BY ALEXANDER KACALA As an out and proud gay man at 24, I want to speak to all the bullied teenagers from Cypress, Texas to Tehachapi, California, from Annoka, Minnesota to here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I want to join in this nation wide, public dialogue that it gets better. That it’s OK to be yourself, it doesn’t matter who you love, and that the best is yet to come. While I do believe this, I don’t want to sugarcoat the realities of life, for outside of high school walls and college campuses, homophobia exists. That even when it gets better, some days the obstacles and challenges we face being different make it hard. But that difficulty of diversity should never stop you from being you.
Last week, when enjoying a night out with some coworkers of mine, a man assaulted me in the Rittenhouse square neighborhood. After approaching him when he walked through my group of friends, he punched me in the face and then slammed my head down on the pavement. I blacked out for a few minutes, but my friends and a caring passerby came to my rescue. Thankfully, a police officer was stationed in the neighborhood and arrested the individual. When arrested, he repeatedly said, “He was coming onto me.” Some will say I should have kept to myself, but what I did in no way warranted the physical assault that happened to me. I suffered a bloody nose, black eye, cuts on my face, broken glasses, a concussion, and a bruised side. These wounds will heal, scarring may happen. What I won’t let is this story scar my soul and change me from being the proud person I strive to be.
I attempt to be an eccentric, fun loving, charismatic, and energetic person in my everyday life. And this incident will not change that. My parents automatically pinned this individual as crazy. But to me, that is too easy. To say that this person acted out on insane impulses excuses the behavior and makes it the exception when I think this is a reality. There are many people who would physically assault someone because they are gay and assume they are coming onto them. This gay panic defense has been used before, and only fuels intolerance, ignorance, and homophobia. When these become the norm in our society, that is when insanity is achieved.
My response has been that I want to process this incident, deal it with, share my side of the story, and move on. Hopefully in sharing my story, others will learn that we live in a world where we are thankfully not the same, but still all equal. But, could my story hurt the overall message we are attempting to send to our youth? That there are people in this world who will act out and hurt you, based on the fact that you are gay? This worries me yet I hope my strength is resonate in these words and invokes courage, not fear.