This is a story I’ve been sitting on for a while, an experience of homophobia where I was threatened in law school.
As my classmates know, I liked to go out to bars with them, but I also usually liked to keep my wits about me. On weekends, I would typically go out with everyone and then head home with a couple of friends around midnight. I was lucky to go to a law school where we tended to look out for each other, and it wasn’t unusual to have classmates walked home because they had drank too much.
One night, I walked a male classmate home. His roommate had already gone home earlier in the night, and he could barely walk straight. So there wasn’t a lot of confidence that he would be able to get home by himself. It was pretty late, and we had to stop so he could pee in an alley. He wasn’t entirely coherent, but he was coherent enough to tell me, “If you try anything, I’ll beat the shit out of you.”
I was kind of shocked and didn’t know how to respond, so I tried to just shrug it off. I was confident that he was too drunk to actually hurt me. But it still made me nervous for the rest of the walk back to his apartment, where I dropped him off with his roommate.
We never talked about it. I’m not sure he remembered it after. I will always remember that I had peers I got along with, but when their inhibitions went down, they saw me as a predator because of my sexuality and felt the need to threaten me because of this. I never would have known. I wonder who else had those views. I was punished for being nice. I wonder when it will happen again.
If I were in that position again, knowing what I know, I would still walk him home. But I’d probably let him know that he’s not allowed to say things like that when I’m going out of my way to make sure he gets home safely.
On the one hand, his outburst is unacceptable. It shouldn’t be tolerated. On the other hand, I think it can be helpful for people who have been subject to homophobic remarks like these to look at them through a lens of empathy. Maybe he was harmed by another man when he was younger, and his threat was the response of a kid unable to escape his trauma. Maybe he struggled with his own attractions to other men, and he was lashing out from a place of fear and insecurity.
I often go back to the advice of a therapist friend: “Hurt people hurt people.” Taking these words as a modus operandi for responding to a threat like this helps me to rise above it. They help me recognize that the threat isn’t really about me. And without excusing the threat, they can help explain it. People who make homophobic threats should be accountable for their words. But they also need help. It may not be my responsibility to provide help to them, but if I choose to provide it, then it is from a place of empathy, which is a place of strength.
If you’re reading this and don’t know what to do, talk to your kids about being kind to LGBTQ people. Train them on how to respond if they see someone else being harassed or attacked. And always be excited when LGBTQ people are put into positions of visibility and leadership, including political leadership. They know the experiences that so many of us go through silently, and they can help create a world to end them.
If you’re looking for ways to support people who experience harassment or similar attacks, I’d highly recommend the resources provided by Hollaback! They have trainings and guidance for all kinds of situations, including a guide for survivors and bystanders of LGBTQ+ street harassment.
is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. His writings focus primarily on Catholicism, homoeros, and law, and have appeared in Logos, Commonweal Magazine, Church Life Journal, and other publications. In his free time, he enjoys hosting seminars, creative writing workshops, and dinner parties.