July 21st, 2006
The oppressed again become the oppressers info
PROVINCETOWN, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Provincetown, New England's summer gay capital, is facing a rise in harassment and discrimination. But this time it's straight people who say they are being ridiculed as "breeders" and "baby makers." |
Less than a decade after a successful campaign to end violent paroxysms of "gay bashing" in the beach town at the tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, police and town officials report a resurgence in tension between gays and straight people.
Police Chief Ted Meyer said straight people complained of being called "breeders" over the July Fourth holiday weekend, and that in one serious incident a man was charged with assaulting a woman who signed a petition to ban same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, the only state where it is legal.
Equally troubling, he said, Jamaican workers in Provincetown say they have been the target of racial slurs.
"It's been a series of issues," Meyer said.
The flare-ups in a town that overflows in summer with a colorful mix of gay couples often openly holding hands or kissing, cross-dressers and flocks of curious tourists coincide with a planned vote this year in the state Legislature on an amendment to ban gay marriage -- a measure that has rallied activists on both sides of the issue.
Gay-marriage advocates have set up a Web site -- www.knowthyneighbor.org -- that publishes the names of people who have signed the petition, including at least two locals in Provincetown who say they have been singled out and verbally abused by gays since their names appeared on the Web site.
Town officials said the town is struggling to strike a balance between protecting the right to freedom of expression for petition signers, and ensuring its gay majority contain their anger at what many see as an assault on their hard-won right to marriage.
Police would not classify the slurs and name-calling as "hate crimes." But a town meeting was called last Friday to discuss whether social attitudes were changing in the gay resort village with a population of 3,431 that swells to 60,000 in summer and includes a large number of Jamaicans.
'HELLO, YOU'RE IN OUR TOWN'
"We have business that we haven't talked about as a family," Town Manager Keith Bergman said. "The impact of the same sex marriage petition is high on that list."
Some gays expressed shock at being accused of discrimination after years of suffering harassment.
"There are still a lot of straight people who treat gays badly," said Steve Bowersock, 35, an artist who owns the Bowersock Gallery on the town's main Commercial Street.
Bowersock, who was once married to a woman, said he moved to Provincetown in 2004 with his partner because it gives gays a political voice. He admits he sometimes discriminates against straight people he finds offensive
"If there's a straight couple and I hear them in the background going 'oh fags', I'm like 'hello, where the hell do you think you are?' So in turn I get mad," he said.
"If I see someone nervous like a big butch guy, and you can just tell he's a redneck, I'll grab my partner and I'll kiss him. It's not being mean, but 'hello you're in our town'."
The Rev. Henry J. Dahl, pastor at St. Peter's Church, said several of his parishioners had complained to him of being singled out and verbally abused after signing the petition.
"I don't think it's totally unexpected that there would be some reaction to people who signed the petition," he said. "Let's just hope we can have civil discourse."
Joe Solmonese, president of gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, said the petition signers invited trouble by taking a position that says "loud and clear that you believe that gays and lesbians should be treated as second class citizens."
"The purpose of fighting is to win. There is no possible victory in defense. The sword is more important than the shield and skill is more important than either. The final weapon is the brain. All else is supplemental." - John Steinbeck