We need safe spaces now more than ever.
Last Sunday, Orlando, Florida became the site of a massacre, a targeted attack against the LGBTQIA+ community, when a hateful man opened fire at Pulse, a known gay club, killing 50 people and injuring at least 53 more. This senseless killing happened in June, Pride month, 47 years after the landmark police raid at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 that sparked the American gay pride movement.
The Orlando shooting is currently the deadliest mass shooting in US history. Much of the discourse outside queer communities has revolved around firearm regulation, the gunman’s possible links to ISIS/Daesh (and the terrorist groups subsequent claim over the incident), religious motivations (though it’s been reiterated that the gunman was not religious), and possible mental health issues and instability, with the arguments from all sides skirting the real issue, and avoiding calling it what it is: a hate crime.
The LGBTQIA+ community is a minority group that has consistently been the target of unwarranted vitriol. We are hated because we exist in a way that many cisgender heterosexuals do not understand or accept.
The first pride parades happened in June 1970, a year after the Stonewall riots, a pivotal moment in the gay liberation movement of the United States. First proposed as a “demonstration” and as a “nationwide show of support,” the first pride marches were solemn and politically charged, seen as an act of protest against recurring brutality and discrimination against the LGBT community.
Since then, pride parades have evolved into a celebration of existence and inclusion, more like big parties than protest marches. These gatherings have spread into parallel events all over the world. In the years that followed the first marches, pride parades have grown to feel hokey, manufactured and privatized. What had felt like something vital and an important milestone to the queer community now feels a little corny to some, sort of like an elective, something not worth going out of the house for. An affectation. Pointless.
I have never been to a pride parade. The experience now doesn’t feel like “me,” or like something I would be into. It feels like, by going, I’m drawing too much attention to myself. I’ve reasoned that, like many other LGBTQIA+ individuals, I prefer to live my life out in relative peace, away from potential danger or violence by simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The truth is that sometimes we forget the kind of violence that people are capable of in real life, outside pride marches or gay clubs, because they hate who we are. Some people are better at hiding the hate, insistent that they’re progressive because they’re “tolerant,” that they don’t hate you; they simply don’t agree with your “lifestyle.” That they “accept” you — but that they’re also praying for your soul.
In the presence of violence — like a dead man wrapped in packaging tape, sporting a sign that claimed he was a thief, when he was simply gay — we forget that casual homophobia exists. There are “jokes” and thoughtless insults, that moment of hesitation to connect because they think you’ll hit on them, or worse — that you’ll take advantage of what they perceive is their kindness. Casual homophobia is insidious, and it cuts us more deeply than you know.
Casual homophobes will leave you alone, if maybe you don’t speak out enough, or if you don’t look toogay or queer. If you pass as a normal enough person, in other words. They will look at you with a gaze reserved for the Other, undeserving of consideration as a real person.
They won’t ask, you don’t tell; everyone lives in what passes as peace.
In light of the Pulse shooting, though, it feels like we need visible and vocal pride more than ever — in all the ways that it manifests. We need to reclaim the spaces we’ve lost to fear. We need to create a safe space to truly be who we are, without the looming threat of violence. The warmest corner to be as queer as we want to be, without being maligned or shamed into silence or shot to death, simply because other people don’t see the point of looking beyond themselves.
The point of pride is that we shouldn’t have to hide at all. We shouldn’t have to tuck the most special parts of ourselves away because people have not confronted their discomfort about something they haven’t ever tried to understand.
Pride is an assertion of our existence, that we are not ashamed of who we are, that we are proud to be who we are. Life is precious and fragile, and as much as we need to take care of ourselves, we need to make sure we live the way everybody else is allowed to in a society.
Pulse had been considered just such a safe space for hundreds of members of the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as allies who have deemed it worthy to support the people they love. This space was desecrated by a man who couldn’t come to terms with his hatred.
But the point of pride is to persist, despite the hate and the violence. We are here, we are free, and hate will not scare us away.