Making the ‘unspeakable’ speakable

I just read a thread on Twitter by a guy called @therainbowbee. His partner had been harassed in a restaurant bathroom in Dallas, Texas by five teenagers whose families were apparently next door in the restaurant. He posted, “It’s not about his clothes or anything else. He was attacked for being a small gay-looking man.”

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This makes me so mad. It is not ok to single out and surround anyone, least of all while they’re at their most vulnerable. The guy was just having a pee. That’s no-one’s business but his own.

I keep reading about these cowardly bullies who intimidate people of colour, women and the queer community.

When we turn a blind eye or fail to speak out, it breaks the trust we have in our society, in law enforcement and in our ability to walk the streets safely. This plays into people staying home, (over)consuming and becoming more and more isolated.

Is it any wonder that our society is becoming so divisive or that we ignore people and worship things?

I want to know more about how to handle this type of situation. The comments to the Twitter thread got me looking into what is called ‘bystander intervention’. Bystander intervention is when people struggle to decide if it’s up to them to get involved in a negative situation. In a crowd, they may feel that someone else will take action which can result in no-one taking action.

When I went to university, they gave the women a rape alarm on the first day and hoped for the best. I went running with it once, dropped it, couldn’t stop it screaming and probably never carried it again. Thankfully things have moved on since 1990's Britain. This graphic from Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response encourages students to get involved if they “notice something is off”.

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If one of the boys in the restaurant bathroom had had the courage to talk down his idiot friends, there might have been a different outcome. If just one of the parents had questioned why the boys all needed to go to the bathroom at the same time, that could have changed the course of events. If another customer or member of staff had seen what was going on and gone to the bathroom at the same time to make sure nothing happened to the “small, gay-looking man”, it could have been prevented.

A friend just told me that he broke up a fight in the street recently. That he did it from a place of pure compassion. He could see himself in the men. He recognised their anger and could still see their humanity. There is so much work to be done in our society around learning to feel and express our anger without resorting to punch-ups in the street.

By sharing the story on social media, @therainbowbee is helping make the unspeakable speakable. To break down barriers and say this is not ok. It gives us the chance to rally round and show solidarity online. But it doesn’t change what is happening every day to people out there in the world.

My deepest hope is that we start to look up from our phones and be more aware of what is going on around us. Then be willing to intervene, even if it’s just to ask someone if they are ok or if they need anything. As the Harvard graphic says, ‘We are all responsible for creating the community we want to live in’. I believe we can do better. I want to do better.

Building trust and credibility. Founder Sustainability Consult. Ambassador 1% for the Planet. Coach and mentor, nature connection, ecopsychology.

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