At the end of each month I compile links to articles I found thought-provoking over that month, categorized with pull-quotes for your perusal and edification. Each of these is a story that made me stop and think, and hopefully one or two of them will do the same for you.
This one, though, is a little bit different. Usually I put the things I’ve read into categories only and leave it for you to decide which you’d like to look at. This time I’ve put them in an order that reflects things I want to say about the tragedy of this month, but better than I could, and all together more clearly.
“While a lot of people turn to churches, LGBT communities are often forced to use nightclubs as our safe haven, and Pulse was mine. Although I had built armor to defend myself from the hatred that was spewed to me when I came out (including some from my own mother), the reality was that I still hated myself because of my identity as a gay man. It didn’t help that I had grown up in a church that had conditioned me to hate myself for loving other men.
Pulse was where I learned to love myself as a gay man.
Pulse was where I learned to love my community.”
“But we’re sitting ducks in there. We advertise where to find us now, all rounded up together in a remarkably vulnerable space. Most big clubs have several rooms, often several floors, and hundreds of people or more packed into tight little spaces on Saturday night, elbow to elbow, where it can take five minutes to squeeze your way to the bathrooms or the bar 30 feet away. The music is often so loud that you have to put your mouth right up to a buddy’s ear to say something, and partygoers often resort to bits of improvised bar sign language. If someone were shooting on the next level or next room, how would anyone even know?
Only takes one fanatic with a gun.”
“The year I started my graduate program, there was a shooting at FSU campus in the library. Even though I attended classes remotely, friends and family members who lived out of state were making sure I was okay. All too recently, the shooting at UCLA terrified me because my cousin was celebrating the end to an amazing Freshman year at school. For hours, I wasn’t sure she was safe and hadn’t heard a thing for her. Thank goodness, she was.
The Pulse shooting, though, felt different, worse to me than any because of the scale of it, and founded on so much hatred. Pulse was a place where anyone could feel safe, where you could be yourself. I could be as silly and open as I wanted, could dance freely without fear of being judged. If someone flirted with me, it was always polite. I had never felt as safe in a club or a bar. I wonder how many others felt the same way about that place. And Pulse wasn’t just any nightclub. The owner’s brother had died of AIDS, and the club was made in his honor. It was named for his heartbeat, to keep his heart “beating.” They did a lot to raise AIDS awareness and prevention in the community.
It wasn’t just a safe place or a club. It was a hub of security and love.”
“I’ve never been to Pulse, the Orlando gay nightclub where Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded another 53. But I know that for some queer people there it was their utopia. Or, as Daniel Leon-Davis movingly recollects, a “safe haven,” the place “where I learned to love myself as a gay man,” and the place “where I learned to love my community.” Or as President Obama put it, “a place of solidarity and empowerment.” Last night, this place was violated.
We may never know how much homophobia drove Mateen to do what he did, or what other springs of madness and extremism he drank from. But we can definitely say this: Just as Dylann Roof preyed upon the specific openness and hospitality of the Mother Emanuel Church, Omar Mateen exploited the specific things that make gay bars magic. He took the dark, the loudness, the density, the chaos of the dance floor—and he made them his accomplices in what is the largest mass shooting in this nation’s history.
But he does not own these things, and his desecration cannot defeat us. This next week is going to suck hard—but we must remember that our joy is its own purpose; it is a higher calling.”
“But when I was walking down Santa Monica Boulevard to the brunch and saw West Hollywood sheriff’s deputies, I broke down crying. I realized someone might try to kill people at this parade, and I was looking at the people who might die trying to protect us.
June is pride month around the country, and it will continue to be. This weekend, celebrations will take place in Portland, Ore., and Chicago. The weekend after in New York City and San Francisco. All pride parades happen in defiance of people who want the L.G.B.T. community to be scared and ashamed. Most years those people are just parents who won’t talk to you about your personal life; for a decade it was a plague the government wouldn’t fight because they thought gay men deserved it. This year we thought it would be politicians trying to make going to the bathroom impossible for trans people. Now, after a massacre, it is more than that. But every Pride parade is an act of rebellion.”
