The Killing of Samuel Luiz: why do you straight men do this?

This is a picture of Samuel Luiz, a young gay man who was kicked and punched to death outside a nightclub in A Coruña, Galicia, Spain, on Saturday 3rd July 2021. At least 12 men were involved in the vicious assault and they were shouting the word maricón as they beat him. The word is a derogatory term in Spanish for a gay man, roughly equivalent to “faggot” in English. At least four men (all between the ages of 20 and 25) have been arrested for this murder. Let’s hope some justice is served. Demonstrations were held across Spain to protest Samuel’s killing.

This attack came just a few days after the end of Pride Month and if nothing else shows how far we still have to go. People sometimes ask why we still need Pride, after all we now have gay marriage? Well, Spain has gay marriage, but mobs still murder gay men. Anti-gay hate crime is reportedly on the increase in Spain and probably elsewhere. The Government of Hungary has enacted specifically homophobic legislation

There’s nothing new about this kind of homophobic violence. Queer-bashing was endemic in Brighton when I lived there in the 1980s. I know. I was on the receiving end of a beating myself. There were only four assailants in my case, and of course I didn’t die. My physical injuries were relatively superficial, but it was a life-changing experience and not in a good way. The word that was ringing in my eyes as I lapsed into unconsciousness then was “faggot”, so reading about Samuel Luiz brought it back. Sometimes things like this make me want to go and live off-grid somewhere far away from people to avoid such thoughts intruding again.

Anyway, that experience on Brighton sea front left me convinced that however much attitudes and laws change there will always be men – presumably straight – who for some reason despise gay men so much that they want to inflict violence on us. I can’t rid myself of the belief a very large number of straight men would behave in that way if they thought they would get away with it. It takes me a very long time to trust a heterosexual man enough to call him a friend.

I wish I could understand what causes so much hate. Believe me, if thought about it a lot and for a very long time and it remains incomprehensible to me. Perhaps it expresses some kind of need to assert dominance, much as misogynistic transphobic, and racist violence does? Or perhaps just a form of tribalism like football violence? The one firm conclusion I have reached is that the people who do this sort of thing are utter cowards. Why else would they need a gang to beat up one person? And the people who just look on and don’t intervene are cowards too.

In a piece a while ago I wrote about my experience in Brighton:

I have to say that for quite a long time in this period my general presumption was that a majority of heterosexual people were actively hostile to LGBT+ people, and that would always remain the case. There were quite a few gay people in Brighton who felt the same and their reaction was to become separatists. The logic was that straight people were always going to be horrible, so to hell with them. You could drink in gay bars, eat in gay restaurants, live in a gay part of the town, etc, and thereby minimize interaction with the hostile majority. This seemed an attractive lifestyle to me for some time, but I gradually began to feel that if there was ever going to be a chance of things changing for the better, LGBT+ people had to engage and form alliances. That strategy seems to have worked for the wider community, and I applaud the many straight people who have become allies.

It’s easy to say you’re an ally but are you willing to stand up and be counted?

A comment below objects to the “you” in the title of this post. I thought very carefully before including it. The response “not all straight men are like that” is unhelpful for lots of reasons.

First, I know that. All gay people do. We already know not every straight man is a murderer, or otherwise violent. We don’t need you to tell us. Second, it’s defensive. When people are defensive, they aren’t listening to the other person; they’re busy thinking of ways to defend themselves. It’s a classic social media response. Third, people saying it aren’t furthering the conversation, they’re sidetracking it. The discussion isn’t about the men who aren’t a problem. Fourth – and this the most important point – nobody can really know which straight men are “like that” and which aren’t until it’s too late.

I would genuinely love to live in a society without prejudice on the grounds of identity but we’re not there yet. I don’t think it does any harm to hold a mirror up to the kind of stereotyping that many groups have to deal with on an everyday basis. You may not like being included in a generalisation but at least you’re not put in mortal danger because of your identity. It’s not you who is a target.

7 Responses to “The Killing of Samuel Luiz: why do you straight men do this?”

  1. I agree with almost all of your post above except the title, as “you straight men” seems to be addressing a group which includes me. I’m sure that many if not most of the people protesting the murder in Spain and elsewhere are straight. As you note yourself, words can hurt, if not physically (though perhaps even that indirectly). What we need is more solidarity among all sensible people, not in-fighting among the good guys. After IRA bombings would it be appropriate to ask “Why do you Irish do this?” or after the Charlie Hebdo massacre “Why do you Muslims do this?” Even if such accusations were somehow correct (and they are not), they add to the animosity and the us-and-them mentality, which is part of the problem.

