The day of the homophobic terror attack on Orlando, my home city. I first heard of it in the car on my way to work, I had posted a quick something via my phone, to let people know I was ok. Responses came in throughout the day. That night I had to stay overnight at the motel I work at, a part of my job when I cover the General Manager’s night off. I watched news coverage and posted to Facebook via my phone. Flailing about for information, connection, or perhaps distraction.
“I have a lot of conflicting feelings and thoughts as I watch the coverage and think about the terror attack. Moments where I have been on the verge of tears… hearing the numbers of the fallen climb to become the worst mass shooting in US history, and then becoming the worst terror attack since 9/11. The sense of violation that it happened in a gay club, which is supposed to be a refuge from the violence and intolerance of the larger world. The stormy confluence of grief and surprise and hope at seeing the flag of my nation at half staff for my community…. the simmering fury as I flip between the news channels and not once hearing Fox even utter the word gay even once…all this and more… I will be writing about this in more depth later….”
So the next night, I stopped by the corner market on my own, and the nice Spanish girl who Jon and I chat with when she is on the register was all “Are you guys ok? Everybody you know ok?” and I started getting a little teary eyed…. I told her we were fine and that no one we knew was in the club…
In the car after I started getting really emotional and I had a realization.
There is a part of my mind and heart…or perhaps subconscious, that does NOT expect decency or sympathy or compassion for me as a gay man or for the LGBT community from either the larger community or my government. Intellectually I know times have changed and that the culture has shifted in many ways… but at the same time I am still the product of the world I have grown up and lived in.
“The stormy confluence of grief and surprise and hope at seeing the flag of my nation at half staff for my community…”
I was born in March of 1972. In December of 1973 Homosexuality was (mostly) removed as a mental illness from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychological Association.
I remember the news reports of the White Night Riots in 1979 when Dan White was charged with manslaughter instead of murder because of the “Twinkie Defense” for murdering Harvey Milk and George Moscone.
I remember the backlash from the Radical Right, and the Fundamentalist Christian Right, against LGBT rights starting in the 1980’s and have continued to witness it ever since.
I remember in 1982 watching the sniggering jokes in the White House Press Briefings when reporters asked Larry Speakes about AIDS. How society at large did not give a good god damn about HIV or AIDS until it started affecting straight people. How the LGBT community had to organize ourselves with charities and social service organizations to provide for our own sick and dying because neither the governments nor many churches would do so.
I remember sobbing outright when I discovered Magic’s Pawn, the first book of the Last Herald Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey. It was the first book I had ever read that had a gay man as a hero. It was 1991 and I was 19 years old. It was published in 1989. I had been aware of gay male characters before in fiction and pop culture…but so many of them were either villains or stereotypes played for comedic effect, or their gayness was widely talked about in the popular culture as being controversial….
I remember how “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was instituted as a compromise, as opposed to simply allowing all citizens to serve their Nation, to placate the homophobia and ignorance.
I remember seeing television panel show hosts not calling out the hypocrisy and specious arguments of their co-hosts on the issue of marriage equality.
I remember when a Republican President advocated for a Constitutional Amendment to limit the definition of marriage to exclude me and those like me.
I remember the genuine surprise and shock of The Supreme Court declaring that laws limiting or preventing Marriage Equality violated the Constitution. Elation certainly, and at the same time a feeling of unease at the thought that so many would think to themselves that we had won and had nothing left to fight for.
I remember years of having to think about word choice and body language because I had to be careful what I revealed about my self, and my relationship with someone I loved, for fear of being in physical danger or losing a job or facing any number of injustices simply for being the person I was born as.
The sense of violation that it happened in a gay club, which is supposed to be a refuge from the violence and intolerance of the larger world.
Before we had LGBT Community Centers or Community Organizations, or Open and Affirming Denominations and Congregations, or Pride Parades, or Gay Bookstores or Gay Magazines or Newspapers or Television shows and even Networks…. We had the bars and dance clubs. That is were we gathered and could find a space to be truly ourselves. After Stonewall they became places of a more genuine refuge, no longer constantly in danger of a police raid…or at least less in danger of such things.
The bars and clubs were where we met, where in the 1980’s we started networking and building our charities and community organizations in the face of the AIDS epidemic and the larger societies aforementioned lack of giving a damn. We found strength in numbers and started creating other avenues for community…establishing neighborhoods and enclaves and businesses…
For so many of us though, the bar or nightclub was the first place it was safe to be ourselves and the first place we started finding friends and families of choice that were like us.
… the simmering fury as I flip between the news channels and not once hearing Fox even utter the word gay even once…
The news segments that focus more on the relatively easilly parsed Islamist Extremist Terror angle and avoid the Hate Crime aspect, because at the heart of it examining Homophobia in the United States would bring up the Media’s and Society’s continuing complicity in it.
The Politicians and Pundits on the Right who express their sadness and thoughts and prayers but do not mention the LGBT community, because of course if the Right acknowledges the LGBT community has been victimized or attacked, then the Right would be in danger from not being able to make political or financial profit from attacking the LGBT community and our rights.
…all this and more… I will be writing about this in more depth later….
One of the thoughts that occurred to me today is how “Silence = Death” was another way of saying “Queer Lives Matter”; and how many of the issues raised by the folks in the Black Lives Matter movement have resonated for me as a Gay Man. Not seeing positive portrayals in the media. Systemic challenges to ones life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. The fear of violence if you go to the wrong place at the wrong time. The trials and tribulations of code switching…
Another darker thought that has run through my mind is the fact that at its heart the attack in Orlando is nothing all that new to the LGBT community except in terms of scope, and the fact that the rest of the country and the world seems to actually give a damn.
So, yeah, these are a few of the things stirring my mind and heart in the wake of the attack in Orlando.