One of us posted on Facebook – a message of shock and horror. Another turned to a friend with unending and increasingly angry questions. One waited, watching the news, until the grief hit in the morning of day two. Our reactions were as diverse as our community when we learnt that once again, LGBT people had been attacked.
“49 people? Oh hell…”
“Where? At a club?”
“How? And why?”
I’ll leave it to the experts to work out the why, though I suspect as others do that it has something to do with a culture of violent machismo and the disturbing ease with which people can access weapons designed for war. Instead, I want to focus on what we do now.
As an expat, I’ve always found it interesting how America responds to terrorism. It’s like we don’t realize that making a big deal out of it is exactly what makes terrorism effective. To be fair, the country hasn’t had to deal with it much and perhaps doesn’t have the same battle-hardened approach as, say – the British, who really know how to put the bastards in their place. After “London’s September 11” happened in 2005 – four suicide attacks on trains and buses that killed 52 and injured 700 – the city responded as only the English can: They went back to work the very next day, flooding the tube stations and buses with normal morning traffic and sending a giant fuck you from Kings Cross and Waterloo to any would-be terrorists who were thinking about following suit.
Terrorism isn’t an action but a reaction. It’s a decision to stay home instead of seeking community; a plain t-shirt instead of our favorite; a public hug instead of a kiss for greeting those we love; and yet another appeal for justice pushed to the back of our throats because we are too afraid to speak our truth.
The true horror is that Orlando is just the latest in a long history of attacks against LGBT people, who are legally persecuted by people and organizations using religion as a mask for bigotry and hatred; and illegally persecuted even now in employment, housing, healthcare, family law and countless other ways that serve to marginalize and disenfranchise us. And if you’re about to sing about sticks and stones, I can tell you that names absolutely do hurt us. The Center for American Progress report on LGBT health disparities is illuminating stuff – with 20 per cent of LGB Americans reporting psychological distress in the preceding year (compared with 9 per cent heterosexuals) and actually half our transgender population reporting suicide ideation (compared with 5 per cent LGB and 2 per cent heterosexual).
But if you’ve ever been part of the LGBT community, you’ll know you don’t need a report to know this. We’ve all lost people to suicide and violence, fear-driven risk-taking and disease. We remember – if not personally, then in our cultural collective – when AIDS gripped our community, killing our best while our government turned a blind eye. Grief is a feeling we know well and every fresh injury reminds us of our incalculable losses. The fact that this happened in a gay nightclub makes the pain hard to bear.
This is where we come to be ourselves and to dance. This was our place of solace and safety. Our church.
But the other feeling we know is solidarity. We know how to come together to fight injustice. In our gay capitals and across the world, we are gathering to pay tribute and grieve together, just like we did at Stonewall and at AIDS marches across the country. Like we did for Milk and Moscone, and for Matthew Shepard. Like we did last year, in which more transgender people were killed than any other year in history.
Slowly, we’ll come back together. We’ll grieve and heal together. And we will dance.
- Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
- Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
- American Civil Liberties Union – current LGBT rights actions
- Lambda Legal – representing LGBT Americans
- Southern Poverty Law Center – Teaching Tolerance resources on Muslims in America