I ran into a rather nasty one this past weekend. I was out with a close friend at a party and could very clearly hear people making exceptionally nasty homophobic and transphobic comments, up to and including threats of physical violence towards us. My friend and I are both queer, and she's trans.
While it was as disgusting as that sort of thing always is, what really bothered me most about it was seeing people I'd hung out with earlier in the evening sitting with these horrible people and doing absolutely nothing to stop it. Like these people claimed to want to be friends and hangout with us in the future, and they were in a position to put a stop to it, they could have said something about it, but didn't. To be clear, the bystanders weren't outnumbered, they were straight identitified, and seemed somewhat aquainted with the bigots.
What made it worse was having these people come up to us again later and continue this whole song and dance about wanting to be friends and hang out again...
I know hateful people will be hateful. If my friend and I had confronted the people who were being hateful to begin with it would have almost certainly escalated the situation toward violence. But the "friendly" bystanders did almost as much damage. The way they didn't even acknowledge the situation, not with the bigots, not even with us after we said something to them about how rude the bigots had been. It was like they wanted to pretend that they hadn't been listening to the bigots, hadn't been sitting right there, awkwardly laughing along with the hateful comments, laughing like they hadn't ever met us.
Part of me wanted to unload on the friendly bystanders... I wanted to hit them square in the face with all the pent up rage from the experience. The other part of me knew better. They were probably uncomfortable about the whole experience. They were probably afraid to say or do anything. That's probably why they were being extra special friendly afterwards.
All they would have had to do was say something, a simple "hey, chill out, they're friends of ours" could have ended it. Instead it went on until the bigots left the party.
So, my question is, how do I encourage the "friendly" bystanders to do the right thing in situations like these in the future?
The bystanders were friends of my close friend. Not super close friends, but people she had partied with before.
The people making hateful comments were not friends, or even aquaintences. Just people who happened to be at the same party.
This situation draged on for roughly an hour.
As usually happens with these things, the comments started small and gradually got worse, eventually leading to threats of physical violence.
Intervention could have, and probably should have, happened long before things escalated to threats.
Something as simple as changing the subject probably could have worked, if the bystanders had intervened early in the escalation.
I doubt the bystanders would have been in any physical danger. Again, the bystanders outnumbered the bigots, were straight identitified, and seemed to be aquainted with the bigots.
Given that many of the bystanders were friends of my friend, and that they wanted to be friendly both before and after the incident, there's no reason to believe that these bystanders were also opposed to trans or queer people.
The goal here is to encourage bystanders to de-escalate situations like this in the future.