I remember the first time I went to an LGBTQ+ space. I was with my girlfriend and we went to Climax, the once-a-month night at our university Student Union. It was no different than any other night I had spent at the Union: same venue, same drink offers, same awful sound system. But I was brimming with happiness and freedom and safety. For the first time, I didn’t feel ashamed to be there on the dance floor kissing my girlfriend. I felt proud. I was publicly able to show my sexuality in a way that was celebrated, and I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging. I was welcomed into this space, and I felt like a value member of this new community I had found.
When I heard the news that a gunman had opened fire in the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida, injuring 53 people, killing 49, and inflicting almost unbearable trauma on the entire LGBTQ+ community, it resonated deeply. It is deeply traumatizing for the community that finds such sanctuary in these clubs: to spend so long being afraid to be who you are or even hold someone’s hand in public, and to realize you are not safe even in your safe spaces.
Since the legal introduction of same-sex marriage, there has been a huge sense of complacency in mainstream gay culture. The binary, white, middle-class, gay man that seems to represent the mainstream gay culture reflects a complacent view that asks: “Legally the world is more inclusive, so why do we need to worry? If we can get married, then what else do we want?” Squeezing the visible face of the LGBTQ+ community into a narrow white heteronormative framework has done little to make any real gains in the struggle for equality. The wave of attacks and physical violence against trans women and men of color, as well as the bathroom law nonsense, demonstrates just how far we still have to go in the bid for parity.
In the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting, social media platforms have been awash with rainbow-colored hearts and the hashtags #loveislove and #lovewins. A reductive gesture that enables people to comprehend this tragedy only when they understand it through a normative system, and a token gesture offered in the immediate wake of this violent hate crime. But what of the persistent risk of violence in Queer, non-binary, and Trans people of color’s daily lives?
The hugely diverse LGBTQ+ community has come together all across the world to hold vigils, pay their respects, and stand united as a community. But the media has cherry-picked “acceptable queers” to be the spokespeople of the LGBTQ+ community. Cis, white, able-bodied, gay men have become those chosen to speak for the community at large. They define the standards by which gay men should look. They are the ones represented in mainstream TV and film, and they are the only faces to adorn the front of popular gay magazines. In the wake of the Orlando shooting, Owen Jones, a white, gay journalist, was invited to discuss the event on UK Sky News and stormed out when the presenters refused to acknowledge the homophobia intrinsic in the shooter’s motives. Nothing was mentioned about the Latinx identity of the majority of the victims, and this journalist storming out has almost become more of a news story than the event itself in the UK.
What has happened in Orlando, the killing of 50 of our Queer and Trans Latinx siblings in Pulse nightclub, has revealed the intersections of homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, racism, and violence that underpin much of our current society.
The fact that a man could have such easy access to an assault rifle and was thus capable of committing this atrocity is a whole issue in and of itself. But the target of this violent hate crime was a Latinx Queer night, and so many of the victims were Queer and Trans people of color. This cannot be ignored. Furthermore, the Muslim identity of the shooter has had, and will continue to have, huge repercussions throughout the Queer Muslim community.
The solidarity shown over the last week cannot be forgotten. But rainbow hearts and hashtags are not enough. This was a targeted attack on some of the most vulnerable members of our community, the Trans and Queer Latinx community, and we must not allow these voices to be erased. Lantinx leaders of the community came forward to speak about what has happened and demonstrate how this is not an isolated act of violence, but part of a long time reality for LGBTQ+ POC:
“The media will use words like terrorism…to get us away from understanding how our culture and institutions like the media, like education, like prisons, have actually been complicit in this attack and are complicit in the ways that our bodies are put at risk every single day.” —Bea Esperanza Fonseca from Unite Here
“We as queer and trans Latinx people need to see what happened in Orlando as a reminder that our human dignity, our lives are connected to the liberation of Black people, Muslims, of women, of trans people, so we cannot move forward without working with these communities to end White Supremacy, patriarchy.” —Jorge Gutierrez from Familia TQLM
“We need to put an end to this, because it’s not one specific group that is to blame, it is the system that has created this violence since colonisation started over 500 years ago.” —Jennicet Gutierrez from Familia TQLM