ORLANDO, Fla. — The world watched in horror this week as the proudly resilient LGBT community here coped with unthinkable tragedy.
Sadly, our community has a lot of experience with such things.
From the AIDS crisis in which we fought an indifferent government and hostile neighbors. To an untold number of previous attacks on our bars and clubs, including the 1973 firebombing of the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans that killed 32 gay men. To enduring the playground taunts and everyday slurs that go along with being “different” in this country.
We were horrified, too, about what happened at Pulse, though not as shocked as our straight counterparts. They will never know what it’s like to walk through life with a permanent target on your back. To pause before each touch; to hesitate before exchanging a hug or kiss with a partner or spouse. To calculate before coming out at work. To endure the judgmental stares when checking in at a hotel or booking a restaurant reservation on Valentine’s Day. To walk around the block, scanning the scene before mustering the nerve to walk into a gay bar. To be insulted, mocked, beaten up just for loving someone of the same sex. We’ve all been there.
So much has been written in recent years about this “post-gay” world in which we supposedly live. A world in which there’s no need for LGBT-identified spaces like bars, clubs, coffee shops, bookstores and, yes, newspapers, because we’re “integrated” and “accepted” now.
What happened in Orlando is a heartbreaking reminder that there’s no such thing as “post-gay,” and that our spaces are sacred. Where outsiders see only a bar or club, we see a community center or the place where we formed our closest friendships or met our significant others. Our bars and clubs have played a heroic role in supporting the community, serving as gathering places in times of triumph and tragedy and helping to raise countless dollars to fund our causes, to fight HIV, to aid our own. When the government turned its back, the first dollars raised to fight AIDS came from the bar and club scene.
The attack in Orlando was an attack on all of us because there’s a Pulse in every city in this country. A place where we can let our guard down, be ourselves, embrace our friends and kiss our partners openly. We need those places because regardless of whether you live in Dupont Circle or rural Alabama, there is a risk in engaging in public displays of affection if you’re LGBT.
A look at the public response to the Orlando massacre reveals just how much work lies ahead. The Florida governor has tried to erase LGBT identity from the attack. We can’t even get validation in death in some quarters. The lieutenant governor of Texas tweeted homophobic Bible verses on the morning of the attack yet somehow still has a job. Last week, before the attack, Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.) read a Bible verse on the U.S. House floor that calls for the death of gay people. Shortly after, the House voted overwhelmingly to reject a spending bill that included discrimination protections for LGBT workers.
Even those Republicans who have issued milquetoast statements offering “thoughts and prayers” are left to reconcile those sentiments with their own voting records hostile to LGBT causes. The presumptive GOP nominee for president, whose name I can’t bear to include in a tribute to Orlando, claims to care about what happened, yet has pledged to nominate Supreme Court justices committed to overturning the marriage equality ruling.
Hillary Clinton is right — this isn’t the time for politics. As we struggle with how to respond to the massacre and to those who would demonize and discriminate against us and cast us back into the closet, we should resist the urge to lash out and respond simply with love.
It’s been humbling to be here in Orlando this week, watching members of our community cope with such grace, dignity and determination. They didn’t shut down the community center in fear, instead they opened the doors wide to all while working tirelessly to raise money for the victims, collect donations of water and supplies for blood centers overwhelmed by volunteers, negotiate deals with airlines to fly loved ones to town for unexpected funerals and more.
One of the remarkable people I’ve met here this week, Pastor Brei, said it best:
“Have faith and believe that evil and hate can be eradicated one person at a time. How do you treat someone? How do you embrace someone who treats you wrong? We all bleed, laugh, hope and have great victories and major defeats. And so, you know me, even if you don’t know my name — I’m you.”