Warning: this opinion piece contains a quote with a homophobic slur.
There are some pretty horrifying headlines piling up. The gist of the story: a man in St. John’s beaten and left for dead in an apparent gay-bashing incident.
It started with Pattrick Blackburn’s emotional YouTube video. Then it spread like wildfire through the gay community on Facebook and, from there, it took off across the Internet and has hit the national media, including the Huffington Post, the Toronto Star, the Montreal Gazette and a slew of outlets that specialize in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues.
The Gay Star News, for example, ran the headline “Gay man savagely beaten, found 10 minutes before death in Canada.”
On Monday, I checked Facebook as I do, along with other venues, to see what issues people were talking about. I saw a picture of Blackburn with what appeared to be bloody wounds. I was asked what The Telegram was doing about the story.
Many people — and certainly much of the LGBT community, as well as coworkers, friends, family, media colleagues, sources — know I am an out lesbian.
And, well, those who don’t know, know now.
I explained to those inquiring Monday that a fellow reporter, Tara Bradbury, has been working on the story. She’s an impeccable reporter who has done due diligence by attempting to get the facts of the story, including questions to the police and multiple requests for an interview with Blackburn, which were denied.
On Wednesday evening I was questioned again on Facebook as to why I wasn’t doing something about this — I guess because I am an openly gay reporter at The Telegram and should therefore be outraged.
And I am outraged — that my community would need to live in fear, that gay bashing that is random and so very savage may possibly have occurred in our community.
But here’s where some people might not like what I have to say. Still, I feel it must be said.
Over the course of the last few days, there have been comments made that the police and some media are ignoring the incident, or are not doing enough and have been too slow to react.
What I have to say is, put the pitchforks down. Lay them aside and let the police do their job and let’s sort through what actually took place, and whether gay bashing was the motive, because that is very important to distinguish.
And before we get too caught up in the fury, remember every allegation is due a level of scrutiny and questions must be answered — it doesn’t matter what the alleged incident is or what community it involves — gay, heterosexual, male, female.
Blackburn, 30, has claimed he was walking home alone from downtown early on Aug. 16 when he was attacked by a group of men. The last thing he claims to remember is hearing footsteps behind him and being called “fag,” which he said he ignored and kept walking. Blackburn has said he doesn’t remember the attack, but said he was told at the hospital he was 10 minutes away from dying had a friend not found him.
There was no police report, at least an official one.
I would urge any person alleging a crime to deal with the police. We know that victims of violence, as well as sexual assault, can be fearful and reluctant to come forward. That’s a shame.
But in this or any instance, I believe anyone alleging to be a victim of a gay bashing-fueled beating should be dealing with the police formally before they hit social media because it’s the job of the police to get to the bottom of crimes. That’s the justice we expect and deserve. And if they fail in that job, then we can raise the pitchforks.
But if you are putting an assertion out there in a very public way, the onus is to allow the proper investigative process to take place.
I would urge any witnesses to this incident to come forward.
And because of the fear that has now ignited in the St. John’s LGBT community, there are broader questions that need to be answered.
So, I would also urge the police to open up to the LGBT community about the issue, to address any concerns about safety and whether or not this is indeed a random hate crime targeted at us.
Barb Sweet is a reporter at The Telegram.
She can be reached at email@example.com