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We will not back down from bullies! Look who’s on the side of Trans folks

The Los Angeles Blade’s sports editor reflects on a week of being the target of hate, and it’s not over yet

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LA Sports Editor Dawn Ennis, (L) UC Berkley parent 'Matthew,' (C) Kellie-Jay Keen, (R) & Beth Stelzer (Far R) (MADELEINE KEARNS/Twitter)

HARTFORD, Ct. – What a week it’s been. But whenever I think, this is so hard, dealing with a death threat, hatemongers and malcontents, I remember there are many who have it worse than me. 

Like Lia Thomas. Like the latest trans women murdered, Kathryn Newhouse and Tatiana Labelle.

One week ago today, what started as a boring, run of the mill interview with a vocal opponent of transgender women competing in women’s sports turned into a viral video that so far has been viewed 1.7 million times on Twitter. U.K. anti-trans activist Kellie-Jay Keen accomplished her goal by ambushing me last week while I was reporting at the NCAA Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships in Atlanta.

Despite being banned by Twitter, Keen (aka “Posie Parker”) somehow turned this stunt into a successful fundraiser for her group, “Standing for Women.”  

And while my own recordings of that same event have only been seen a total of 5.4K times, what really gets my goat is that Twitter, YouTube and Instagram have basically turned a blind eye to harassment I’ve been subjected to by haters, bigots, transphobes, GCs and TERFs (those are acronyms for, respectively, Britain’s “Gender Critical” activists and “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists” here in the U.S.).  

It appears this ambush-style activity is becoming a thing. British comic Jen Ives shared video this week of being harassed in London, at a conference held by anti-trans activists. 

Yet in the face of all this animus, I have been buoyed by support from both within the transgender community and allies across the board, on both sides of the Atlantic. In objecting to me using what she termed “women’s spaces” on the Georgia Tech campus, Keen did something few of us could have ever accomplished on our own: She showed the world what a bully she is.

She gave me an opportunity to show that we can keep our cool and stand up for ourselves without resorting to drama when confronted. And most of all, I seized the moment to defend the right of every woman who did not give birth to their children but is raising them as a mother, to call themselves one. 

Then, today, I was offered a chance to do something I didn’t think would have happened without Keen’s tyrannical display of bigotry and exclusion: I was invited to discuss these issues on the far-right-of-Fox News, conservative cable channel, Newsmax. 

Hosts Alison Maloni and Carl Higbie and I had a polite, respectful and informative discussion of Lia Thomas, trans inclusion and “women’s spaces.” 

Another highlight: The NCAA provided the Los Angeles Blade with this statement about what happened on their watch, and specifically Keen’s behavior: 

“Sportsmanship is a key pillar of the NCAA, and we expect that everyone who competes or attends our championships is treated with dignity and respect. Our campus host worked diligently before and during the Division I Women’s Swimming Championships to maintain a safe competitive environment, as all host schools and venues attest they will do. We support every individual’s right to free expression, but we also expect any demonstration be conducted in a respectful manner.”

Despite standing with Keen in protesting and booing Thomas, and ultimately becoming a part of the posse that took part in Keen’s viral video, even Save Womens Sports founder Beth Stelzer is distancing herself from Keen, declaring to the Blade, “For the record: I did not fly Kellie-Jay Keen to the United States.” 

While Keen stood so close to me with her mobile device that at times all you can see in her video is the logo on my University of Chicago hoodie, National Review staff writer Madeleine Kearns stood to my right, and captured the father of a swimmer from University of California Berkeley joining the fray. What he said, however, appears only on my own YouTube video

“Matthew” persisted in asking me if I had ever had a period, if DI 500-free National Champion Lia Thomas had experienced menstruation, and he wanted to see proof the out trans swimmer from the University of Pennsylvania had started her medical transition in May 2019. 

That swim dad’s behavior, while reportedly prompted by his daughter’s loss to Thomas in one of the events last week, earned a clapback from UC Berkeley spokesperson Herb Benenson. “Please know that parents of students do not speak for our university,” Benenson told the Blade. “Our team and athletic department are and will always be committed to fostering a culture where everyone feels safe, welcome and respected and that people should be accepted and appreciated for being their true selves.” 