“In the hours following the Orlando Pulse shooting, I realized how difficult it is to be an LGBT ally. Difficult, because I didn’t know what to do. Difficult, because this isn’t my tragedy. I can’t claim ownership or pretend to know how it feels to be singled out for my self-identity.
My heart is broken for the victims and families, but I don’t know what to say, and I don’t know who to say it to. I can only stand nearby, and put my hand on someone’s shoulder as they cry, and say “I’m sorry.” It’s difficult, because my nature is to be a caretaker. I like to help people. I like to teach. I’m a father of three, and my dad instincts kick in when there’s a problem. But I can’t do that here. My role is that of a supporter, not a fixer.”
“Hate under the guise of beliefs has a long history. It was hate when interracial marriages were considered against “natural law.” It was hate that allowed Nazi Germany to commit genocide. It is hate that radical Islamic extremists employ to stone gay people to death. It is hate when Vladimir Putin jails people for being gay. It is hate when the influential American Family Association advocates criminalizing LGBT, advocates abducting the children of gay couples, among other despicable things. And it is hate when fundamentalist Christianity decries homosexuality as a sin.
It’s time to challenge some antiquated, misguided, despicable norms.It means challenging people you may respect. It means calling them out. Saying “No more.” It means not tolerating hate speech.
Love sometimes means fighting. Hate doesn’t play fair. We can’t hug our way to a better place. The Civil Rights Movement didn’t make groundbreaking progress by disassociating and only looking at the positive. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought hate and injustice. He challenged notions that were being defended as faith. He advocated for love and peace while fighting oppression. He did it eloquently and fervently and loudly.
You can fight in the name of love. Change doesn’t happen with a whisper.”
“The proper response to terror is not to be terrorized, and that means taking a coolly actuarial position on attacks: they will be relatively rare, but that they cannot be stopped entirely by more police, metal detectors, intelligence sharing, vague strength, gun registries, invasions, drone strikes, or God forbid, internment camps and deportations. It’s no admission of defeat to admit that cars crash, houses burn, some people get cancer, hurricanes make landfall. Tomorrow, you could be hit by a bus. We live every day on the precipice of death. Reasonable caution is advisable; hysteria is not. The faux manly toughness that sells everything from the AR-15 to the Donald Trump candidacy is really a form of terrible cowardice, a surrender of reason to fear, a failure to do the one thing that the killers, whatever their unknowable hatreds, do not want the living to do: carry on with their lives.”
“We skip over how Mateen took inspiration from a police department whose members commit routine abuse against people of color with few to no sanctions. Or the fact that Mateen, like too many American men of all backgrounds, abused his ex wife. Or even how ISIS, the terror network Mateen pledged allegiance to, wouldn’t command so many followers without Western meddling in Middle Eastern affairs creating the vacuums in which militarized hate prevails.
That’s not to mention how Mateen’s bullets mainly killed Latinx LGBTQ people finding liberation in a designated safe space. How the folks celebrating Pride at Pulse already suffer disproportionate violence and alienation even when a mass shooting doesn’t compel our attention.
Parts of American society can distance themselves from the roots of this massacre. Or they can declares this “everybody’s tragedy” in a subtle effort to erase the queer Latinx profiling at the heart of this horror. But the truth is that Mateen is an American son, born in America, raised in America and influenced by the violence of America.”
“Stories matter. Stories tell us what the facts mean. Stories create facts that otherwise would not have existed or that we otherwise would not be aware of. Like all power, the power of story is a power that can be deployed for good or ill, for life or death. Since at least the time of Rome the narrative of the conqueror has been the narrative of the savior. The terror and slavery and oppression of the conquered is nothing less than the conqueror’s light shining in the darkness.
We tell stories of good guys (our tribe) and bad guys (their tribe). And we know how that narrative has to play out: the good guys must win in the end. A mass shooting a gay night club in Orlando does not happen out of the blue. It is made possible by the stories we tell. In this story people with guns are good guys and gay people are bad guys. We have to have the political and religious courage to change both narratives.”
Image Credit: Maia Weinstock