Last weekend, two men simply walked into a Montreal bar, and were met with extreme prejudice, hate, and violence by a group of bar-goers. Verbally assaulted by the group of individuals, the two men were then physically assaulted, beaten not once, but twice after trying to return to the nightlife establishment.
Why were the two men pummeled by complete strangers? The answer is simple, if not troubling and personally terrifying: the two men were gay, and only for being affectionate towards each other were they attacked.
I was saddened to learn about this obvious act of homophobia yesterday, through the original JdM report on the altercation.
According to the article, the two men, named Simon and Sébastien, shared a kiss before walking into Bar Chez Francoise in Hochelaga, only to have a complete stranger, yell out to them “Get the f— out, fags!”
Simon responded to the random stranger, asking why he would state such homophobic remarks. The passerby, who was accompanied by a group of friends, responded with violence, punching both Simon and Sébastien in the face.
Understandably, the couple fled the scene. About an hour later, Simon and Sébastien returned to the bar, hoping that it would now be safe to enter, something no one should ever have to consider. They were wrong.
As soon as the couple walked in, the same group that had assaulted them earlier were in the bar. So Simon and Sébastien walked right out, not wanting another confrontation. The group, however, had other plans, and followed the pair out, beating them and forcing the two to run away in fear.
Somewhat fortunately, after filing a police report with the SPVM, the couple were met with "understanding and kindness," and the assault is being investigated as a hate crime.
The response from the SPVM, however, doesn't negate the terrifying experience itself. Both Simon and Sébastien commented how they would never have imagined such a purely homophobic act of violence could ever occur in Montreal, a sentiment no doubt shared by many who read the story.
Personally, I wasn't all that shocked. While I empathize with Simon and Sébastien to no end, as a gay man living in Montreal, I can't say it's completely surprising a same-sex couple would be assaulted for next to no reason.
And that's mainly because, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I know that Montreal isn't quite as "liberal and accepting" as people tend to think.
Shocking Facts On Homophobia In Montreal
In regards to Simon and Sébastien story, director of communications for LGBTQ+ helpline Gai-Écoute Maryse Bézaire told The Gazette that of all of their incoming calls, 1.2 per day are in regards to homophobic acts.
In the span of a eighteen months, 958 homophobic incidents were reported to Gai-Écoute. 43% of said altercations were criminal in nature, Bézaire explains, with 17% involving physical violence.
Many of these incidents aren't reported to the police, mainly because victims are too afraid of another violent assault from their previous assailants.
Not all acts of homophobia are violent in nature, either. Verbal assault can be just as fear-inducing as a physical confrontation. And lets not forget simple prejudice against queer individuals. The story in which two gay men were ousted from Saint Sulpice for kissing comes to mind.
Now, I wouldn't be using these numbers and figures if I didn't truly believe that homophobia and prejudices against queer minorities is actually an issue in Montreal. The aforementioned stories were not simply isolated incidents, and I know from experience.
My Personal Experiences With Homophobia
A few years ago, when I was younger, more naive, and less familiar with Montreal, I was walking up The Main on a Friday night with a friend. We were talking about his relationship, and he commented how he would never hold hands with his boyfriend on Saint Laurent at this time of night, which had led to an argument between the two.
"Why?" I had asked, still holding this image of Montreal in my mind as being entirely accepting at all times, anywhere. Not to mention the fact that my friend is a rather tall, muscular black man, so as a little white boy myself, I couldn't fathom who would ever pick a fight with him.
But after his comment, I took in my surrounding with a new lens. I saw the drunk hordes of bros in their sometimes-funny exaggerated heterosexuality, many of whom looked like they were just itching for a fight. Sure, my friend could never know if any of these people were homophobes, but I saw why he wouldn't take the chance.
Still, though, I held out in my hope for my fellow Montrealer, still not believing that people in the city would be so unaccepting. Maybe in the periphery-areas of the city, but surely not in the Plateau.
But then it happened to me, and on Halloween, no less.
After coming back from the Rocky Horror Picture show on Halloween Saturday a couple of years ago, clad in a somewhat skimpy Wonder Woman costume, I stepped out of my cab on Saint Laurent and des Pins, only to be met with some hateful remarks.
"Fag!" I heard from across the street, followed with a barrage of similar insults. I was taken aback. Not only did I think the Plateau to be a completely accepting safe space, but this was Halloweekend, a time when you can wear whatever you want and never have to worry about a hateful response.
The several bros (I can only describe them as such) waiting outside of a nearby club didn't seem to care. Because I was wearing blue short-shorts and platform boots, the small group felt the need to verbally assault me for being gay, even though they had no idea I was. They even threatened to cross the street and beat me up.
Fortunately, I wasn't alone. Not only did my friends with me instantly stand up for me, so did others who witnessed the exchange on the busy intersection. Even my cab drivers yelled out to them "It's Halloween for f*ck's sake, shut up!"
My faith in humanity, and Montrealers was restored, but not quite to the level as before. In that moment, I learned that while many people in this city are accepting and supportive of sexual minorities, there are many more who aren't.
Still A Problem In Montreal
Shortly after getting gaybashed, I ran the experience through my mind. More than a few times I thought to myself, "Was it my fault? Maybe I shouldn't have dressed that way." Essentially, I was blaming myself. Others who go through far more harrowing experiences no doubt do the same.
Even worse, blame is sometimes actually placed on the victims by others. Take one of the most troubling aspects of Simon and Sébastien's experience as an example.
The general director of Gai Écoute told La Presse how, should an individual be assailed with homophobic remarks, it's probably best to just stay quiet and not respond like Simon did. While that was definitely not their intention, it's hard not to interpret this remark as, "if Simon didn't answer back in defense, he wouldn't have gotten beaten up."
In other words, it's victim blaming. And unfortunately, the same line of thinking can be applied to other incidents of homophobia. "You shouldn't have been kissing there;" "You should have known better;" "Why would you be holding hands in that part of town." It's been said before and will be repeated again in the future.
Thus far, this article has been oriented towards the experiences of gay men, which only accounts for a fraction of the individuals who are met with violence for simply being a sexual minority. But the LGBTQ+ community is quite diverse, and all can be victims of prejudice, violent or otherwise.
I am also in no way saying Montreal is a particularly dangerous city for queer individuals. No one can argue that, in many ways, Montreal is a haven for queer peoples, and overall the city is quite accepting. It's one of the reasons I love Montreal.
Rather, I hope to showcase the fact that, while certain areas and people are entirely accepting of everyone on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, others simply aren't.
Homophobia, transphobia, and prejudice are all still issues in Montreal. And if we don't address this problem, we can't ever improve the situation. Complacency simply doesn't lead to progress.
That's why a "Kiss-In" has been planned in response to Simon and Sébastien story. The peaceful protest is to be held on Monday, May 9th at Place Simon-Valois, and all are invited.