Six and a half years ago I woke up in the middle of the night to flashing blue lights and news of a shooting at an LGBTQ club here in my adopted hometown of Orlando. A gunman had killed 49 people at Pulse. I felt it as a trauma. Those were my friends; my family. I was shocked, scared, and heartbroken.
This morning I woke up to flashing blue lights and headlights again. A shooting at another LGBTQ club. Five people were killed and another twenty five injured at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Even more horrifying is that it happened as we honored Transgender Day of Rememberance. It should be no surprise that all the feelings from six and a half years ago came flooding right back.
I wasn’t ready for that. Who could ever be ready for that kind of violence? I think growing up as a Jewish kid, you’re kind of conditioned to expect violence and tragedy is a possibility. That you or people around you may be directly harmed by the actions someone else takes in defense of their hate. But every damn time it happens to my communities, I realize how totally unprepared I am. How vulnerable I am. How angry and afraid I am.
To be honest, I still haven’t processed these events. I’m sitting here with my favorite queer music playlist on, trying to write some cohesive thoughts about this latest act of hate-fueled violence. I’m grieving deeply, for Colorado Springs. For the families (both chosen- and birth-families) of people killed or injured. For everyone in Orlando who is reminded of what happened in June 2016. And for every queer person who has just had one more bit of their security stolen.
In spite of not having actually processed any of this, one of the first things I did Sunday morning after reading all the news I could handle was to send a message to Adam telling him that I had to put aside the piece I’d been planning for today and write about this. Just like I did after Uvalde. I wrote that piece in a similar state of rage and confusion. In that piece I said I’d thought I’d only ever write one piece about gun violence–when I wrote about the fifth anniversary of the massacre at Pulse. This spring I had to write a second piece. And now a third. Can I face the idea of writing another one? Because I can almost guarantee I’m going to have to make the choice about doing that. I just have to look at Gun Violence Archive’s “Last 72 Hours” page for… let’s call it inspiration.
I feel like I’ve been pushed to a place where trauma and queer topics are my specialities. And this Colorado Springs shooting fits in both categories.
One Trauma after Another
It seems like we don’t have the time to recover from one trauma before we have to face another. This is hardly the first act of (physical) violence against LGBTQ people this year. A bar in Brooklyn was set on fire. Also in New York City, a series of robberies and murders that appear to be connected, where queer men are being drugged and robbed. And in some cases, possibly murdered. In Idaho, thirty one people associated with the terrorist group Patriot Front were arrested, thankfully, before they could carry out their planned riots and assaults at a Pride Parade. And despite the incredible threat of violence transgender and gender nonconforming people face, we almost never hear the stories of the violence that they face.
Around the World
Anti-queer violence isn’t limited to the USA either. June’s shooting at the Pride festival in Oslo was widely reported by global news sources. I wrote a little bit about Russia and Ukraine earlier this year. We don’t hear a whole lot about some other parts of the world though. Where consenting sexual relations between same gender partners or variations in gender presentation are criminally punishable by anything ranging from fines or jail time to corporal punishment (lashes or caning,) Or the seven countries where it’s punishable by death. Including Qatar, where we’ve heard more about the World Cup’s beer ban than their human rights record. Or FIFA’s incredible corruption which allows places like Qatar to host tournaments like the World Cup.
Government-Sponsored Homophobia and Transphobia
I haven’t really talked about the acts of judicial and legislative violence against the LGBTQ+ community. Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law. Countless anti-Trans bills covering everything from prohibitions on gender affirming care for kids to allowing health care providers to decline to care for patients on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. And there’s the overturning of Roe v Wade. Losing Roe is bad enough. But it also opens the door to the reversal of things like Lawrence v. Texas, which confirmed the right to intimacy between consenting partners of the same gender and Obergefell v. Hodges, which effectively legalized same-sex marriages. (We know that Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas have already advocated for the repeal of these rights.) The legislative violence isn’t just this year. We’ve had six years of increasing legislative violence against the queer community. It’s overwhelming.
Religious and other Communities Teaching Hate
We’ve got religious leaders advocating for violence against queer people That’s not new. Calls to execute queer people by stoning or to execute the parents of queer kids aren’t really a surprise either. The call from some sources to violence against the queer community is loud and clear. While there are a lot of people who hear this and don’t actually follow through on it. The thing we can’t ignore is that too many people aren’t paying attention to the influence this has over impressionable people. Just like we can’t ignore the support that the Colorado Springs Shooter’s grandfather expressed for the January 6th riots in Washington DC. Or the way the shooter was known to the Colorado Springs police and had still managed to evade Colorado’s Red Flag Laws which might have prevented him from accessing the gun that was used in the shooting.
The Police are the Problem More Often than the Solution
It’s not like we can rely on the police to keep us safe either. It was two patrons at Club Q who heroically stopped the shooter. Not the cops. But we never really could trust the cops. There’s a long history of police abuse and mistreatment of the queer community. We have Pride every year because we’re commemorating a riot. A riot that started in response to police abusing people. In response to repeated acts of police violence, and raids on gay bars. And that police harassment continued for many years. Masquerade laws were used to harass queer people long after the Stonewall Riots.
So if the police aren’t going to keep our spaces safe, then what?
Maybe the Crime Families should have Floats at PRIDE
For queer people, they depended on a group that is not well-known for respecting government rules and adhering to social norms. The mafia. Not that they were exactly fans of the queer community. But they could be convinced to pay off the police and to turn a blind eye to the illegal activities like serving alcohol to gay people, same gender dancing or any other outward displays of queerness.
