Last Night, I Wanted to Bash the Gay-Bashers
Last night, Philly was enthralled with a minute-by-minute social media manhunt for the alleged perpetrators of a gay-bashing crime in Center City. We watched with rapt attention as one Twitter user used Facebook check-ins and graphs to track down those we think are responsible for last week’s heinous act.
The Philadelphia Police Department even expressed astonishment and gratitude, with Detective Joseph Murray tweeting, “I will take a couple thousand Twitter detectives over any one real detective any day.” This was only possible thanks to the journalists who pursued this story, most notably my colleagues at G Philly, and the teamwork of literally thousands of online, everyday Philadelphians.
This morning, word is that those suspected are lawyering up and about to turn themselves in. Coincidentally, they all look like caricatures of privileged suburban white people who my secret, inner Phascist, a la Frank Rizzo, loves to hate. (My inner fascist isn’t racist like Rizzo: He’s the exact opposite and wants to beat with a billy club anyone who, like Rizzo was, is racist. I resist succumbing to my inner fascist’s paradoxical far-left whims every single day.)
It seems, then, that the angry mob did a good thing. This comes right on the heels of another angry mob, half of which wants to take their torches to the doorstep of burger-joint PYT for posting a humiliating tip online. The other half of that mob wants to put the cheap tipper, Eagles player LeSean McCoy, in the stockades in Dilworth Park.
Last night, I too was enraptured by the clock ticking, the unconfirmed reports of new developments. Despite my writerly instincts to stop, to confirm, to analyze, and to then report, I instead posted obsessively on my own social media platforms. After all, the violence last week happened to people who looked like I do, lived like I do, loved like I do. An assault on them for merely existing kicked up the painful memories of when I was called a “faggot.”
I still remember the day I walked down Walnut Street, holding the hand of a guy with whom I was on a first date, over 10 years ago. A group of three or four (or was it five?) guys, who looked a lot like the suspected gay bashers, laughing at us, “It’s Adam and Steve, not Adam and Eve!” It hurt deeply then. Today it seems quaintly absurd but still pangs.
So, when I saw these other young white people bounding about Center City on the security camera footage released by police, my gut didn’t just pang: It started shrieking.
Exact universal justice on these douchebags. They’ve probably called young gay men faggots before, too. What impact has that had?
That last bit is particularly important. The Trevor Project, which aims to combat bullying of LGBT youth, says that suicide is the second leading cause of death for LGBT people ages 10 to 24. Yes, we’ve had young boys and girls, our children, kill themselves because they didn’t know that it does, in fact, get better.
But it’s not always better for queer people as we saw last week. Things are different, today, however: Community standards in Philadelphia have been elevated to a place where homophobia is unacceptable, and most straight folks were just as outraged as we queer people were. With back-up like that, while terrible things will always happen, LGBT folks at least have friends in the fight against bigotry.
Which brings us to the virtual angry mob I joined last night.
My Twitter pitchfork in hand, I retweeted with zeal. My journalistic ethics told to me wait, to confirm, to not join the insane bandwagon to boycott a restaurant the alleged perpetrators may or may not have eaten at the night of the attack. Those who initially called for an inexplicable boycott of that restaurant, La Viola, are now retreating. They’ve said that they got taken up in the moment, their heads dizzy with visceral outrage. I can identify.
Local journalist Amy Quinn told everyone to take a deep breath. I responded with a favorite Robert Frost passage of mine from his Choose Something Like a Star: “So when at times the mob is swayed to carry praise or blame too far, we may choose something like a star to stay our minds on and be staid.”
Ironically, I tweeted this to her in between RTs of completely unconfirmed reports that could have potentially destroyed innocent people’s lives. My lips smacked as I updated my Facebook joking about Ugg boots and Main Line lawyers.
What if — just what if — someone had doctored that photographic evidence about the dinner at La Viola? What if — just what if — someone was trolling the Philly internet, trying to turn status updates into a positive feedback loop of outrage, fueled on all the pain people have endured at the hands of bigots and bullies?
This doesn’t seem to be the case. But, what if? Why was I unwilling to throw my hands up athwart the mob as I usually do and say, “Stop! Wait!” And, what would have happened if we were, as fantastical as it sounds, wrong?
Those what ifs disturb me greatly today.
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