Op-Ed: The Pulse of Pride Will Always Remain
I have been trying all week to wrap my head around the events that happened in Orlando, and the truth is I can’t. I can’t begin to make sense of this horrific tragedy. To say that I am devastated is an understatement. Just like black people were traumatized by the South Carolina shooting and other events indirectly affecting us, that is how LGBT people are feeling right now. That is how I am feeling right now. Even though I am currently in a heterosexual relationship it doesn’t erase previous relationships, my queer identity, and who I am attracted to. It doesn’t erase all the feelings of anxiety that I felt having to hide a part of myself and the anxiety I still feel when someone makes offensive or judgmental comments about being anything other than straight. It doesn’t change the fact that my identity isn’t something I talk about with everyone because I just don’t feel comfortable doing so. And it definitely doesn’t change the fact that I feel traumatized by this attack.
I think about all the times I have been to gay bars just to hang out with friends and feel comfortable. It may be difficult for many to comprehend the fear that comes from doing something as simple as talking about a crush with friends, or holding someone's hand in public. It is the fear that comes from just being yourself. For those in the queer community, that fear is real and something that many of us have experienced. A gay establishment has always been a safe place where there isn’t supposed to be any fear. People are free to come and be who they want, and love who they want. Unfortunately, on Saturday night, that safe space was violated in Orlando.
A gunman walked into a nightclub full of LGBT people and their allies, and opened fire. While, as far as we know, the gunman acted alone and made his own choices, this shooting is not an isolated incident. This is the culmination of our society’s constant shaming of queer people. It is the end result of what happens when you don’t lead with love and understanding but with fear and disregard. This gunman was made in America. And in America every time you make a homophobic, bi-phobic, or transphobic comment you are contributing to hate. Every time you make fun of somebody for their sexual orientation or gender identity, you are contributing to ignorance. Every time you judge someone for being too feminine or too masculine, you are contributing to violence. Every time you support anti-LGBT laws, you are helping to legislate discrimination.
You might think it is no big deal to make offensive comments and jokes, to deny people services, and to regulate bathroom usage. But the reality is all of these little moments have the potential to lead to big moments, like the one we are facing now. Here we are, 49 deaths and 53 injuries later, and all people have to offer is moments of silence, thoughts and prayers. How about instead of your thoughts and prayers you offer a safe and welcoming environment for queer people?
Even in the wake of this tragedy, institutionalized homophobia reminded us that we are not welcome, as many gay and bisexual men were unable to donate blood to help the members of their community who are injured. Regulations based on discrimination and irrational fears of HIV transmission prevent HIV-negative gay and bisexual men from donating blood unless they have been celibate for at least 12 months. This means a married gay couple who are monogamous can’t donate blood, yet a straight person can have unprotected sex with multiple partners and still donate blood. In the aftermath of the loss of so many queer lives we still don’t get a break from being second class citizens, and the intersections of HIV stigma and being a member of the LGBT community still manage to appear.
In fact, Pulse Nightclub owner Barbara Poma founded the venue to honor her late brother John who died of AIDS complications in 1991. The club was opened with the hopes of bringing awareness to the community and providing a safe space grounded in love and acceptance. She named it Pulse in recognition of her brother’s heartbeat, and to represent his spirit that is kept alive every day.
Learning that fact was a reminder that so many moments of triumph and celebration in the LGBT community have been borne out of pain and loss. And this moment will be no different, because the community will get through this. We will remember their names and keep the Pulse of their hearts beating with ours. We overcame Stonewall, the AIDS crisis, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, DOMA, and numerous hate crimes throughout the country. Many were lost along the way but they are still here with us in our hearts and minds. Despite the grief and sadness, we will laugh again. Despite the violence and hate, we will love again. Despite this painful memory that will forever mark the month of June, we will always, always, have Pride.