The Stonewall Inn was owned by members of the Genovese crime family. It lacked running water, fire exits, and functional restrooms. But it was a safe space. Sort of. It was a space where the queer community could gather safely most of the time. (Except when the police raided the bar for show, which subjected patrons to humiliating arrests. Oh, and the Mafia used to charge patrons blackmail money in exchange for keeping their secrets.) So even the safe spaces weren’t actually safe. Nor were the people who owned them.
Safe Spaces in the Face of Trauma
That’s what’s at stake here: the idea of these safe spaces. Gay bars are supposed to be safe spaces. They are our refuge. They’re places where we can hold hands or kiss our partners without fear. Without looking over our shoulders. I don’t know if I can convey the terror that I’ve felt just holding hands and walking around the mall with a girlfriend. Looking around to see if there might be someone who might assault or physically hurt you because you’re being affectionate with someone. Things I don’t think twice about when my partner is (or can pass as) male.
Queer bars and clubs make things feel safe for homophobes and transphobes, too, because they don’t have to see us. They don’t have to acknowledge us. They can pretend we don’t exist. And in those spaces we’re safe from those people. Or at least we’re supposed to be. Really it’s like a kid covering their eyes and saying “You can’t see me.” They pen us in like animals. They push us into the smallest, darkest spaces–back into closets that we fought so hard to get out of because when we’re out of sight they don’t have to question anything. Not their feelings. Not the things they’ve learned in church. They don’t have to explain anything to their kids. We can be separate–not separate but equal; just separate.
That’s the compromise we’ve had to arrive at. Not because it makes sense but because it works most of the time. Queer people are a part of your world, whether you want them to be or not. Whether you know they’re queer or not. And they don’t owe you anything beyond the basic dignity that should be afforded to all people.
Part of what hits home about what happened at Club Q is the similarity to Pulse. The Colorado Springs shooter had the same weapons (a knife and an A.R. 15) as the Pulse shooter. Pulse survivors are doing their best to stand with the survivors from Club Q, but they’re also being forced to relive their own trauma. As if the minority stress that queer people live with day in and day out just because we exist isn’t enough, we are all being forced to confront the very real possibility that we, too, could be victims or survivors of massive violence. And the ones who have already lived through it are having to see and hear it again.
Acts of anti-queer violence keep happening. Over and over again. And over and over again we don’t see real change, we just get “thoughts and prayers.”
Thoughts and Prayers
You know what? Fuck your thoughts and prayers. Half the time, your prayers are part of the problem in the first place. People are dying. People are dying because religions and other groups are still training children to hate. Because hate is being spewed by our elected leaders, by our religious leaders, by influential people everywhere. Their blood is on your hands.
What would Real Justice Look Like?
I want to force every person who has misused the word “groomer” to mean LGBTQ people; every bureaucrat who has promoted anti-queer legislation or blocked real gun reform or real access to mental health support to have to go to every queer person and admit that they’ve hurt us; to make them go to every friend or family member (chosen family or birth-family,) of every LGBTQ person who has been targeted for, or harmed by, violence because of those homophobic and transphobic leaders. To have to look into the eyes of their friends and families (chosen family too,) and say “I’m sorry I killed the person you cared about.” And to make them say their names.
Not just these names: Daniel Davis Aston, Derrick Rump, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, Raymond Green Vance but every name. Every single one. I want them to see those faces in their sleep. I want them to remember every one of those names. See the tears of friends and family.
Live every day with the fear of being harmed just because of who they love.
Minority Fatigue, Trauma Fatigue… Just Plain Fatigue
I’m so angry, so sad, so frightened that I’m numb. That I can’t really even talk about what this means. I’ve spent the last three months in the hospital or in a rehab setting where I feel the homophobia all around me. Where I’m terrified that someone might actually find out I’m queer and what that might mean for my care from the doctors and nurses and therapists here. I’m not sure what to do to undo the things that have led us to a world where the existence of a group of people is so threatening that people want to destroy us.
I am weeping not just for the lives lost and the families and friends who are mourning, but also for every kid standing under the rainbow umbrella holding their letter Q (for “questioning”). Those kids who are questioning–just questioning!–their sexuality now have one more reason to be afraid to figure out the answer. One more reason to try and hide what they’re feeling instead of seeking support. And I’m weeping for every kid who already has found their place under that rainbow umbrella who has one more violent incident that will live in their minds as they think about being themselves. Growing up. Falling in love. And learning how to live in this world.
I wish every one of those kids could hear the advice I would have given myself as a queer kid, and that they would know that no matter how much things seem awful, that there are people who will love them and who will keep fighting for them.
Keep Dancing, Colorado Springs
Six and a half years ago, Orlando, my adopted hometown, faced the kind of tragedy that Colorado Springs is facing. We came together as Orlando United. We rallied behind the cries of Orlando Strong. Heard the voices of anguish and we learned how to keep dancing. We are changed but we are still here. Colorado Springs will find their way back. They will find strength they didn’t know they had and they will be changed forever but they will keep dancing. Orlando will be there to help.
But in a few weeks, when the cameras disappear and the flags and memorials are tattered, and the inevitable next mass-shooting happens, the rest of the world will forget about it. The silence will be deafening. Orlando will keep fighting for change. For the safety of all their queer people. And when they’re ready, Colorado Springs will join the chorus.
And when the next assault on the queer community happens, after the world has rallied around them and cried out for change, Orlando and Colorado Springs will be there to help pick up the pieces. Because, like Rabbi Tarfon said in Pirke Avot, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” I hope I will live to see the day when the unbroken rainbow will shine on a world where the work is finished.