Content warning: homophobia, death, violence.
It’s 6:30pm and the heavens have opened. Rain, thunder and lightning pour from the sky and I think , deep down, that the earth is mourning. I’ve been sobbing all day, although I know my pain is insignificant compared to those directly involved. Today is one of those days when I realise how awful the world is.
If you don’t know about the Orlando attacks, Google it. I’m not about to regurgitate facts and give you a step by step summary of how so many were killed. The long and short of it is that a lot of LGBT+ people were shot to death in the largest mass shooting in American history. That’s a hard fact to swallow. It’s worse when you’re queer yourself.
I’m not sure why I’m getting so worked up about this. I mean, I live in England, where gun control is strictly implemented and mass shootings practically unheard of, I have nothing to fear. But I can feel nothing but grief. It’s as if the gun shots could be heard from my bedroom, as if those affected were people that I knew and loved, as if I could do something to help. Perhaps in the queer community, we feel each tragedy so greatly because it could so easily have been us. Those of us who live in more liberal countries probably. should feel safer, but we don’t. We’ve fought so hard for basic human rights but we know that, on a whim, they might be revoked. We are never safe. Events like these just reinforce to us that we are not wanted, that we deserve to die, that we are never protected, even in the spaces we created specifically for that purpose.
The scariest part about this is that it happened in one of our safe spaces. Being queer can be one of the most isolating experience and clubs and bars are often the only amenities available to us to use in private, away from the violence. These are places to escape the outside world, to escape the hurt and just have a good time, hence why Orlando is such a violation of everything we’ve tried to create for ourselves. We, as queer people, are given so few places to be ourselves and to have those taken away from us is to deny us the ability to feel safe and have freedom of expression. Last year, I attended London Pride for the first time and I had wholly prepared myself for some kind of attack, as if it were some kind of inevitability. I do not feel safe, even in the spaces designed for me. I know that security is a privilege I cannot afford.
The day America decided that mass shootings were acceptable, that it was a weight they simply had to bear within society, so many were condemned. However, this isn’t simply a matter of gun control. Yes, gun control no doubt could have helped to avoid such an event and no doubt fewer lives would have been lost, but queer people will continue to face violence, discrimination and even death as long as intolerance is allowed to be perpetuated.
We cannot look at what happened in Orlando as simply an isolated mass shooting. We have to view it as a culmination of the intolerance which has allowed to be perpetuated. Yes, marriage equality now exists within America, but we are nowhere near done dealing with the way queer people have been systematically oppressed, abused and killed. Orlando shows that This is not about queer people politicising a tragedy, this is about challenging the fact a state-enabled terrorist, fuelled by a climate of intolerance and injustice, was able to occur during Pride Week. No matter what the press might say, this is not just ‘another’ shooting by a Muslim terrorist, this was a terrorist attack committed by a homophobe who was allowed to believe that killing queer people was acceptable. (Also, if anyone uses this event to perpetuate their Islamophobic rhetoric, I might officially lose my cool).
In any other society, such an event would result in radical reform, but in America, I doubt anything will change. Why? Because mass shootings have rarely resulted in meaningful gun control and, what’s more, the fact queer people are involved I reckon makes it even less likely. People are always up for saving white cishet people, but any other marginalised community barely gets a glance over. The media has hardly covered the event here (although, I can tell you lots and lots about Her Majesty’s 90th Birthday Bash. 50 people died today but OF COURSE we must know what Kate Middleton is wearing).
Also, have you read the comments under the news articles? They’ve mostly reminded me how much people would prefer it if I was dead. I’ve seen the shooter congratulated for killing folks like me, because we apparently deserve it. And that’s tragic. And it’s terrifying. And I don’t want to live in a world like that.
As much as prayers are useful and no doubt a source of comfort, what we need is action, on a national and personal level. Regardless of the rigidity of the American political stance, you can always help the LGBT+ community, even if you are not a member yourself. Donate money to charities, if you can. Raise awareness. Educate yourself. Listen to LGBT+ people. Allow us to feel safe and supported. If you don’t know how to do that, please just ask.
Now I’m crying again. I’ve cried so much today that breathing is hard. But there is still oxygen in my lungs, and for that I have to be grateful. Today I have been reminded that my existence as an openly queer person is still a privilege, not a right.