While it was good to see the NCAA and UC Berkley come to my defense, what really made my week were the Newsmax viewers who sent me tweets and emails thanking me. Whaaat?

Sure, there were plenty of “u r a Man & u have a mental disorder” messages from anonymous assholes, too; My mentions are a mess and I’m probably going to have to shut down comments on my YouTube video today. But having reached even these few folks, young and old, gives me hope: 

“Hi! I saw your interview this morning on Newsmax and I wanted to thank you for doing it. You handled yourself with such grace even with Carl’s ridiculous bathroom fears. I am a 50 yr old Trump supporter and I don’t know any transgender people, but you are an awesome person! Thank you for talking about these issues on conservative TV, it is important.”

“informative interview on Newsmax” 

“You are exactly the kind of person who should be teaching our kids. You are fair-minded, objective and very respectful of other people’s feelings.”

“I also went on to your website and saw the clip of how you were treated by the ‘tiger moms’ at the swim meet. Such abhorrent, disgusting behavior. I am so sorry that you were subjected to this and I’m proud of you because you held your ground.”

“I just want to say that I am so, SO sorry that happened to you. Disgusting doesn’t even begin to describe it. It truly makes me sick to my stomach that there are people who live their lives spreading so much hatred into the world.” 

“I wish there had been people present at that moment to step in and stand up for you, instead of you standing there being ganged up on when you were just minding your own business, doing your job. You handled the situation with grace. The reaction of everyone after you asked that one woman to get her dog off you was genuinely COMICAL. They all recoiled like you said a slur when you were the one being harassed. And to be asked about menstruation — I truly have no words. So incredibly inappropriate and degrading.”

These messages give me hope and inspire me to keep advocating for trans girls and women. I may not be an activist, but I’m going to keep fighting like one.

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Legislation may negatively impact LGBTQ+ kids already feeling isolated

Why our policymakers should think twice before passing legislation that may inhibit access for queer teens to social media

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Graphic courtesy of the Grant Halliburton Foundation

By Isaias Hernandez | LOS ANGELES – It seems difficult to comprehend that living in California in 2022, coming out as queer is still terrifying. With homophobic and transphobic legislation being introduced and passed in states across the country, including Florida’s law that allows parents to sue a school district if a teacher says the word “gay,” it is easy to assume that the state of California is far removed from that.

Unfortunately, laws like these in California are not an impossibility. Let’s not forget, it was just a short 14 years ago that Golden State voters chose to ban same-sex marriage by passing Proposition 8. It’s an unfortunate reality, but the decision to fully come out may never feel completely safe for many of us – which is why finding a community where we feel welcomed and accepted when we are young is so important, and why our policymakers should think twice before passing legislation that may inhibit access for queer teens to social media. 

Like many other queer teens who are also people of color, my high school years were hard. I did not feel safe being myself at home or at school, and on the precipice of adulthood, instead of finding my voice, I retreated and shrank myself to fit the role I thought I was expected to play. And then finally in 2019, I created a place where I could be my true self: a queer, brown, environmental justice fighter.  

When I created my Instagram account, @QueerBrownVegan, I was told that I shouldn’t talk about my queerness and that my environmental activism would be diminished by my queer identity. Knowing what I do about LGBTQI+ communities and the outsized impact the climate crisis and environmental injustices have on this vulnerable population, though, solidified my choice to keep my queerness front and center. 

I relied on the social connectedness of Instagram to create my online presence and to discover people who had similar interests as me. The photos, videos, and accounts I searched for would lead to recommendations of other like-minded people. It opened an entirely new world to me – and led to me feeling accepted and seen. This platform has also helped me to hold space for others, too. When young, queer environmentalists find my account, they too can feel like they’ve finally found a space of their own where they won’t feel judged or be bullied for being who they truly are. 

The community I have built on Instagram is one I wish I could have found when I was a teenager. This community has not only allowed me to be myself but also to forgive myself for the years I spent hating who I was. Social media gives teens from marginalized communities – brown, black, queer, disabled, fat, whatever and whoever they are – a place to find a community where they feel less alone and less marginalized. 

