Originally printed in the online version of Bancroft This Week on Sept. 27, 2013
The issue at hand is not and has never been that the sign was "offensive". There are many offensive things out there, from people farting in line at the grocery store, to not holding a door open when one's hands are full, to calling someone an idiot for dousing their steak in ketchup.
The issue with the sign and with other overt shows of homophobia and heterosupremacy is that it reminds queers that we are vulnerable to violence. It reminds us that there are people in the room who do not see us as human, and who could potentially be prepared to cause us bodily harm. It sends a panic through us that causes us to rethink every word and action we've taken since walking in the room - were we holding hands? Did I call my partner sweetie or baby? Did we reveal any information about where we live or work that could lead them to assault or harass us there?
We then are in a mode of hyper-vigilance until we can safely exit - is that person getting up to use the bathroom or assault me? Is anyone eye-balling us and giving us aggressive stares? If we stay quiet can we hear their conversations to catch any hints they may be preparing to harm us? And as we leave, quickly and with smiles to make ourselves look benign and unthreatening, we wonder if anyone is going to follow us out, or follow us home, or take note of our vehicle make/ model/ and license plate so they can find us later and hurt us or vandalize our property.
Those thoughts and concerns have nothing to do with "offence". I would relish an offensive sign over those visceral reactions. One of the most frustrating things is that we cannot tell if the people who put up signs like that, or the people they surround themselves with, will ever commit violence against us. There is no surefire way for us to tell apart those who will silently judge us from the ones who are ready for a physical confrontation. The best we can do is try to get support from our community in the hopes that surrounding ourselves with people who love us and will stand up for us will be enough to deter an attack. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won't.