Early Sunday morning I woke up to some horrible news. A gunman had entered Pulse, a popular Gay bar in Orlando, Florida, and began shooting. It took police three hours to get to him because he created a hostage situation and apparently, they were trying to negotiate with him.
When it was all over, 50 people, including the gunman, were dead and at least 53 were injured.
I offer my deepest, most heartfelt sympathy to the victims, the injured, the traumatized, their families and friends as they deal with a tragedy beyond reckoning. My heart is with you!
As soon as I heard the story, I knew 2 things: if the shooter was a Muslim, Islamophobia would rear its ugly head and eventually, someone would blame a mental health condition for his unspeakably horrific act.
Unfortunately, I was right on both counts. The shooter, Omar Mateen, was an American-born Muslim and his ex wife claimed that he was mentally unstable. That led to people, including the racist, hateful Donald Trump, fanning the flames of hatred and Islamophobia, while others jumped on the bandwagon of scapegoating and blaming this on mental health issues.
Another thing I knew that would happen was people would attempt to back away from the fact that this was an attack on the LGBTQ community, as well as people of color and frame it as radical Islamic terrorism.
The Pope and several politicians have spoken about this horrendous outrage, while purposely failing to say that it was LGBTQ people at a Gay nightclub who were attacked. If that isn't erasing, I don't know what is!
This hit way too close to home for me. Like the victims of this horrible massacre, I belong to the LGBTQ community; I'm a proud lesbian. In addition, I'm Afro-Latina and Choctaw. It was Latinx Night and a celebration of Indigenous peoples, so most of the over 300 people there were Latinx. I love going to Gay bars and had I lived in Orlando, could easily have been chilling at Pulse.
For some reason, this mass shooting, the worst in U.S. history, has triggered old memories and I am not feeling so safe.
This made me think about an incident that happened to me. Shortly after I came out back home in Chicago in 1986, a friend and I were attacked (gay bashed) as we left a Gay bar on Chicago's North side. Four young men pushed and hit us while hurling anti-LGBTQ slurs. They even followed us on the bus and continued the attack while people watched and did nothing. We managed to get off of the bus and walk home and call the police. As soon as they saw us, two young Black wimmin, it was clear that they, two White cops, gave less than a damn about us. We had to force them to make out a police report.
Our experience with the police mirrors the experience of many, many, many LGBTQ folks. 30 years later, not much has changed for us, which is why I have major problems with the length of time it took the police to bring the carnage at Pulse to an end.
Whatever the reason, most in the LGBTQ community know that the police judge us by our so-called "lifestyle" and "preference" and for the most part, don't really care for us as human beings.
Gay bars and spaces have always been seen as safe spaces for us, but what happened at Pulse proves that there really aren't safe places for us in the LGBTQ community, or anywhere, for that matter.
I'm guilty of almost being lulled into a false sense of security because I hadn't been gay bashed in quite some time. Almost, because I always had it in the back of my mind that it could happen again. I'd breathed a sigh of relief when the dude in Colorado Springs who saw me leave a concert alone with my Pride shirt on, only followed me and yelled stuff at me and didn't beat or rape me.
I started to feel like things were getting better because I could hold my wife's hand, or give her a peck on the cheek without people making comments, but maybe I am safe because my wife looks "manly". Still, I'm no femme; I, too, get mistaken for a guy. I think I've just been lucky. Others, particularly trans folks, especially trans wimmin of color are brutalized and murdered almost with impunity and suffer further indignity by being misgendered by police and reporters.
What happened at Pulse has brought all of this back to me, though I know that even though we have marriage equality and can serve openly in the military, that means nothing when our lives are so devalued that we can be slaughtered on the street or in what we think is a safe space and people celebrate our death. We can still get fired from our jobs, LGBTQ teenagers are killing themselves in record numbers due to bullying and people are still afraid to come out for fear of this, as well as being disowned by parents, who have no qualms about putting their preteen or teenaged children out on the street.
I keep wondering what the clubbers at Pulse were thinking. Were they feeling safe because they were there and could be themselves?
And, let it not be forgotten ever, ever, EVER that this hate crime was not only against the LGBTQ community, but also against people of color. Almost every single person murdered in cold blood that early Sunday morning was either Latinx, Black and/or Indigenous. Let's not whitewash or erase this!
And for folk wanting to believe that this was radical Islamic terrorism and wondering where the guy got radicalized, that radicalization took place right here in the good old U. S. of A., but the massacre at Pulse had nothing to do with Islam or religion! It had everything to do with the fact that the shooter was an angry, violent individual who hated the LGBTQ community, whose hatred caused him to plan an act of unspeakable evil.