    There are straight, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people whom I interact with almost daily. Certainly among the people I know, not a single one would even consider behaving that way if they thought they could get away with it. Whether there is a very large number depends on where you are. In Saudia Arabia, probably; in Copenhagen, probably not.

    Yes, there are still problems, but there is also progress. Consider the almost universal opposition to the new Hungarian law you mentioned. Ursula von der Leyen has been very vocal in her condemnation (even though she has a diplomatic role), and she comes from the conservative party and, at least in the past, had a very conservative image (note her former hairdo) and lifestyle (married with seven children). When gay marriage was legalized in Germany by the Greens, Social Democrats, and Left Party, she was one of 75 from her party who also voted for it (there are more than 600 members of parliament in Germany). None of that would have been conceivable a couple of decades ago. The world isn’t perfect, but, as Steven Pinker and others have pointed out, there is a highly statistically significant downward trend in violence. If we all work together than it can continue, in spite of occasional backsliding. Giving up hope would be the wrong thing to do.

  2. People love to hate. Any difference can be sufficient. Sexuality and race, sometimes religion, stand out because they can be recognized. Political opinions are hidden until someone speaks, but are also used to hate – democrats by trumpists and trumpists by democrats. How do you create a group? By identifying and villlifying outsiders. It can be done by the victims in turn, turning against the group that contains their tormentors, as in the the title of this post. I don’t have a solution. We need to recognize someone who is ‘different’ as a person just like us. It takes personal friendships, not communal generalizations, to cross the divide.

    • Indeed. The main problem is the us-and-them mentality. I mentioned Pinker above for his work on the decline of violence through time. He also pointed out that, throughout history, much progress has been due to considering larger and larger groups of people to be part of one’s own group. (That doesn’t mean that one has to agree with them completely, but does imply mutual respect and civility.)

      Revenge isn’t the way. In the old days in Europe (and still today in some places elsewhere), a person murdered in one family leads to their family murdering someone in the murderer’s family. Rarely do they think that it’s a fair revenge, so they kill someone else in turn. Family feuds have lasted generations, with some of those affected not even knowing who started it when for what reason. Progress was made by making murder a crime against the state, and the state responsible for punishment. That alone cut down the number of murders. It is also why the person who examines the cause of death is known as a coroner, i.e. a representative of the Crown.

      • But that is about the general levels of violence in society, not targeted violence against specific groups. And the protection by the state seems not to cover everyone equally. How about violence against women, for instance? And some states actively encourage what is effectively terrorism against specific groups.

      • Have you read Pinker’s book? He’s not saying that the world is perfect, merely pointing out that it is better than before. It’s been a while since witches were burned. All forms of violence have gone down: against groups, against individuals, against other countries.

  3. Spanish astronomer Says:

    [For Telescoper: there is my uni email for you to know that this is a comment by an actual person, but I’d rather keep my name out, if you don’t mind.]

    Straight man from Spain here. Trigger warning, I guess.

    First, I am deeply ashamed of my country and my sexual orientation that these still happens. Even more so when much of the press has reported it, quite intentionally, not as Samuel being “murdered”, buy him “dying after being beaten up”, and making excuse to why this was not a hate crime. We do have gay marriage and an overall tolerant culture, but there is a long way to go, specially because the word “overall” there hides the grim reality of there not being any tolerance at all in some, especially rural, areas.

    I come from one of these rural areas, and I have mocked gay people in their faces more than once when I was a stupid (and asshole) teenager for their being gay or even just effeminate, because everyone in my group of friends was doing it. That was 35 years ago, and I don’t imagine it being completely different today where I am from (at least not in teenager groups).

    As for why do we, straight men do that, it’s sadly not so hard to answer: in many straight social environments, even sympathising with a gay person puts your virility/straightness/whatever-you call-it into question. In this circles, attacking what you fear you may be identified with is the ultimate defense against being identified with it. Gay people are collateral of an awful straight culture. Denying that this is part of straight culture as it has been for a long time and it still is today to a high degree, would be telling a lie.

    I could try to end in a positive note and say that this is slowly changing, but not sure the people who are attacked and murdered along the way think of it that positively, sorry.

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