Tuesday , 27 June 2017

Interview with Rhys Smith victim of homophobic attack in Edinburgh

Rhys Smith
Rhys Smith

KaleidoScot, interviews 23 year old Rhys Smith, from Livingston, who explains what happened that night when he was apparently aggressed by a man hurling at him and his friend homophobic abuse.

Rhys talks about how this has been to some degree misreported by some of the media saying it made him, initially, scared to come forward and report the incident. He also explains about the surge of violence and bigotry in the wake of BREXIT and how some politicians actually legitimise intolerance. He is also very thankful for the support he has received.

Rhys started the interview by clarifying that the man started the verbal attack about a minute before he started recording the incident.

Smith and his friend Kerri-Jayne were returning into town having been home for something to eat and a change of clothes after spending the day at Edinburgh Pride dressed as Ab-Fab characters when the man, started hurling homophobic abuse at them. Earlier that day the two had met Nicola Sturgeon, with whom they took a selfie.

KaleidoScot: Can you explain to us what happened?

Smith told KaleidoScot: “We were exchanging photos and having a conversation about the day we had at Pride Edinburgh and how good it was. As I was talking to Kerri-Jane I could see a guy talking, from the corner of my eye, making it quite obvious he was talking about me, by nodding his head, pointing and calling me an arsehole.

“At first I ignored him, but then I told Kerri-Jayne that ‘I think that man just called me an arsehole’. We then turned around to see who the person was, and he just confirmed it by saying ‘arsehole’ even louder and pointing at us.

“We asked him what was the problem, ‘why are you talking to us like that?’

Bus passenger hurls homophobic abuse at Rhys Smith
Bus passenger hurls homophobic abuse at Rhys Smith

“But it got out of hand as he started calling me a faggot and then pointed to Kerri-Jayne saying ‘you and your boyfriend are just a pair of arseholes’.”

“I asked him: ‘Am I gay, am I a faggot or am I her boyfriend? What is wrong?’

“He just continued addressing me ‘you are a faggot, you are an arsehole’, after-which I was concerned that this could escalate and that is when I started recording.

“The attack was totally unprovoked. I don’t even recall us saying anything particularly offensive or controversial.”

KaleidoScot: There have been a number of articles about the incident and they left it unclear what was happening before you started recording. As a result people thought to some degree you may have provoked what happened. What is your response?

“There have been pretty poorly written articles. It just seems like a lot of journalists thought: ‘this has happened and let’s get the story out quickly’, and they didn’t even bother to contact me or verify the facts.

“I want first to make it very clear: the man has not been provoked, as much as people don’t see that in the video, and I can understand why some readers thought that, as our reaction isn’t the most calm or collected.

“But as I have said, the man was quite happy to call us out on a pretty busy bus with no apparent reason. The only reason why I pulled out the camera and started recording was because I was harassed by this bigot and concerned this could escalate.

“I think the guy underestimated that we would defend ourselves. He is just like any other bully who wants to pick on someone weaker than himself. But he underestimated – he didn’t think we would be strong and stand up for ourselves and fight back. I guess that is partly why people did not get involved, because they were also taken aback by our reaction, and I totally understand that. They probably also didn’t want to get involved or keep the peace between us, although I suppose they may also have identified that we got this.

“I just want to explain about why I said, which was recorded in the video, to the guy that I would like to make sure that everyone sees what he did when goes to work on Monday morning. I said that out of principle, because if he has a job, and say he was very high up in his position, how many other people could be affected by his views in the work place? This needs to be called out.

“If there is anyone who is going through a tough time because of bigots at work or anywhere, please don’t be afraid to come forward. Tell your story like I did.

“Again I am lucky and its nothing compared to other much worse homophobic hate other people have experienced. It was verbal, not physical and I had a friend there that defended me as well. I’d like to say that you shouldn’t be scared and be the person you are meant to be and don’t let bigots put you down.”

Neo-Nazi StickersKaleidoScot: Do you think what happened to you is related to the surge in bigotry throughout the country that has followed the BREXIT vote, for example?

“I think it could be related, I think that in the last six months, everything that is going with the presidential campaign in America, where Trump is using racist language and even worse here with the BREXIT campaign.

“The opportunity for people to speak their minds in an ignorant and abusive way has just been accepted again.

“We are in 2016 and I just feel like we have taken a step back a hundred years.

“The social acceptance of diversity has completely taken a back step. We have done so well coming forwards and I understand what happened to me is nothing compared to what people have had to go through in the past. We were slowly phasing all this out and in the past six months to a year and a half this bigotry and intolerance has come up again. It is if it’s almost acceptable to do that, just because politicians speak their mind in such a manner and lead the people down that road. It’s not right.

“It makes me really upset. Why? Surely people have better things to do things to do with their lives? And this of course doesn’t just go for LGBT people, its racism, religions and minority groups. Its two steps forwards and three steps back.”

Rhys Smith and Kerri-Jayne dressed as Ab Fab characters meeting Nicola Sturgeon
Rhys Smith and Kerri-Jayne dressed as Ab Fab characters meeting Nicola Sturgeon

KaleidoScot: Do you feel you got the support you needed in handling this incident?

“I am so grateful all my friends and the LGBT community has been so supportive, and I want to say a big thank you!

“The police were very reassuring and understanding and said they take these things very seriously. I was quite scared about going to the police after how this was portrayed by some of the media, like in the Daily Mail, and some of the comments too. But the police were great, reassuring us and saying they were here to help us.

“I also want to thank Nicola Sturgeon, in the vigil for the Orlando victims that was held in Edinburgh I was really touched by her speech which gave me reassurance that she stands with us and to supports the LGBT community.  I think politicians here in Scotland have been very supportive on the whole of the LGBT community.

“People need to be brave and stand against bigotry in 2016.”

In a development, a 63-year-old man has been charged by police in connection with a report of homophobic abuse on a bus on Leith Walk.

Police Scotland said the incident happened on Saturday.

The man is due to appear at Edinburgh Sheriff Court at a later date.

Insp David Robertson said: “We will not tolerate hate crime in any form and I can reassure the public that all reports passed to us will be thoroughly investigated.”

He added: “Edinburgh has diverse communities and there is no place for intolerance. I urge victims to always report hate crime so that we can tackle this unacceptable behaviour when it occurs.

“Likewise, anyone who has witnessed such incidents should contact us immediately on 101.”

Last week homophobic and racist stickers were spotted around Glasgow following a massive spike in incidents of hate speech across the UK in the wake of the result of the EU referendum.

Anyone experiencing a hate crime is advised to report it to Police Scotland, either via their on-line Hate Crime form (non-urgent) or by calling 999.

About Dan Littauer

Dan Littauer is a journalist who specializes in LGBTI current affairs, travel writing, feature writing and investigative journalism. He is a correspondent for LGBTQ Nation, ManAboutWorld, and previously worked for Gay Star News, PinkNews, San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, Gay Middle East, Lonely Planet as well as contributing occasionally to the BBC, Al-Jazeera, CNN and The Guardian. He also had an extensive career outside journalism, which included teaching psychoanalysis and social science, and consultancy work for the travel market. When he is not busy writing, he can be spotted rambling around the stunning Scottish landscape, where he lives, spending time at home with his cat.

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One comment

  1. Andrew McNaughton

    Perhaps LGBT people and allies need training in how to respond to such attacks. Hurling abuse back at perpetrators is not the answer. It just reduces you to their level. Remaining calm and responding with dignity makes the victim the better person. Every attacker should be prosecuted though so that they can begin to understand that they are wrong and ignorant of, or breaking, the law and that there are consequences.

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