrassed talking about it with my other gay friends.
While others in the LGBT community would talk about day-to-day horrors while growing up trans before the sexual revolution or getting kicked out of their homes for being gay...there was me. My story tended to go something like, “I dated men for a long time, high school, my first year of college. It was pretty ok. Now I date women, which so far is significantly better. My family has been nothing but supportive, except that sometimes my sister makes fun of me for bringing up my girlfriend all the time. Any questions?”
My gay life continued in this fashion for many years, rather boringly, and then I was attacked in a hate crime, which was exciting! No. It wasn’t. It was horrible. And the trial that followed was even worse.
The Hate Crime: I went to a friend’s birthday party in Sea Cliff, Long Island (fool me once). My friend played in my rugby league at the time. It was a small party on the beach, and once the sun went down, the party decided to migrate to a bar in town. My friend, my friend’s sister and I drove with a woman who lived in town so that she could help us with directions. We beat everyone to the intended bar and decided to go about a block away to a different bar.
Once inside, our group scattered. About ten minutes later, for reasons still unknown, we were rounded up and asked by the manager to leave.
We exited the bar into a sea of 10 angry late teen and early 20-somethings who were shouting the sort of obscenities at us that one does not use in jest. Even I, a comedian and lover of profanity of all kinds, was taken aback by what they said and how.
“Carpet munchers!” They screamed, which was ignorant. Carpet munching hasn’t really been a thing since laser hair removal became a Groupon.
“Die of AIDS!” They shouted, which is even more ignorant. Lesbians have the lowest risk of any demographic for contracting HIV/AIDS through sexual interaction. In fact, up until a few of years ago, it had never happened at all.
They shouted other things that were horrible enough that I don’t have a joke about them yet. Imagine all of the most hateful words you know, and then say them in a random order. That is what they said. These people were so intent on conveying rage that they often failed to make sense, instead stringing together a chain of non-sensical words each of which carried an individual message of hate, but which when assembled were functionally nonsense.
I, being the sole carrier of a liberal arts degree among the members of my group, approached the angry mob with confidence because I believed then -- and continue to believe now -- that diplomacy should have first dibs on dealing with any indiscretion.
The details are going to get murky here, because what happens next is an all-out fight.
My attempts at diplomacy quickly unraveled. Their liberal use of “f*ing dykes!” was a difficult point to counter. Both parties raised their voices, but neither of us was heard. One of the women in our party had fled, but my two friends came to join me. The angry mob threw something at us, garbage, I believe. They spat in our faces; they as human beings, projectile spat at us, who were also human beings. Then everyone lost their collective temper.
One of our attackers was taking photos of the incident as he laughed. I ran towards him to… I don’t know what my logic was at the time. Probably to ask him to stop? I was tackled from behind and fell face down to the curb. They held me down and someone punched me in the face. For the record, it was a girl. A girl punched me in the face. There were two girls and maybe eight or so boys in all.
Our attackers stole our camcorder, which would later play a vital role in our court case against them. Someone called the police. Our attackers ran away. The police were reluctant to take our statements, but eventually they did. I survived the fight with a couple of bruises and a scrape down the underside of my neck all the way to my chin where I had come in forced contact with the curb.
To the police, this was a bar fight, and, in fact, it might have been but for the fact that also, it was a hate crime: a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.
What we now believe transpired was that this: our friend who was local in town noticed that the bar was serving a group of patrons who were largely underage and reported it to a manager, who then asked all of us to leave. The underaged patrons were angry at having been asked to leave, which they wanted to make well known to us.
Language is powerful. That night is the only time in my life I believe I have ever heard the sounds of uncorrupted hatred, which is powerful and frightening and feels totally out of place in rational society. The people who attacked me hated me, and the meanest words they could to let me know also happened to be ones that attacked my sexual orientation, because that is how we have been taught to use those words. They are words that convey hate.
Our attackers knew we were gay because the person we were with from town was openly gay, and my friend and I presented them with a phenotype that met their expectation for how a gay person should look: short hair, cargo shorts. Plus we were affectionate and held hands.
The confluence of hatred and language that is anti-gay or anti any group or minority is malignant, and will grow indefinitely like a tumor if left unchecked. The trial that followed the hate crime was unimaginably difficult. In the end, it was more unbearable at times than the hate crime itself. The defense attorney quoted my MySpace blog from when I was in college, and accused me of undue bias against his client who was a man, when I so clearly hated men. (The quote he cited was actually a lyric from a Peaches song, incidentally. I laughed out loud when he said the F-word in court.) I cried on the witness stand.
Most of the the 10 assailants pled out and received reduced charges and probation. Two of them went to trial: the guy who stole our camera -- who spent some time in jail and then made some sort of a deal. The guy who tooked photos of us and laughed at us eventually got off because they found that we were unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he caused direct physical harm.
I correct people when they call something or someone “gay” and mean it as an insult rather than a description of their sexuality. You’re gay when you have sex with someone of your same gender, not when you wear ugly shorts to school. Those kids outside the bar that night were angry at me. They were angry at life, they were angry at not getting to have as many vodka orange juices as they would have liked. The way they chose to express that anger was by singularly attacking my sexuality with an onslaught of anti-gay words that were waiting for them at the ready, like sharpened arrows waiting in a quiver.
I will say, on a positive note, that even though I’m not sure I believe in marriage as an institution, at least I no longer have to call my girlfriend my “partner,” which has always felt like a clumsy and humorless word to me. Whether I end up having a legal ceremony or not, it’s nice to know that the word “wife” is available to me now. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will destroy us if we let them.