Recently, there has been a discussion in California’s Capitol about how to best keep teens safe on social media. To Sacramento, I say this: Queer teens are not safe when they are being ridiculed at school, they are not safe when their parents abuse them for a sexuality or gender they did not choose, and queer teens are not safe when they cannot be themselves. Social media is sometimes the safest space for queer teens who have nowhere else to be themselves. 

Bills like California Assembly Bill 2408 (AB 2408), that would impose strict standards on social media companies, could prevent young people from using social media at all, and that could have a dire impact on an already isolated young person who is looking for information or support from a community of people they otherwise may never find. With 45% of LGBTQ youth having seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, that is not a risk lawmakers should be willing to take.

I urge lawmakers to think about queer youth and youth from other marginalized communities – listen to their stories and understand the importance of being able to create a community where they can finally be themselves, unapologetically.

**********************

Courtesy of Isaias Hernandez

Isaias Hernandez is an environmental educator & founder of QueerBrownVegan.

Queer Brown Vegan is an environmental media platform that discusses the intersections around climate, LGBTQ issues, and food.

He seeks to advance the discourse around climate literacy through an intersectional media lens.

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My Michigan neighbors shutter “pornographic” public library

Their definition is peculiar: LGBTQ = Porno. You know book banning is out of control when people fight to close public libraries

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Burning book photo licensed from Adobe Stock.

By James Finn | DETROIT – Think that book banning doesn’t happen in the United States, that it’s only the stuff of dystopian fiction? Think again! Hear about that Iowa library that closed early this summer because three head librarians quit, one after the other? They and the rest of the staff got tired (and frightened) of being called groomers and pedophiles by loud homophobes and racists who don’t want ANYBODY in their community reading books about LGBTQ people or about the U.S. history of slavery and segregation.

You know book banning is out of control when people fight to close public libraries

Some community members celebrated when the library shut its doors. Mission accomplished!

They were not fighting for space to express their own opinions. They were demanding their neighbors be barred from reading differing opinions. They were willing to make the lives of professional librarians hell — including a gay librarian who became a target of particular harassment, from the way he dressed to the way he spoke.

This NBC Newlong read is instructive and frightening: (LINK)

Last week, the story came home to me in Michigan

For a little background first, PEN America says U.S. public-library book banning has reached heights they’ve never seen before:

Today, books in the US are under profound attack. They are disappearing from library shelves, being challenged in droves, being decreed off limits by school boards, legislators, and prison authorities. And everywhere, it is the books that have long fought for a place on the shelf that are being targeted. Books by authors of color, by LGBTQ+ authors, by women. Books about racism, sexuality, gender, history.

In 1922, literary luminaries like Willa Cather, Eugene O’Neill, Robert Frost, Ellen Glasgow, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Benchley, and Booth Tarkington founded PEN America to foster connections around the world and fight book banning. I wonder if they imagined that a century later the problem would be worse than ever?

They are trying to groom our children to believe that it’s OK to have these sinful desires. [Shutting the library down] is not a political issue, it’s a Biblical issue.

While Pen fights community efforts to remove books from libraries, a Michigan town near me responded by going after the library itself.

Jamestown, Michigan voters opted last Tuesday to defund their library rather than tolerate books by or about LGBTQ people — not even if the books are in the adult section of the library with a jacket cover “warning,” not even if the books are behind the counter and have to be requested from a librarian.

“Gender Queer” cover art from Goodreads

It all started early this year when groups of up to 50 people began attending meetings of the elected library board, first demanding that the memoir-comic Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe be removed from the library’s collection, then moving on to a list of about 90 other books, almost the library’s entire collection of books about same-sex relationships and transgender people.

Then, just like in Iowa, two staff members quit their jobs. Former library director Amber McLain told Bridge Michigan she resigned after being accused of being a pedophile and becoming the target of daily online harassment.