This guy was an American, born and bred. He was a wannabe who ran his mouth, but law enforcement found no ties to Islamic terrorists. That 911 call was his last attempt to make himself seem bigger than he. He wasn't really religious. If any radicalization took place that would lead him to plan the massacre at Pulse, it was society's overall views on the LGBTQ community and people of color. It was his hatred of himself as a gay man.
I hear people saying that the shooter had mental health issues because his ex wife claimed that he was mentally unstable. Don't fall into the trap of blaming this on mental health issues! That seems to happen after every mass shooting. All this does is stigmatize folks with mental health conditions; as as someone who lives with depression, I can say with certainty that this is not good for us. Those of us with mental health conditions are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.
As for gun control, yes, we need it, but not at the expense of, and on the backs of folks with mental health disabilities. We need to make it harder for anyone to get guns, especially assault weapons.
What we really need to do is to address the underlying reasons and causes of mass shootings.
Sometimes it's hard to figure out why people go on mass shootings, but sometimes, injustice is the root cause. I'm not trying to make excuses, but it is well-known that if some people are systematically abused and marginalized, they will turn violent.
For me, though, the thing foremost in my mind is that my people were slaughtered. I'm in deep mourning and I am angry! Angry that people are trying to make something out of this that erases the glaring fact that these beautiful people were LGBTQ and people of color. They were targeted for being who they were. They were from groups that it is very easy for people to hate on. They were enjoying and celebrating their culture - my culture - in what was supposed to be a safe space, only to have their lives ripped from them by someone who saw himself as being of the dominant culture and therefore, better than them.
I'm deep in my feelings right now, so I'm asking y'all to bear with me. I'm afraid to leave my house. Don't come at me with that don't-give-in-to-fear BS. Let me work this out on my own. I'm also having flashbacks of the gay bashing my friend and I endured. I don't know why that's happening, but it is.
My thoughts are scattered and I'm doing my best to put these thoughts down while they're still fresh and raw, so pardon me if this sounds disjointed.
I call on my friends and allies to honor these beautiful people, lift them up and speak out against homophobia, transphobia and racism. Write blogs, articles and statements of support and solidarity that center us. If you run an organization, mainstream or no, please make public statements in solidarity with our communities. While I have seen a vast outpouring of support from individuals on social media, I haven't seen much from straight, White-led organizations, including mainstream disability organizations. I thank those organizations and individuals that have made statements of support.
Some have asked specifically what the disability community can do, since some of the survivors may acquire disabilities as a result of the shooting. As someone with disabilities, I think that there needs to be some healing first. I also think that we in the disability community need to be really careful that we don't make this all about us and forget that this is about an attack on the LGBTQ community of people of color.
Perhaps we should concentrate on being good allies, embracing their LGBTQ/POC identities before we sweep them under the disability umbrella, lest we be seen as only caring because some may now be disabled.
I also ask that you remember that those of us who are LGBTQ and Latinx, Afro-Latinx and Indigenous are grieving hard. Please don't come at us with stuff about radical Islamic terrorism. The guy may have been a Muslim. He may have wanted to be involved with terrorists. He may have did and said things just before the massacre at Pulse, but this had nothing to do with Islam! There is homophobia and transphobia in the Muslim community, just as there is in all the major religions and society at large. But his religion was not the cause of this hate crime. His hatred and anger is what brought this about.
Also, please don't send us pics, tweets or other stuff about hateful people celebrating the bloodbath at Pulse. There are some of us who are still struggling with our feelings about our orientation. We don't need to see that mess!
Take heart for, and remember that there were, and are people who were outed without their permission. They may face reprisals from family members or may even get fired from their jobs.
Understand that this is not the first time that LGBTQ, Indigenous people and folks of color have been killed en masse, nor will this be the last. A man was arrested in California with guns and bomb materials headed to a Pride parade. I am hearing about public attacks on trans people since Orlando. This is extremely frightening, given that trans people, particularly trans wimmin of color are targeted and preyed upon.
Finally, while I know that allies are angry, as well, please don't make this about you. It's about a hate crime against LGBTQ people of color. Also, if you get called out by one of us for making this about you, understand and step back. Don't get angry. Remember to lift up and center us and don't talk over us. Don't straightsplain or Whitesplain to us about our experiences. Be good and conscientious allies.
It's going to take me a long time to get through this; long after they stop talking about it on the news. Long after the memorials have gotten faded and dusty and long after everyone has forgotten us and moved on to other concerns.