It seems like every week we hear another story about a queer person getting verbally harassed or violently beaten. The prospect of being gay bashed is quite scary, but Carolyne Haycraft, the executive director of EMERJ-SafeNow, an organization that teaches cultural-specific strategies for preventing violence, says there’s no need to constantly fear being attacked and has suggestions for effective gay bashing defense.
“There’s been a lot of controversy about self-defense being fear-based and shrinking space, and that’s not what we wanna do,” Haycraft says. “We wanna increase space for someone so you’re not walking around in fear so you do feel empowered.”
Together with Aman Weaver, a lesbian woman who works as an EMERJ-SafeNow facilitator and curriculum developer, the two have taught gay bashing defense classes to LGBTQ people. So we asked them for advice on how to avoid or survive a gay bashing.
Here are the gay bashing defense methods they suggested.
1. Make a pre-party safety plan.
Haycraft suggests making sure that your friends and family know where you’re going and with whom you’re going. If it’s a new friend or date, give your loved ones their name and face pic before heading out.
Pre-plan your transportation or walking route to help you get to your destination promptly. Familiarize yourself with the location you’re headed to. Is it a safe area with lots of open businesses? Is it a dark, isolated area where it will be difficult to find help? Where are the quickest escape routes and exits?
Also, if your destination is in a conservative area (filled with possible queer-phobes), a place of drinking or an area known for gay bashings, prepare to be extra vigilant, keeping your eyes and ears open. Pre-planning is always a smart, preventative form of gay bashing defense.
Lastly, if a problem starts, Haycraft suggests moving to the center of a road where you have space and better lighting so others can see you. She also suggests moving away from alleyways and hedges where an attacker could privately harm you.
2. Use your intuition to identify potential dangers, safe spaces and allies.
When you walk into a new area or space, look around and identify places and people you could turn to if harassment starts. It can be tough as a queer person to identify LGBTQ allies, but trust your intuition and try to identify several options, whether that’s a nearby business or a sympathetic person.
Even if you’re 18 or younger, Haycraft reminds us, you can duck into a restaurant or bar as a gay bashing defense. If you enter a business, talk to an employee, let them know what’s happening and ask them to call for help if you need.
While fear and intuition can be helpful in a dangerous situations, Haycraft says, so can staying clear-headed. She says that we live in a cultural climate where more people feel it’s OK to make racist, sexist and homophobic statements. But if we feel threatened, we should trust our intuition and respond accordingly.
Breathing is also an important tool for staying grounded. “It’s always important to remember the power of breathing so you can access your pre-frontal cortex [your reasoning area] and not your amygdala, the [fear-based] part of your brain that we go to when we are in danger,” Haycraft says.
Weaver stresses using positive affirmations to help keep yourself calm, confident and empowered during a gay bashing defense. She suggests telling yourself things like, “I can handle this, I’m OK,” to keep from panicking.
3. Create distance, and use your voice to draw attention and confuse your attacker.
Haycraft says that some men fall into traps of toxic masculinity, thinking they have to “tough it out” or fight their harassers. But fighting should be the last resort, she says, because it can create other problems. For example, if police show up and see your assailant on the ground, they might assume you’re the attacker.
Instead, she recommends distance as a good start for a gay bashing defense. Police typically try to put 25 feet of distance between them and an attacker; Haycraft suggests 12 at least.
Also, Haycraft and Weaver suggest you practice yelling loud enough so others can hear you. Some men, afraid of sounding weak or cowardly, aren’t used to yelling for help or drawing attention to them being attacked, Haycraft says. We have to learn to use our voices for our own good.
You can yell to make sure other nearby people know that you don’t want to fight. (“What are you doing?! Leave me alone! I don’t want to fight!”) You can even ask specific allies to pay attention (“Hey, you in the green shirt! This person is harassing me! I need help! Call 911!”). You can also use your voice to try to keep your attacker calm by agreeing with them or negotiating with them. (“Please stop hitting me! I’ll do whatever you need me to do!”)
You can also create “cognitive dissonance” by lying or saying something weird to distract or confuse your attacker. (“Help! This guy is hitting on me!” or “What do you mean?!?I’m not gay!”) If your attacker is homophobic, turning the tables on them this way can create a small amount of time for you to escape.
Haycraft also suggests pulling out your cell phone and announcing that you’re calling the police if that’s a safe option for you.
4. Carry a “weapon of opportunity,” and know a person’s weak spots and your best defensive posture.
As we’ve mentioned, fighting should be a last resort. The first resort in a gay bashing defense should always be leaving the situation. But if it comes down to it, Haycraft says, use whatever you have to defend yourself.
“Even your jacket can become a weapon, if needed,” Haycraft says, adding that you can throw it at an attacker to temporarily distract or blind them. If you have a backpack full of books, you can throw the books or use the backpack to create a barrier between you and the attacker. Even your fingers, hands and elbows can become weapons.
Some people decide not to carry weapons over fear they’ll incorrectly use them or have attackers seize and use them. A person should be able to quickly retrieve their weapon — not leaving a can of mace at the bottom of their bag, for instance — and learn how to properly use a weapon. But Haycraft and Weaver agree that the decision to carry such weapons is entirely a personal choice.
“If you pull out a knife on someone, you better be prepared to use it and know how to use it,” Haycraft says.
It helps to know an assailant’s weak spots: The genitals, eyes, throat, nose and top of the foot are all vulnerable spots for attack. If a person can’t see, breathe or stand, they can’t attack. “If you really feel your life is being threatened,” Haycraft says, “yeah, you have to fight back.”
But if you end up in a defensive posture, they suggest “crouch and cover” — putting your hands on your forehead, elbows pointed down at your sides and knees up to protect your organs. Keep your eyes open to help spot an exit and keep speaking to negotiate an end.
Hayrcraft adds that blocking maneuvers can be moved up and down to protect the face or body. Having open areas and space to move is a good idea, as is using your speed to escape.
“If folks are afraid, then it’s important to take a self-defense class because that increases your confidence,” Haycraft says.
5. Be extra vigilant if alcohol or drugs are involved.
Since alcohol and other drugs are often part of gay and public scenes — and can increase aggression or decrease awareness — Weaver suggests being extra mindful and thinking ahead if you’re headed to a place where drugs will be used.
Check in with friends before and during the event, make sure that you remain aware of your own intoxication level and stay aware of what’s happening around you to ensure your own safety and protection.
For extra resources, Haycraft recommends people check out the EMERJ-SafeNow Facebook page, the group Stop Street Harassment, Gavin De Becker’s nonfiction self-help book The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence and Martha Langelan’s book of real-life survival stories entitled Back Off! How To Confront And Stop Sexual Harassment And Harassers.