She says the the details are ugly:

I had to change my name on Facebook for a time to prevent messages that were starting to come in. I never read any of them fully, but it was the typical fare — that I’m evil, that I’m indoctrinating kids. In March, a woman came into the library filming on her cell phone. She said she was looking for ‘that pedophile librarian’ and ‘the freak with the pink hair.’

Residents cite religious beliefs for voting to shut down library

A coalition of conservative Jamestown residents began campaigning against funding for the library in May while protesting a Pride Month book display. When the couldn’t convince the library board to remove LGBTQ-themed books from the shelves, not satisfied with compromises to restrict access to the books, they took to the streets to convince their neighbors the town would be better off without a public library at all.

Yard signs urging residents to vote no on funding the library popped up all over town, one sign across the street from the library, another in the lawn of a library board member who did not respond to Bridge Michigan’s request for comment.

One homemade sign said, “50 percent increase to GROOM our kids? Vote NO on Library!”

Amanda Ensing, one of the organizers of the drive to defund down the library, emerged from the library last Tuesday after, in a twist of irony, casting her ballot there. She told a reporter, “They are trying to groom our children to believe that it’s OK to have these sinful desires. [Shutting the library down] is not a political issue, it’s a Biblical issue.”

She did not explain why her private religious beliefs should restrict access to books for people whose religious ideas differ from hers.

She won, though.

Voters said no to the funding, gutting the library’s 2023–24 $245,000 budget. After this year, the lights are likely to go off and the doors to close, permanently, according to Larry Walton, library board president.

“I wasn’t expecting anything like this,” he told reporters. “The library is the center of the community. For individuals to be short sighted to close that down over opposing LGBTQ is very disappointing.”

Many Michigan public libraries and school libraries have found themselves under community fire over books with LGBTQ themes, but last Tuesday is the first time a Michigan community voted to close a library because a library board refused to ban books.

Let’s talk about pornography, what it is and what it isn’t

A common theme in library censorship debates this year is pornography. The people in Iowa and Michigan who tried to force library boards to ban LGBTQ-themed books did so on the grounds that the books are “pornographic,” citing descriptions of sexual acts or sexualized images. One of the drawings in Gender Queer, for example, features frontal nudity, though calling that clinical drawing porn is beyond silly.

It’s true that some of the books they object to, like Jonathan Evison’s Lawn Boy, at the top of censorship lists this year, include passages about sex and sexuality, but to characterize them as pornographic is also beyond silly.

And it’s blatant hypocrisy.

I keep scanning banned book lists for mentions of beloved YA classics like John Green’s The Fault in Our StarsThat novel, and many like it, treat teenage (straight) sexuality with respect and sensitivity but don’t shy away from depicting it.

I hesitate to write this, because I don’t want to give book-banning activists any ideas, but Green’s novel and many like it contain much more frank discussion of sexuality than Lawn Boy or other books activists target over LGBTQ material.

Curiously, one California middle school briefly pulled The Fault in Our Stars from library shelves in 2014 due to parental concern, mostly arguing that 11–13 year olds are too young to read about teenage cancer and death. The school board voted to restore the book about two months later.

Green’s response to the censorship was sardonic and on point:

I guess I am both happy and sad.

I am happy because apparently young people in Riverside, California will never witness or experience mortality since they won’t be reading my book, which is great for them.

But I am also sad because I was really hoping I would be able to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California and thereby crush their dreams of immortality.

I remember reading The Fault in Our Stars shortly after it came out and feeling a great deal of awe for Green — about how he mined beauty and insight from a story about a terminally ill girl. As far as I know, few people ever claimed that her loving (eventually sexual) relationship with a boy qualifies the novel as pornography.

Porn? What a silly idea!

The novel is art, though it contains sexual passages. It’s not porn because it contains important literary value, namely an exploration of mortality, grief, and joy — where you’d least expect to find joy.

Well, I’m here to tell you that Lawn Boy and most of the other LGBTQ-themed books topping this year’s ban lists contain far less sex than A Fault in Our Stars and other popular, non-controversial books for teens.

