Op-ed: Forgiveness in violence and homophobia
A recent story out of Halifax tells of how a gay man is now facing charges, including assault with a weapon and possession of a dangerous weapon. Why? Because he pepper sprayed a 14-year-old girl who allegedly harassed his boyfriend.
According to a CBC interview with the accused, Christopher Whittle, the girl had allegedly been coming in "every few days" to his boyfriend's place of work at a local mall and would call him "a faggot, fruit whatever," according to him. He told the CBC, "After so much of this going on, and seeing how this affected [my boyfriend] – someone you love being tortured in this way, it does something to you. It really does."
Whittle claims that after hearing of and witnessing the taunts, he "snapped" and went to his car to get pepper spray, which he says he keeps for purposes of self-defence. He discharged the spray near the parking lot of the shopping mall. Whittle has also been quoted as saying that he did not know the age of the girl, believing her to be older.
The girl's father says that his daughter is not homophobic and that in fact, "Anyone who knows her knows that she is just not like that. Her godfather is gay.”
Firstly, I don't believe in violence, nor do I condone it. This is not to say that many of us, myself included, have not had urges to do or say something violent toward another when we feel that we or someone we love has been wronged. It is human to feel that we must protect those we love.
Having said that, I don't agree with Whittle's supposed actions in pepper spraying the individual he says harassed his partner. It doesn't matter what age they are or appear to be. There are many other ways to deal with this situation. Some people might say to call the police, but then again, we don't know if Whittle or his partner would be comfortable in doing so. Whittle and his partner may have also spoken with the administration of the store or the mall, as well as the security company that patrols the mall. It is, after all, a private space that allows the public access to it; therefore, they have the right to block the person who was harassing Whittle's boyfriend.
But to me, that is not the biggest issue here.
The father of the 14-year-old girl is trying to defend his own daughter against what he perceives as a potential public smear of her reputation by branding her as homophobic.
The parents seem, at least by virtue of their comments, to be mortified by their daughter's alleged actions and are looking to reprimand her for her behaviour. I think they should be applauded for that. Let's say that she was a victim of peer pressure and just "fell in with the wrong crowd," made a mistake, and may even ostensibly be repentant of her actions.
But we can not say that these supposed actions were not homophobic. Because that is exactly what they were. Let's say for the sake of argument that she did indeed do these things. It doesn't matter if they are out of character for her; it doesn't remove the fact that one can make a choice to go into that store and say things that were not appropriate, warranted or deserved. Just like it's never okay to go out and pepper spray someone -- no matter what your intentions, frame of mind or character -- it's never okay to direct homophobic language toward another human being. It's never okay to be violent toward another human being in any way.
In a recent article in The Huffington Post, a repentant Brother Ali remarks that even though he is apologetic and sincere in his remorse about his use of the word faggot in his lyrics, he knows that his actions have "left an indelible print that can not be erased." These two individuals will always be known, either publicly or privately, as individuals who commited acts that may brand them as being homophobic or violent. This is not to say that the alleged actions by these two individuals are not worthy of acts of contrition. If anything, Whittle has already begun to do so in a very public manner in his media interview, stating that "I do regret how I handled it. I could have handled it differently."
Dealing with homophobia and violence are difficult things. But there is always room for improvement, and part of that comes through forgiveness. It may be easier for everyone involved, including the public who reads about these stories, to forgive these two. They are the ones who will always remember and know what happened, longer than we ever will.