As many of you know, June is National LGBTQIA Pride month… and if you didn’t know that and you’re reading this, well now you know. June is significant to this community of people, of which I am a part, because way back in 1969 at a little bar in New York City the NYPD was harassing the clientele of a known queer watering hole. On June 28 of that year, the patrons had enough and they revolted. The pushback did NOT resemble that horrible movie entitled Stonewall, which placed a young, attractive, blonde-ish man as the protagonist… the movie should have documented the actual story, which is about fierce queens, as well as queers from all backgrounds who happened to be at the Stonewall at the time, who were tired of being treated like shit, and so when a police raid occurred, they fought back. And thus, the Gay Rights Movement, as it is commonly known, began in Greenwich Village in New York City on June 28, 1969. So this is why we celebrate Pride in June… but in recent years, the whole idea of Pride has become muddied with corporate gain and the co-opting of a movement. No longer freeform in nature and located on the outskirts of mainstream culture, Pride has become another celebration for anyone and everyone. This might not seem initially problematic; it is great that we can all come together and rejoice and show support for those in our lives who happen to fit in the LGBTQIA category. However, with corporations sponsoring Pride events and the parade centering around giveaways and candy, the freedom of expression in a space that we called our own is no longer sacred. Which begs the question… why do we need our own spaces? Simple answer: because there are still huge pockets of the world where LGBTQIA members of society cannot openly live as who they are… we have to hide, feel ashamed, and hope that we make it home safely after taking the risk of going out in public and expressing ourselves in a pure, honest way.
Already this year, I have attended one Pride event, Brooklyn Pride Parade. And it was more mellow than the large NYC Pride Parade coming up this week, but as soon as I stopped on a street corner to view the passing revelry, I was struck by the hate speech that was coming from across the street. About a dozen individuals were screaming as loudly as possible that Jesus would not save the sinners and that we were all going to hell. Most people just laugh in the face of this nonsense, but they were adamant and they were nasty. They were surrounded by 8 police officers who were standing watch, ensuring that no one from either side got out of hand. But I thought, why waste time on people who will laugh at you and confirm for you that you are crazy? I guess it’s their mission, but this was the first overt sign I saw that intolerance was, as always, alive and well. These people looked more than intolerant, however… they looked straight up venomous. They hated us: anger in their faces; a refusal to stop yelling over the passing parade; mere bible quotes as proof. That was last Saturday…
Then came Sunday morning when we all woke up to the horrifying news that 49 people, mostly members of the Latinx Community as it was Latin night, had been killed in another mass shooting at Pulse, a gay bar in Orlando. Sickened and saddened, I didn’t know how to react. What the hell just happened? I felt oddly insecure for the first time in a long time. This wasn’t just an attack on those who were celebrating themselves in an authentic way on the dance floor, this was an attack on a movement. Without losing sight of the 49 deceased and the 53 who were wounded, it was time to check in with each other… queer to queer. It’s unsettling when a space that you have never been to, but is meant for people like you, is attacked. It’s different than a movie theater or a church, it’s a space by and for us. That hurts.
And the shootings this week did not stop at Orlando: Kenya saw a mass shooting and suicide bombers that resulted in approximately 15o deaths; Spartanburg, Colorado saw a shoot out between a perpetrator and Deputy Sheriffs; a man in Chicago was Live Streaming on Facebook and falling victim to a drive-by shooting, inadvertently captured his own murder on video. These are just three shootings that occurred this week. What are we to think or feel when gunshots ring out like random fireworks in the neighborhood? Who’s going to stop the next lone wolf that wants to leave a mark? Who will up the ante next?
We are told by our loved ones that we should not go out to any places that may attract this type of person or to activities that may fall prey to this sort of attack– but as indicated by all precedent, there are no spaces safe from this sort of attack. As briefly mentioned earlier, there is no reason or justification as to what sort of spaces are safe from random attacks. Therefore, we cannot stand by, idly in fear. We have to carry on, no matter how shaky we feel at any given time. I talked to a young trans- woman at a café this week. She was scared… of everything. And she had reason to be. She chronicled for me the times she has been the victim of hate crimes, getting “the shit kicked out of her” and having her “eye completely swollen shut.” She maintained that going to Pride this year was a dumb idea, and I couldn’t blame her for feeling that way. We are all trying to get by in whatever way we can, and some have it easier than others. She clearly did not have the easy route. I told her that I was going to go to Pride, regardless of how much and how many times I was told not to go by those who love me. It’s not that I am stubborn (maybe a little), but I believe that instilling fear in us is a tactic, to win some sort of symbolic war… a war that we never signed up for, but one that we must fight. I reiterated to the young woman that I think it is a completely valid choice to not go to Pride this year, but also reminded her that Pride was not always a place to feel secure.
When the Gay Rights Movement began in 1969, I cannot fathom how insecure one might feel walking hand in hand with someone of the same gender, but this fear that leads to adrenaline that leads to heightened awareness that leads to confrontation that leads to cultural shifts that leads to reactionary pushback that leads to now… a time when we need to come together, corporations and commercialism aside, and remember what Pride is all about: community.