Lawn Boy is not porn. It’s a novel that features three or four non-graphic sexual paragraphs out of 320 pages that don’t talk about sex. Critics and readers love the book, which is also joyful in unexpected ways, written by a literary phenom with important insight into the human condition and certain contradictions of American culture.

That one of the main characters turns out to be gay at the end of the book is almost incidental.

Porn? What a silly idea!

But according to my neighbors in Jamestown, queer sexuality is porn by default. Is dystopia coming true?

My neighbors hate Lawn Boy so much they’ll close their library rather than leave open any possibility that somebody might read it. Making their own choices isn’t enough. They insist they must control what other people read and what other people’s children read.

Trans characters and lesbian/gay characters having sex or talking about having sex is, to them, pornography by definition. Cis/straight people having sex or talking about having sex is not. Maybe they don’t like that either, but they didn’t campaign to close the library over The Fault in Our Stars.

Remember Jack Petocz, one of the Florida high school students who rallied teenagers to protest against Governor DeSantis’s Don’t Say Gay law? PEN America honored him this year with their Freedom of Expression Courage Award after he campaigned to get books about LGBTQ people and Black people into students’ hands.

Jack says kids deserve to read about themselves and about people different from them. He says banning books is un-American. He says representation matters.

I agree with Jack and PEN.

Most people do. Banning books is antithetical to American values, contrary to our traditions of freedom, curiosity, and education. Most of us WANT to understand people who are different from us, not put our hands over our eyes and pretend those people don’t exist.

It’s come to this: Christian conservatives in a town near me just voted to shutter their library rather than tolerate books about people different from them.

Will you raise your voices with me in defense of books and libraries?

I can’t believe I need to ask, but according to PEN, the need is greater today than at any time in American history.

************************

James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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Meet the Utah teen coldcocked & concussed for hugging his boyfriend

Christian Peacock told the Blade; “I want people to know I’m sad. I thought we were in a different place in society”

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Jacob Metcalf (L) and Christian Peacock (Photo courtesy of Christian Peacock)

Editor’s note: Content warning: this article contains a homophobic slur and accounts of violence some readers may find traumatizing

By James Finn | SANDY, Ut. – See the young men in the photo? Jacob and Christian are celebrating their 3-month “boyfriend” anniversary TODAY! They’re supposed to be enjoying an idyllic Utah summer together. Christian just turned 18 and started college this spring with a major academic scholarship after graduating early from high school.

Last weekend shattered the couple’s peaceful plans, shocking Christian and angering his family, who supported and defended him fiercely (and effectively) in the face of a foot-dragging local police department.

I called the family last night to ask about the attack that landed Christian in the ER with a concussion and brain swelling — struggling with memory loss, disorientation, and serious pain for days. Details are available in this Los Angeles Blade story, also reported by the Salt Lake Tribune.

When Christian picks up the phone, he sounds happy.

That’s what strikes me the most. His mom Stefanie tells me he’s one of the happiest kids she’s ever known. She says one of his teachers asked her once if he was ever NOT happy. She chuckles, remembering.

* I ask Christian if that had ever happened to him before, some stranger calling him a faggot. *

I tell Christian he and Jacob make a handsome couple and I can hear his voice swell with emotion. “Jacob asked me to be his boyfriend three months ago tomorrow,” he says in that sort of awestruck tone you only hear from young people in love.

As Christian’s sister Jocelynn, one of the heroes of this story, interrupts cookie baking to tell me how much she enjoyed going to high school with her younger brother, I think this family sounds like one so many LGBTQ young people only dream they could have.

Stefanie says she knew Christian was gay when he was four.

When he was fourteen and struggling with anxiety trying to come out to her, she gave him a boost: “If you think I’m gonna choose religion over you, you’re crazy.” When Christian screwed up his courage and told her he’s gay, she woke everybody up and the whole family celebrated.

Stefanie even took to Facebook, posting, “Yes, my son is gay. Yes, I support him. Yes, I’m Mormon. Yes, I’m a Democrat.”

When I ask Christian about the attack, he sounds like a different person

His voices shifts into a lower register. He hesitates and stumbles over words. I have to ask him to repeat himself a couple times because he’s talking so softly.

