"It's Not Like We're Scum, You Know"
8:30am | It easily could have been me.
The Library coffeehouse was a bit stuffy from the day's heati, and even at 10 p.m. it was still warm enough outside for shorts. But the tarot-card reader was absent from her usual spot at the indoor table nearest the propped-open front door, and The Cure's "Three Imaginary Boys" was emanating quietly from the overhead speakers, so I stayed put.
This may be why I'm writing this right now instead of trying to figure out the best way to get egg off a laptop.
At about 10:30 p.m. my attention was drawn through the windowpane by a quick pair of hollow, liquidy pops: pok-pok. I thought one of the two women there had dropped a drink onto the sidewalk. Then I noticed what looked like large pieces of white confetti on their shirts, with a viscous fluid dripping off of them.
No one got a good look at the car from whence the eggs had comeii, and the women — two hospital workers, one stopping to pick up a coffee before going to help transplant recipients — were left to come inside and clean themselves as best they could. "Why would someone do that?" they asked no one in particular. "It's not like we're scum, you know."
Though we can only speculate, the "why" doesn't seem all that elusive. They were two women together in front of what is widely thought of as a "gay coffeehouse." Consider also that there were two eggs, but the male/female couple at a table that was first in the car's line of fire were left unscathed, and it appears the specific targets were (to use the vernacular I imagine the egg-throwers employing as they congratulated themselves on a job well done) the "dykes."
It is both ironic and irrelevant that the victims were heterosexual — information I have only because the pair mentioned it while ruminating in the immediate aftermath of the attack. They didn't say this as if sexual preference mattered to them, or as if there were a greater injustice at heterosexuals being treated in such a shameful fashion; they were simply mulling over the possibilities. "It's just people being drunk and stupid," concluded the more talkative of the two, seemingly with too positive a view of human nature to wrap her mind around the likelihood that what befell her had been anything but random, unwilling to think that hatred in the hearts of her brothers and sisters could be so free-flowing, unable to let herself so there even as her eye began to swell from the evidence.
But I encounter no such difficulties when considering how low my fellow humans can go. As Sergio Macias, owner of Hot Java — another "gay coffeehouse"iii — told me for a story in the May print edition of Long Beach Post: "We have been the target of a few hate crimes — kids throwing eggs or water or soda from the street at our clientele. [Such events] are few and far between, but it does happen."
In the world at large it happens all the time, that and much, much worse. Homosexuals are, after all, the only group in the United States against whom there continues to exist legalized discrimination, with many Americans calling for more (e.g., the push for a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex partners from becoming lawfully wedded). Naturally, institutional bigotry stokes similar flames among the populace. If your government — both state and federal, in this case — communicates to you that a certain group of people is lesser than the rest of us, what's the big deal about putting them in their place by chucking a couple of eggs? Call it trickle-down hatred.
I have long harbored ambivalence about the logic of hate-crime legislation (though my devil's advocacy on the subject has always been half-hearted), reasoning that the idea(l) is to treat all members of society equally,iv rather than having Crime A be deserving of greater punishment when perpetrated against Person B than against Person C. It's sound logic, as far as it goes.
But there is no question — none, zero, zilch — that we still live in a society and world where individuals are targeted for violence, etc., based on their perceived membership in a certain group.v And no group is more targeted than homosexuals.
It could have happened to me, because unless you're lucky enough to be on the receiving end of my amorous advances, you have little way of knowing whether I'm gay. I'll never forget one of my first bits of political activism: attending an Act Up protest rally against then-Governor Pete Wilson for his veto of AB101, a proposed law that would have prevented institutional workplace discrimination against homosexuals. As I walked back to my car, a pickup drove past me with some yahoo standing in its bed. "Faggot!" he yelled. Then, receding down the wide Orange County avenue, he gazed at my expressionless face quizzically. "Are you a faggot?" he asked, undoubtedly unaware of his perfect buffoonery.
Hate-crime legislation will only ever penalize people like that, people like those who assaulted the hospital workers out in front of The Library on July 18, people like the murderers of Matthew Shepard. And it won't punish them for their feelings or beliefs, but only for their actions. So you certainly won't catch me crying if some poltroon busted for throwing eggs out of a speeding car is sentenced to more than the assuredly too meager punishment this sort of assault would draw if perpetrated for reasons unrelated to sexual preference.vi
A year in county lockup might be a good start.vii Does that sound harsh? I hope so. Harsh is what I'm going for. Until we get serious about this sort of behavior, expect more of the same. Even in Long Beach.
i This sad event took place on July 18.
ii Disturbingly, a man seated outside seemed not to have made the slightest effort to do so.
iii We'll leave aside the question of how "gay" a coffeehouse (as opposed to, say, a club) can be. Sure, The Library is gay-friendly — but show me an indie coffeehouse in this city that isn't!
iv Not including merit-based distinctions for individuals, etc.
v In legal parlance, this is called belonging to a suspect class.
vi Or skin color, etc.
vii We could make room for these folks by releasing a batch of non-violent drug offenders. But that's another story.