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THERE BY THE GRACE OF... by Rick Landman
When Matthew Shepard was lured from that bar in 1998 to his death, he was 5'2" tall and weighed only 105 pounds. When I heard that a shiver went down my spine and a memory returned that I had almost forgotten. Back in May 1973, when I was 5'2" tall (but weighed about 115 pounds) and 20 years old I was "fag-bashed" at U.B. for being gay. The events of both nights have a shocking similarity.
I was ecstatic. I finally met someone who was about my height, cute, "hunky" and seemed to be very interested in me. As the dance was coming to an end, he invited me back to his room in Goodyear Dorm (the red brick dorms down by Bailey) for some smoke. Remember this was the 1970's and most students were inhaling. But I had to stay to close things up, so I said that he and his friend should go ahead and that I would meet him in his room later.
I had dreams of finally having a lover. My mind was already thinking about what I would do if I slept over for the night. I didn't have a toothbrush with me. So after I put the stuff away in our office upstairs in Norton, I headed out for Goodyear Hall. I had two other close straight friends in the dorm, and had no problem getting in. I used to hang out there quite a lot.
When I got up to his floor, the hallway was kind of quiet and several doors were left open. It was past midnight, but no one seemed to be asleep. When I got to the room number that he gave me, I knocked on the door. It opened, but instead of being invited in, I was punched in the face by the cuter guy.
He then pushed me into the hallway and shouted, "He's here!". With that about a dozen guys came flooding out their rooms and encircled me. I still didn't know what was going on. I looked at my new friend for help, but he just pushed me away into deeper into the circle. Then I started getting punched again and remember being on the floor in a fetal position, trying to protect myself as I was being kicked and someone was trying to pull off my pants. They were aiming at my crotch with their kicks. I started to yell and scream, and roll around, but didn't fight back. I still couldn't feel anger, just confusion.
In retrospect I learned that they knew that I was friendly with a friend on the floor below who was on the wrestling team. The two guys were also on the wrestling team as were most of those who came running out the open doors. But someone went downstairs and told my friend that I was being beaten. He came up and stopped the beating and lifted me up and carried me down to his room. After calming down, he escorted me to the school infirmary which was in the cellar near the dorm. I stayed there over night and left the next day with some bruises and a black eye.
I remember when my parents came to my graduation the next week or so, I still had some signs of the bruising but I didn't tell them the truth about what happened. I hid most of the details and let them think that I was just wearing make-up. The school didn't bring any actions against the other students. The Buffalo police for doing nothing, and considered to be a normal part of growing up. "Boys will be boys" and students pick on "sissies". I was told that it was my fault for starting the Gay Liberation Front and having a gay party on campus. I also felt stupid for not seeing that I was being set up and that I was so easily seduced by a new friend. No one except for one of my straight teachers, named Bambii, cared about what happened to me.
Bambii was my teacher at a "College A" course called Communicative Creativity, where 100 UB students would learn with 100 local children with disabilities. She was horrified when I told her what happened and brought me to her attorney. It was there that I learned about the difference between civil and criminal law. I learned that even if the police would not act on an assault, one could sue for damages. The attorney got me an Order of Protection so that the bullies would stay away from me and in a settlement, the main instigator left UB. I did not seek any monetary damages and the attorney did not charge me for his time. Little did I ever think that a decade later I would become an attorney.
It was easy for me to identify everyone since I just had to pick up the UB brochure of the Wrestling team and pick out those who were there. I later asked my friend from the floor below what he knew about the beating, and he told me that he heard that they were going to the dance to get a fag. He said that he never thought that the fag would be me… little consolation!
I also learned later than one of the boys ate off a chicken's head for a prank, and had some other difficulties with allegations of abuse from other female students.
When Matthew Shepard was killed, I thought - There by the grace of G-d go I. If my friend didn't stop the beating, or if it wasn't in a dorm, who knows what would have happened to me. The night after Matthew Shepard's funeral I called up my old friend who still lives in western New York and thanked him again for coming to my aid. But it is sad to see that after 30 years gay guys are still being targeted by insecure, violent men. Up until that point I never would have believed that there were people who would come on to you, just to beat you up.
Years later I renewed my friendship with Bambii and was able to help her with some legal difficulties. Then in 2010 she wrote a book about Bullying and told me that my story was just one of the things that made her come up with the idea.
"Rachel Girl Power Running Against Bullying" by Bambii Rae is being released in stores July 2010. Book signing event will take place on Friday July 30, 2010 at 7:30pm in Flores Fine Art Gallery, 492 Broadway Saratoga Springs, NY.
To read more about Dr. Bambii Rae and Communicative Creativity at UB Click Here
To read other stories written by Rick Landman, click below:
History of the GLF at UB
It's the End of Women's Bowling 101!