For Andres Aguilera Martinez, Sunday, May 10 was a surprisingly homophobic day for a date.
It started when a woman threw an empty beer bottle at Martinez only a few blocks from the heart of Vancouver’s gay village. The bottle missed but Martinez, who was strolling through Nelson Park holding a man’s hand at the time, was shaken.
“Me and my male date were holding hands and kind of cuddling a bit,” says Martinez (who uses the gender-neutral pronoun they). “We couldn’t imagine why else she would throw a glass bottle at us.”
The bottle landed a few feet from the pair, who immediately left the scene without approaching the woman, who seemed intoxicated.
“This was probably for the best because I might have engaged and escalated the situation,” Martinez says. “Unfortunately, that means we have no idea who this person is, so that’s kind of the end of it. I think if we had [stayed] a couple of seconds longer I would have asked what was up and what she was thinking.”
Neither Martinez nor their date reported the incident to police.
“What would we tell them?” Martinez asks. “’This person who we can’t identify at all assaulted us in Nelson Park and we have no additional information. I don’t know what good would come of that.”
Martinez’s date, who declined to be interviewed for this article, is from the UK. According to Martinez, he was shocked by such a display of apparent homophobia since he was under the impression that Vancouver is a safe place for openly gay people.
“I’m not as shocked, however,” Martinez says, “because it was only five-six years ago when the incident happened with Ritchie Dowrey. And he just died and that has been on people’s minds lately. And that happened in the heart of village.”
In 2009 Dowrey, a 62-year-old gay man, was assaulted by Shawn Woodward at the Fountainhead Pub on Davie Street. Judge Jocelyn Palmer later ruled that Woodward’s powerful punch was motivated by hatred, and gave him a stiffer sentence of six years in prison. Dowrey, who never regained his independence, died in a care home on January 31, 2015.
Martinez says the woman in the park, who may have been Aboriginal and possibly homeless, did not address them and turned away after she threw the bottle.
But the day’s encounters didn’t end there.
“We call it ‘homophobic Sunday’ because right after that incident we were on Robson Street and we heard this guy who was with his wife mumble ‘fags’ and something about us being disgusting, and that actually bothered us more than this assault,” Martinez says.
“She [the woman in Nelson Park] was probably coming from a different place than the guy from Robson, who appeared to be a white, middle-class man with his wife. Whereas this was probably a homeless alcoholic woman,” Martinez says. “If she had an empty alcohol in the middle of the day — this was about 2pm — she probably wasn’t in a sober headspace at the time. But the other guy at Robson Street was probably sober.”
In coming forward with their story, Martinez hopes to remind people that homophobia is still an issue in Vancouver.
“I hope people distance themselves less from what’s happening in our city,” Martinez says. “Homophobia and transphobia are still an issue; we are not in a post-homophobic society. We still have work to do.”
Constable Brian Montague of the Vancouver Police Department tells Daily Xtra that in 2014 police responded to 12 incidents that appeared to be motivated by anti-gay bias.
“In the first three months of 2015, that number is one,” Montague says. “Unfortunately, there is no question that crimes like this are under-reported and we encourage everyone to report incidents to police so that we can investigate and do everything possible to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.”