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A year ago today the worst mass shooting in American history, which was carried out specifically against the LGBT community, taking 49 lives in total, most of them people of color.
Even a year later I find it hard to muster the words to articulate my response. The day it happened I found myself numbed, enraged, confused, in a cyclical rotation as more and more details poured through. It was not only the attack that devastated me, but the way that it was reported. The way that, once again, the words queer and LGBT were erased from reports. How this was solely reported as a terrorist attack and not a homophobic attack. How cisgendered heterosexuals attempted to claim this tragedy for their own, despite spending the majority of their existence othering the LGBT community. I felt embittered, and then I felt angry at my own bitterness, and then I felt broken for the lives lost. I felt destroyed knowing that one of the few places LGBT people are supposed to feel safe had been violated during Pride month. It all amounted to an event that felt incomprehensible, and to an extent remains that way to this day.
For me, the shooting felt like confirmation of everything the LGBT community had come to fear but silently pushed to the back of their minds. That homophobia is real, and rampant. That there is real, visceral hatred for us in the world. And, above all else, that there is a real divide in the way that cisgendered heterosexuals view us and them. I say this because on that day the only people I saw posting tributes were fellow members of the community. For the most part, everyone else remained deafeningly silent. In fact, what I saw most of was people undermining the fact that this was an attack on the LGBT community specifically, and perhaps worst of all–I saw individuals using the event to fuel Islamophobia. Allow me to make one thing perfectly clear:
This was not just an attack by someone who pledged themselves to a radical, warped, bastardised version of Islam. This was an attack in a safe space for LGBT people during Pride month. This was an attack on LGBT people fuelled by homophobia that had been facilitated by American society, by Western society. You cannot put all responsibility on the middle east and its influence on radicalising Western males, you cannot call the shooter (whose name I refuse to dignify) just another lunatic. He wasn’t. He was an individual who was taught repeatedly by the way Western Media depicts the LGBT community that LGBT meant Lesser, LGBT meant Other. LGBT people are dehumanised constantly and that meant, in his mind, they were the perfect outlet for his frustrations. LGBT people are deconstructed and remade by stereotypes, perpetuating endless negative and reductive connotations. We are classed as sexual deviants, as caricatures, to the point that the mere suggestion of us being featured in media is often met by animosity:
‘Why do gay people need to be in everything?’
‘What does it matter if an entire cast of a show/film/book is straight?’
‘What does it matter if the only representation of LGBT people is one white gay man who flicks his wrists and makes sassy remarks?’
It matters because it contributes to the narrative that all LGBT people are the same, and what we are unified by is our lack of individualistic factors. We are unified by our dehumanisation. This is false. Let me tell you what the LGBT community is truly unified by.
We are unified by love.
We are unified by defiance.
We are unified by our experiences under an oppressive, heteronormative society, and Orlando reminded us plainly why it is so important that we keep going, why it is so important that we keep raising our voices when we’re accused of being overly sensitive. Why we not only have a duty to ourselves, but to all of our queer brothers, sisters, and nonbinary siblings to keep up that good fight.
So then, given how unspeakably awful an event this was, how do we move forward? And how do we continue to do so?
The same way the queer community always has; with defiance and love at the centre of its movement.
Whilst I may have felt removed from my immediate surroundings on that day, I instantly felt closer to the community that I had always and will always be a part of. I found comfort in the knowledge that there were millions all over the world who felt just as I did. There was solidarity, there was understanding, and there was so much love. LGBT individuals all over the world poured art, music, writing, anything they could into the world to highlight their spirit and support. There was a resolution that from now on all homophobia would be challenged. We would not sit uncomfortably in silence when a friend made a homophobic remark and played it off as a ‘joke’. We would not allow bigoted family members to make their hate-filled statements and forgive them simply because they were family. On June 12th 2016 we learnt that our family, our real family, are the ones who love and support us for exactly who we are.
The LGBT community is indomitable, unstoppable, beautiful, courageous, and above all else we are resilient. Orlando was a devastating tragedy, but it also served as a reminder of the strength our community possesses. Stay strong out there. You have more supporters than you know.