OUR SUBARU sat on the grass plot in front of our house gathering pollen next to the certified “Backyard Wildlife Habitat” sign we’d posted to explain the condition of our yard. My spouse and I had let the beautiful, limited-edition, black car sit for months, until someone reported the vehicle as abandoned. None of its peeling bumper stickers explained my predicament: “woman seeks harmony with the rest of the natural world despite concerns of violence after being harassed on the bus.”
“Why spend money fixing up the car?” I argued. I had started walking and biking to work through the greenbelt to catch the light rail. “All we have to do is rent one for the weekend or use Zipcar.” I didn’t bring up the fears that broke our resolve seven years earlier when we had first committed to driving less. At that time, we took the bus, yet it wasn’t the gray emotional drudgery of sloshing through Seattle’s rain that pushed us to drive but the unnerving, isolating memories of being threatened by fellow passengers.
The night a drunken man stumbled onto the 36 bus, barely able to put his shirt on or climb the steps to board, was the first time that riding the bus became a threat to our survival. Holding his Bible, he glared at us from beneath his black leather cowboy hat, muttering about his gun and being a vet while spewing pejorative comments about homosexuals. “Now, now. Don’t harass the other passengers,” the female bus driver said, as though patting the head of a child, while doing nothing to stop the escalating verbal abuse. The bus driver failed to have him removed even though harassment violates Metro’s code of conduct. Trapped and panicked, we defended ourselves by calling the police from my cell phone and reporting the incident as it occurred. Terrified, we disembarked before our usual stop in order to escape, only to watch the driver reopen the doors after pulling away. The drunken man leaned out to spit in our direction. Neither the police nor the bus driver ever intervened. We were shattered.
The second time I was threatened, I was alone. “Here she is now,” a woman I’d never met sneered into her phone. She was talking about me over the phone to a man I had greeted with my traditional salutation of “peace” as I passed him on the way to the bus stop. In response, he had hurled insults at me, attacking gay people. Crossing the street to get away from him, I arrived to hear her hateful words pick up where his violent rhetoric had left off. Neither the cars speeding through the whirling gray grit of the street nor the silent funeral home behind me offered refuge, so I called my spouse, picked up a fist-sized rock, and prepared to defend myself.
For seven years, we protected ourselves by driving while wanting to protect our environment. Each of those seven years our carbon footprint increased by eight tons, contradicting all we were doing to reduce, reuse, and recycle. This is homophobia’s footprint — a social pollution that fouls the air and water quality for all. For cities to stop climate change, we need a carbon offset plan for homophobia’s emissions. We need to recognize that the “if you see something, say something” policy could protect air, water, and people too.