COMMENT:

I felt both sickened and unsurprised this morning when I learned that my colleague Aziz Al-Sa'afin was the victim of a hate crime.

Al-Sa'afin, a reporter for Newshub and fellow gay journalist, was attacked near the Mobil station on K'Rd during Pride celebrations.

K'Rd is a place where the LGBT+ community is supposed to feel safe. Pride is an event where we pay respects to and exercise the freedoms our community has, and also highlight how far we have to go. Sadly, the attack on Al-Sa'afin and his friend speaks more to the latter than it does the former.

Advertisement

"It was as if they [the attackers] wanted to make me feel unsafe in a place I usually do," Al-Sa'afin told me this morning when we spoke, also noting that it's easy to assume, as he has always done, that nothing like this happens in New Zealand.

"But I won't let them." That's the true spirit of Pride, right there: Al-Sa'afin's refusal to accept intimidation because of who he is. This should serve us all as a wake-up call. Homophobic attacks happen in New Zealand all the time.

It's actually not uncommon for someone to yell: "Fag. Homo. You're going to hell!" before pummelling them black and blue, as Al-Sa'afin and friends experienced, thinking they were going to die in that moment.

This doesn't surprise me because these attacks occur every day across the world. Last year a man was caught spray painting "bash a gay" graffiti on a wall in Sydney.

Last month, Empire actor Jussie Smollett was attacked in Chicago. And in the last two months, about 40 gay men have been imprisoned in Chechnya and at least two of them are believed to have died during torture.

Think we're immune in little old New Zealand? Think again.

I've always thought myself fortunate because I have "only" been a victim of verbal homophobic abuse on the street, never physical. This may be due to my size and stature, and it isn't lost on me that many people in the LGBT+ community don't have that "advantage".

Maybe would-be attackers have looked at my arms and my chest or my height and thought, "better not, aye?", and that has spared me from being bashed, to date. But what about everybody else? What about those perceived as smaller, or weaker? If they are still on the receiving end of violence, New Zealand isn't really that safe at all.

We know about this incident today because Al-Sa'afin has a public profile on television.

But it should make all of us – both inside and outside of the LGBT+ community – remember that society fails to care when the same kind of attack happens to a trans woman in South Auckland or a queer brown kid in Lower Hutt.

One of the police officers Al-Sa'afin spoke to admitted it was the first time the officer had personally dealt with a case of homophobia like this, because people are still afraid to come forward and be judged.

Al-Sa'afin has been inundated with direct messages on his social media platforms today from others who have been in this exact situation in New Zealand, but felt like they couldn't do anything about it. We both worry for those not in a privileged position to be listened to, "which is why it's important to speak up in the hope you can create a positive change in the world... and give others a voice too," he said.

As such, if you're a victim of anti-LGBT+ violence, speak up. Now. Tell your friends, your family, your teachers, the media, the police, and your social following. Own your spaces. We all need to hear you, and we all need to see you.

And if you're physically strong and fit like I am, and you see someone in need of help, it's your duty to jump in. We need to offer protection to others. We must literally stand between attackers and their victims. We cannot just consider ourselves lucky to not be left with a bloody face after going out in public. Whether during Pride, at any other time of the year, or anywhere else in the world, homophobic attacks are hate crimes that everybody needs to know about.

Where you can get help:

If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:

DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234
1737 NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737