This week has been a sobering one for many New Yorkers, with the news of two separate violent bias attacks perpetrated against Brooklynites: a gay man attacked with a hammer in the hallway of his apartment building in Crown Heights, who survived with a skull fracture, and a transwoman knocked unconscious with a two-by-four in Bushwick, who remained in critical condition as of this morning. Late last month, in Bushwick, three men yelled slurs and shot at another group of men wearing dresses in a violent, hate-fueled chase. In a city that can seem day-to-day like an anything goes wonderland, where no one cares who you’re going home with as long as you don’t block the subway doors, bias attacks are an arresting occurrence. That they are anomalous is true; that they can’t happen here is not.
It’s cliché to talk about New York City as a city of immigrants—at least as cliché as it is to say the same thing about America—but it’s perhaps more nuanced to say that many New Yorkers have come here for something. For freedom, for opportunity, for acceptance. Here, where you’re from is a biographical note, nothing more. What matters is that you’re here, where so many people have come for the same reason you did.
There is a tremendous amount to say about the longstanding inequalities of life in this city, from the institutionalized racism of #myNYPD to the day-to-day, block-to-block experience of being a woman here. The bricks and steel that rise from New York’s sidewalks frame a very different city for each of us, depending on how we appear to the world around us, and how it appears to us on a subjective level. It’s an unexpected notion; walk around Manhattan after Gay Pride and you’ll see six-foot drag queens in feather tiaras go completely unnoticed by teens on their cell phones and stodgy men in suits.
Homophobia has only recently joined the ranks of the indefensible, lifted from where it previously hid, deep within the same self-righteous morality that could justify eugenics. Even so, LGBTQ people (and those who appear L, G, B, T, or Q to a bigot in the street) belong to the one of the only groups in this country, in this time period, that are under threat of physical attack for the way they appear. Transphobia is especially insidious, as evinced by September’s shooting in Bushwick, of a person described as a man in a dress but who could have been trans, and the violent attack of a transwoman on Bushwick Avenue.
This is part of the reason visibility and representation are so important; to see LGBTQ characters in many places as possible, and in as many forms. This is why LGBTQ characters on TV is so exciting, from Modern Family to The Fosters to Amazon’s Transparent. Normalizing difference humanizes all people, no matter what city they live in.
It’s facile to think Manhattan is the safe center, the open arms of New York City, Lady Liberty writ street. Although the recent incidents occurred in our southern borough, they reflect a culture of homophobia that can’t be assigned to any neighborhood or cross-street, just as racism, sexism, and religious bias are not confined to any single region.
Follow John Sherman on Twitter @_john_sherman.