On Valentine’s Day this past year, I walked around downtown Milwaukee — where I went to college — holding hands with my boyfriend. We were a rather PDA-averse couple, but we had just finished a date at our favorite empanada spot (shouts to La Masa) and we were full, a little buzzed, and blessed with not-quite-freeze-your-butts-off February weather. The mood struck us, so we thought: Could we — a boy and another boy — maybe possibly hold hands? In public? Would that be deemed socially acceptable?
It was Valentine’s Day, after all. It’s not quite L.A., but Milwaukee — and specifically the neighborhood we were in — is generally accepting, although probably not overly familiar with boy-on-boy hand-holding. And so our hands collided and latched on to each other, and we walked around like smiling idiots for a bit before being reminded that it was February in Milwaukee, and even on a nice night the wind still has every intention of slicing your face off.
The actual hand-holding before we called our Uber was great. Fun, even! But — and I imagine all same-sex couples experience this — public hand-holding (or any PDA) comes with its own set of anxieties. You’re looking over your shoulder a little more than usual. You’re double-checking to make sure the folks walking by on the other side of the street give you a smile or, at worst, an awkward glance. And, hey, if that awkward glance is more a glare of disapproval, then who cares? It’s just a glare.
The nightmare scenario is the admittedly slim chance that the glare of disapproval is just the beginning of an unfriendly confrontation. And I’m not just talking about names or slurs. I’m pretty secure. If I wasn’t able to laugh at random people calling me names or slurs I certainly wouldn’t be writing this for the internet. Names and slurs are unfortunate and, on occasion, bothersome. But that’s not the nightmare scenario.
I’m talking about the real nightmare scenario. The kind two women — a lesbian couple — encountered on a bus in London last week on their way home from a Pride celebration, when heckling and name-calling escalated into a physical confrontation that left the pair bloodied and beaten.
London’s Metropolitan Police arrested four males, each between the ages of 15 and 18, on suspicion of robbery and grievous bodily harm. London’s mayor tweeted a statement condemning the assault as a “disgusting, misogynistic attack.”
I wrote a blog two days ago teasing a group of men for planning a “Straight Pride Parade” in Boston. It sparked the typical internet indignation and plenty of commenters — many of whom clearly didn’t read the actual piece, by the way! — asked what makes straight pride so different from LGBTQ pride.
This is the difference. When straight people plan a straight pride parade, they open themselves up to the incredible risk of smart aleck bloggers like me throwing pithy shade in their general direction. When LGBTQ people throw our pride parades, we open ourselves up to hate and violence.
When straight people apply to adopt a child, they can expect some headaches and some paperwork and a long process. When we apply to adopt a child, we can face denial just for having two moms or two dads.
When straight people go to the emergency room, they can expect swift and prompt care. When we go to the emergency room, we fear objection and refusal.
When straight people file reports to HR departments, they can expect careful and considered accommodation. When we file reports to HR, we too often face doxxing and retaliation.
Let me break form and rattle off a few more: Only 21 states have laws protecting LGBTQ employees from discrimination; only 17 states have laws protecting LGBTQ youth from discrimination in public schools; we still have a transgender military ban, for reasons even Piers Morgan doesn’t understand; and Chik-Fil-A still wards off my would-be alarmingly frequent visits with charitable donations to discriminatory organizations.
Look, I don’t enjoy being the gay guy who lectures everyone on the internet. But when folks like professional devil’s advocate Tomi Lahren say on Fox Nation “it is open season on straight white men in this country” I don’t know what she’s talking about.
But I know this: When straight people hold hands in the street, they don’t hesitate for a beat. And all we want is the same.
Brian Boyle is The Times’ editorial page intern.