In the morning of June 12, a gunman opened fire at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, Florida. Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured 53 before being killed during a shootout with the police.
Like many, I woke up to the news of this horrific crime. Having just come back from an LGBTQ* event thrown by Fruitloop, it is hard not to think that, had the shooting occurred in Edmonton, my friends and I would likely be among the victims. And my family would likely be among those who mourn. These shivering thoughts, however, do not cause gratitude, but fear. Am I next? Should I dress as a way to draw less attention? Am I too out? And the introspection continues. As we reflect about this massacre, I find myself caught in a paradigm that is known to me. Looking inward and taking responsibility for hatred, violence, and pain can be a familiar process for many minority people. What am I doing wrong? What did I do to deserve this? How can I avoid this from happening in the future? Orlando reminded me that whenever violence towards a minority group takes place, we look inward and internalize certain responsibility, because doing otherwise might simply be too inconvenient for the majority.
I have been afraid for almost 22 years. I was when I was in the closet, I was as soon as I came out, and I am still afraid today even though I am out to friends and family and have a wonderful support system. I did nothing to deserve this fear, and by no means am I responsible for it, but I still carry it everyday. Should I wear what I want or what you want? How should I move my hands? Is my pitch too high? Am I noticeable? Knowing the importance of normalizing queer identities, I make the point of behaving precisely as I wish, to wear what I want, and to move as I find natural. Orlando reminded me that there is still a price to this.
Being a privileged light-skinned, cisgender, middle-class, able-bodied male, I can’t help to think about the different types of fear faced by different identities. What I feel (although it is intense and frightening) does not even compare to the experiences of many trans people, trans people of colour, non-binary, genderfluid, queer people with disabilities or of lower socio-economic status. Fear unites us, but the extent to which it impacts our lives and physical well-being varies immensely. It might be no coincidence that the shooting took place in a Latin-themed night at Pulse, thereby further targeting ethnic minorities. Orlando reminded me to be intersectional in my approach, and to never take for granted that our experiences as an LGBTQ* community vary widely.
There is something extremely powerful and chilling about seeing people like you, whose inside jokes are probably similar to yours, who have historically faced oppression for similar reasons, in a club similar to the one you frequent, be the victim of a brutal hate crime. Orlando reminded me that LGBTQ* historical accomplishments for rights, recognition, and visibility are far from over.
These atrocious killings are a clear example of the trickle up effect of violence. Whether you believe queer people shouldn’t kiss or hold hands in public because you think of that as exhibitionism. Or you believe that youth are at risk when going to bathrooms with people who are trans. Or you believe that gender and sexuality should not be taught at schools. Whatever your intolerant beliefs might be, and as isolated from their consequences as you perceive them, these views trickle up. They feed into a larger ideology of intolerance and difference, creating an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, which objectifies and dehumanizes sexual and gender minorities. As articulated in the documentary Miss Representation (directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom): objectifying someone is the first step towards justifying violence against that person. Orlando reminded me to perceive seemingly innocent opinions as catalysts for murderous actions, thereby reinforcing the importance of Pride, activism and political advancement in the field of human rights.
Especially brutal was the invasion of a space which was supposed to be safe. A place where many felt they could be true to themselves and felt relief from societal hatred was violently intruded, thereby breaking many who now see nowhere they can be. Orlando reminded me of the importance of community spaces and how sacred they are.
Now, how do we move forward as a community? First and foremost respect that everyone grieves in a different way. I aim not to tell people that they should go out and dance, or kiss their partners on the streets, or make themselves highly visible as a way to increase the quality of life for LGBTQ* people. We were just reminded that simply existing might be a death sentence for many, so requiring that of members of the community might be highly counter-intuitive. Second, feel your fear, your anger, and your frustration. Practice self-care, surround yourself with people you can talk to. If you feel comfortable and safe being visible and out, go ahead; visibility and representation are part of a wider process of normalizing queer identities and has incredible potential to reduce violence. If you are not comfortable, do not feel guilty: helping yourself – in whichever way is best – is revolutionary in a society that inferiorizes queer lives. Respect your pain, and in all act with love.