Posted by: stelladuffy | January 22, 2009

street life

was just sharing this with some friends and realised am so angry I want to share it further still :

Last night I rescued a young girl from Bogata (after nasty aggressive man spat in her face saying “I hope you get AIDS”). I arrived at the bus stop (opposite Old Compton Street) to see this man leaning over and haranguing the girl, everyone else standing there doing nothing and looking away. Mostly he was screaming in his drunken/drugged stupor “I f***ing hate gays, don’t you call me a gay, I hate f***ing gays, f***ing evil gays, my girlfriend would claw your eyes out if she heard you say that, etc etc.) Needless to say, she hadn’t said anything of the sort, being from Bogota and here to learn English and being tiny and inoffensive anyway. I did what I always do (on the rare occasions I’ve been around it) with street violence and stood close. To witness. I truly believe that if we don’t turn away people will – usually – become aware that what they’re doing is bad/scary/awful and at least back down for a moment. He moved away, then came back and spat in her face, which is when I told her to come with me and walked her away to another bus stop. I didn’t need to fight the insane man or stop him being an offensive bastard, but I am still shocked that about ten other people at the bus stop – many of whom had been there when I arrived – did nothing. The girl said to me later “I’ve been here for 18 months and that’s the first time anything like that’s happened to me.” I’ve been here 23 years and it’s never happened (directly) to me. But once in 18 months is not good enough.

And here’s one of the reasons I think those other people at the bus stop did nothing – the mad/bad man was screaming about ‘gays’. I am so sick of casual homophobia and the assumption that it’s ok. Replace that bloke’s ‘gays’ for any term of racist abuse and I have a feeling some of those other people might just have stepped up too.

Now, how long until there’s an out man (sadly no point asking about an out woman, that’ll take way way longer, if ever) in the White House?


  1. I’m so sorry about that. People can be such bastards… I’m not sure if it’ll make you feel better or worse if I say that I doubt if the fact he was screaming about ‘gays’ had anything to do with it. I was in a tube once when two (white) men started to fight and everyone – in a tube where every seat was full – sat still and pretended it wasn’t happening. At one point it became obvious that one of them was going to strangle the other so I stepped in, and distracted them enough so that didn’t happen. But even then, the sight of small skinny me wasn’t enough to shame anyone else (bigger, stronger, more capable) to try and break it up… and this wasn’t a fight that ha the potential to spread. I think people are afraid it’ll happen to them if they have any part in it. They appear to believe they’re not there if they ignore it. It’s fear. It drives me nuts. So glad you stepped in – so angry no-one else did. That poor girl… xx

  2. The one thing that stands out the most in your recent escapade is “I didn’t need to fight”. The power of doing and not saying is huge and despite what you or others may think the offensive bastard will have registered these actions in the labirhynths of his tiny mind. I know, I’ve seen it time and again with the countless offensive people I come across at work. I choose not to confront them head on with an all out verbal war like my colleagues do which invariably leads to security being called and the offensive people being removed and the staff left basquing in the drama of it all night! But to remain quiet, try and show them kindness, it works nearly every time and the offenders usually apologise. I never could stand confrontation, such a waste of energy!

  3. Ali, just read your response and disagree with the fear aspect, I think its got more to do with apathy and people just not being interested enough in anything other than themselves! We have shown ourselves as a nation of people who engage in moaning about our predicaments but not many of us actually get up and do anything about it!

  4. I don’t normally get involved in these sorts of things but having read that I feel sad and disappointed – but the scary thing is – I don’t feel surprised.

    This is the third such event I have heard about recently – racist remarks and an African woman having her hair set alight and an elderly man being beaten in the other two scenarios, but all were only defused by one person standing up to the plate – regardless of how many were around at the time. However, the people that stepped in were both targeted and in hindsight would not step in again.

    Incidents like these, and not having the power to deal with them, went someway toward me handing in my resignation as a magistrate. No-one needs to put up with such abuse and he had committed a criminal act – but where would reporting it get the poor girl? Short answer – Nowhere!

    In all walks of life, there are ‘doers’ and there are ‘watchers’, luckily for that young girl you were a doer!

  5. Jayne, is there not just a fine line between the outward appearance of apathy and non-confrontation?

    I tend to agree with Ali, I think most people are scared of getting involved in an altercation that might escalate, and which they themselves might not be able to handle well. We all like to think we’d be OK in a situation of conspicuous aggression, but too often it comes out of the blue and not everyone has (or feels they have) the right skills to keep in control. In addition, there are some seriously disturbed and violent people out there, which is scary.

    So full marks and five gold stars to Stella for being both kind and bearing witness without making the situation worse.

  6. I really think it is about bearing witness. I was completely terrified – and also annoyed with myself for not getting in between him and her fear and walking her away even sooner so she was not spat on. There is a real stultifying energy around violence, and our own (understandable) fear of being hurt ourselves, but I honestly do think that witnessing is immensely powerful and can make a difference. (it’s no coincidence that it was co-opted as a word/notion by the evangelicals!!)

  7. There are some seriously disturbed people out there, but not that many, we are in the majority and let us not forget it. If we stick together and do more for each other and all of mankind and act kindly without thinking of the consequences to self then more people would stand up and help.

  8. I completely agree about witnessing. It’s so important and really makes a difference. But don’t beat yourself up – you weren’t to know he’d come back, and when it started looking dangerous you took her out of it.

  9. That is shocking. Poor girl! I hate it when people just stand by and don’t do anything, I dont know how they sleep at night. I had a first hand experience of this behaviour when I was at uni in Derby (albeit in much less violent/scary conditions!)…

    I was working away on a computer in the library- there were a row of about 10 computers on my row and 10 behind me, each one with someone at the desk working. I’d not been feeling well all day and the last thing I remember is feeling really dizzy.. then I woke up on the floor of the library, no idea how long I’d been out – I’d fainted and slipped off my chair. I was’nt hurt. Did anyone help me up? Ask if I was ok? No. Turn away and keep on typing and pretend they hadn’t seen? Yep. I was so shocked and confused I burst into tears and got out of there as fast as I could!!

    Obviously this is in no way as serious as what happened to this poor girl, but still, it gets me so worked up that people just only think of themselves!.. and as for the homophobia, its sickening that there are still “people” out there that hold these views!:-(

  10. Yup, completely agree about witnessing. Nothing homophobic (I don’t think) but I was in Paris recently and a guy was beating up another – with the other guy’s crutch! – and I went over and said please (in French – my god!) over and over and put my hands out, palms up (the way a Guardian article had recently suggested) and he backed off. Really, really scary, but it worked.

  11. Great post Stella…I’ve been ranting about similar things too, but I suspect that things might bet better with more accepting world leaders like Obama and interesting developments in South America. My latest post covers some of this…

    Charlie Vazquez, NYC

  12. The amount of homophobic violence and aggressive behaviour in Soho is really shocking. It just goes to show, we can’t take our freedom for granted – not even in ‘our’ part of town. Well done for standing firm Stella. You did us proud. px

  13. Paul- I very much agree re the taking our freedom for granted. There seems to be a worrying tendency for gay people to remain closeted. I feel (and I am aware that this may simply be mature-onset bitterness) that many of us have spent our lives being Out and either putting up with or fully challenging homophobia in order for future generations to have an easier time of it. I don’t believe that remaining closetted serves any purpose but to perpetuate I’ll feelings towards gay people. Stand up and be counted. It might not always be easy or pleasant but by coming out we will all contribute.

  14. I’ll =ill

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