He was standing at the end of his Sandy, Utah driveway late last Friday, almost midnight or maybe a little after. Jacob was supposed to be headed home after spending the evening with Christian’s family in the sleepy suburb 13 miles south of Salt Lake City. But it was a lovely night, and the couple were reluctant to part, leaning into each other, talking, looking at stars.

Hugging.

A car drove by slowly and Christian saw a window rolling down. Somebody shouted “faggot” and yelled that they don’t want gay people in their street. Then the car roared off and Jacob didn’t go home after all. They stayed in the driveway talking.

I ask Christian if that had ever happened to him before, some stranger calling him a faggot.

“Yeah, a few times,” he says.

I’m not sure what he means. “Ten times?” I ask. “More? Less?”

I expect him to say “less,” and we’ll narrow it down to a much smaller handful. But he doesn’t. He tells me ten is the right number, but probably more, counting being called a faggot in his high school corridors or out on the street when he’s running for exercise. He’ll see a window rolling down and someone will shout “faggot” at him.

Too often for him to remember how many times.

“I don’t wear rainbow clothes or anything, except at Pride,” he explains. “People around here know I’m gay.”

Video of the immediate aftermath of the assault, where you can clearly hear this young man say he punched Christian because Christian is a “faggot,” while continuing to make threatening gestures.

Christian tells me about what happened when the car came back

Thirty to 45 minutes later, the same car drove up and two strangers in their late teens jumped out and confronted Christian and Jacob, shouting “faggot.” Three guys stayed in the car, in Christian’s words “hyping up” the pair that got out.

One of the guys got right in Jacob’s face, pushing his shoulder, saying, “What, faggot? You gonna do something?” The other one took off his shirt and gyrated lewdly, asking, “Am I turning you on, does this make you horny?”

I ask Christian what he was thinking and feeling at that moment.

“Scared for my boyfriend. Thinking they’re going to hurt him. Thinking I have to protect him.”

He stepped in front of Jacob to shield him with his body, saying “The most repressed people are the ones who bully gay people. You must be gay yourself.”

That’s the last thing he clearly remembers.

The guy punched him in the face, leaving teeth marks on his gums and knocking him senseless. As the attacker threatened Jacob, Christian staggered around, and his sister Jocelynn ran outside as Jacob filmed with his phone. You can scroll up and watch the video to see what happened next. The attacker continued shouting “faggot” and admitted he punched Christian for being a “faggot.”

Jocelynn got a clear photo of the license plate, told the guys she was calling the cops, then watched them jump in the car and roar off. She jumped in her own car to follow them but couldn’t find them.

She raced home and posted the video and license plate number to Instagram, asking her friends to identify the attackers.

Sandy, Utah police and an EMS unit showed up fast. Christian refused to go the hospital, being stubborn, he says. Nobody realized yet he was seriously hurt and lacked the capacity to make good decisions.

Here’s where things took a weird turn with the police

The Sandy police took the license plate number from Jocelynn. She and Stefanie expected they would do a thorough investigation, track the car down, and then find and arrest Christian’s assailant.

The Sandy police did not do that.

Officers later told the family they’d called the phone number associated with the vehicle. Somebody answered and said they’d sold the car. That was a lie, and hardly an unexpected one, but the cops stopped investigating. Dropped the case.

That would have been the end of the story, except that Jocelynn’s Insta post got results. Somebody told her who owned the car, and SHE tracked the assailant down in the town of West Jordan, a short drive away. She talked him into coming to the house to discuss having the charges dropped.

Instead, Stefanie called the police. She tells me she was super worried about Christian’s health as he was seriously disoriented but refused to go the hospital. “Oh, heck no,” she said to herself. “He is getting arrested.” The attacker was arrested, but not before he stared Christian down silently, making him feel worried and uneasy.

I ask Jocelynn how the Sandy police treated her and Christian

She sounds angry as she starts to answer, which surprises because I’ve read press reports about how the Sandy PD is anxious to charge the attacker with a hate crime and has issued press releases saying they take this incident very seriously.

Jocelynn tells me the Sandy officers who came to the house were hostile and unsupportive. She says they barked orders at her and treated her like she was a problem instead of a good citizen helping them put a violent criminal behind bars.

They did arrest the attacker, but when Jocelynn and Stefanie asked them about charges, an officer told her there was, “zero chance we can charge with a hate crime,” explaining the assailant would have had to admit he hit Christian because he’s gay.

Have you watched that video yet?

The same video the Sandy police watched when Jocelynn gave it to them? Scroll up. Listen to the assailant say he hit Christian because he’s a “faggot.” Ask yourself if it’s less than clear and convincing. Ask yourself why the Sandy officers said there was zero chance of a hate crime charge.

Stefanie tells me the police didn’t have audio in the video they first had access to, which may have impacted their response.

Then Christian went to the hospital and social media blew up

Christian was in serious pain all weekend. It got worse instead of better and he looked very unwell. Finally, late Sunday night, his family convinced him to go the ER. He had a cat scan and got diagnosed with brain swelling and a concussion. He was not admitted, but remained disoriented and confused.

Last night as I’m talking to him, he’s better, but lapses into confusion more than once. He’s evidently not quite recovered yet. Physically or otherwise.

Meanwhile, social media exploded. Jocelyn’s Insta went viral, and the Rainbow Youth Project, which provides free mental health counseling to LGBTQ youth in need, amplified it, and it went even more viral.

Jocelynn and Stefanie heard from the Sandy police again, who told them, “Social media is coming for Sandy, we are being contacted like crazy and even the mayor is involved now. and so we’re going to try to charge with a hate crime.”

As they tell me this, I feel a twinge of pain. This isn’t my story, so I’m way more concerned about what the family are feeling, but I can’t help thinking, “The public are coming for Sandy? That’s why you changed your minds? Not because an 18-year-old boy was seriously injured while being called a faggot? That’s not enough for you? What a sad world we live in.”

Christian turned 18 a couple days later, Stefanie tells me, spending his birthday in pain.

Jocelyn sounds indignant, but Christian and his mom sound tired and sad.

Sadness and joy are the themes of this story

Christian is struggling with sadness as he processes what happened to him. So is his mom. They tell me Sandy, Utah is not the kind of place this happens. Yes, it’s in a conservative part of the country dominated by the LDS Church, but Stephanie’s stake (similar to a church parish) is pretty liberal and she’s not the only mom in her congregation with a gay kid. Everybody LOVES Christian, she says. They’ve known him since he was a little boy.

He decided to leave the LDS Church after he came out as gay, but the community didn’t reject him for that. He maintained a rich social life, excelled in school, and got into a highly selective academic program with a scholarship to boot.

He met Jacob!

Christian says he and Jacob have decided to continue holding hands in public sometimes, even though Jacob is nervous. I can hear in Christian’s voice that he’s nervous too. Courageous, but very nervous.

He says, “I want people to know I’m sad. I thought we were in a different place in society.”

He sounds more than sad. I think he’s still processing. I think he’s coming to terms with how many times random strangers have rolled down their windows to call him a “faggot.” I think he’s asking himself how safe he really is.

When we start talking about his family, his future plans, and Jacob, his voice brightens again. He turns back into that happy kid his mom told me about at the beginning of the call. His attacker didn’t kill his joy and love of life.

We say goodbye and then I sit and think. I ask myself if the LGBTQ backlash we’re living through right now is to blame for Christian’s assault. Are politicians who are leveraging anti-LGBTQ animous stirring up enough hatred that two star-watching teenagers got caught up in it?

If ask myself if the Sandy police dragged their heels for the same reason.

I don’t know.

But I know this much — no gay kid should ever go out for a run and hear “faggot” coming at him from inside cars. No gay kid should ever be beaten at the end of his own driveway just because he’s enjoying life.

This is 2022, not 1952, and those days are supposed to be behind us. Take a good look at that happy couple in the photo above. Ask yourself some of the same tough questions I’m asking.

What comes next? How do we stop the hate?

One of Christian’s friends is raising money to help pay for mental health counseling, which Christian says he needs. You can check out that link here.

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James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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