Recently, in the wake of the massacre in Orlando, news feeds, blogs, you tube videos and tweets have focused on the 49 young people who were senselessly murdered and the whys and wherefores of how such a thing can happen in this day and age.
Although we are inundated with news about shootings daily, when something of this magnitude takes place, it makes us stop, pause and reflect. Whether the timing of the massacre was serendipitous or not, it did take place during our high holy holiday – Gay Pride – and to add insult to injury, it took place in what some have described as our “safe” space, a gay bar.
Indignation was rampant. After all, we as a community have made great strides with the elimination of DOMA, the extension of spousal benefits to LGBTQI employees of the federal government and the legalization of same-sex marriage. It is a rude awakening to realize even with the symbolic trappings of social progress and assimilation, there are people out there who do not like us and will go to great lengths to attempt to either slow or stop our progress.
While many of us were questioning how we, as an inclusive, diverse force of nature could be targets of such narrow-minded, outdated beliefs and behaviors, some of us were questioning, myself included, when did gay bars become “safe” spaces? An even bigger question for some of us: When did we become inclusive and diverse?
I think I missed that particular accomplishment.
I’m asking these questions because, in addition to the imaginings of the horror the bar patrons experienced on that evening, in the retelling of the story, the fact that 85 to 90 percent of the 49 were Latino is somehow left out of the story. The experience of bringing up the fact of the victims’ racial/cultural heritage has been met with resistance, denial and accusations of race-baiting.
In a dialogue with a member of our community, he was incensed that the Latino community was lamenting the loss of such young lives and what that means for them. “How dare they try to claim our pain,” was his response to the understandable anguish and grief of the friends and relatives of the victims.
For me as a person of color, the response – while deeply disturbing and very telling – didn’t register a remote sense of surprise when the person made the statement. The ease with which someone is willing to erase skin color has become all too easy for our community. The erroneous assumption is that no one cares about that anymore. I can tell you, beyond a shadow of doubt, that People of Color still care and it is an important part of who we are and how we navigate the worlds we interact in and with on a daily basis.
As if on cue, the Black Lives Matter movement made appearances at some of the vigils for the victims a couple of weeks later. Again, they were considered an intrusion in a sacred place, as they were pointing out the inconsistencies about who we say we are and who we actually are as a community. A few days ago, BLM showed up at a Canadian Pride Celebration and the community was outraged. “How dare they stop the celebration of our struggle to promote their own agenda.”
It’s interesting that BLM, which consists of Black queer-identified, transgender women, are considered intruders at a Pride celebration and somehow their demands of equal treatment is counterproductive to our vision of ourselves as an inclusive, fair-minded community.
Some lamented their tactics, calling it disruptive and an act of civil unrest. The irony in this is pretty obvious, but I’ll state it anyway. The Stonewall riots of 1969 and the subsequent marches were acts of civil unrest. Acts of civil unrest and disobedience have been instigator of most of the significant social changes we’ve seen over the past 30-40 years. The lunch counter sit-ins, the marches in Selma and Montgomery, the Gay Marches on D.C., all played a hand in the affirmative action policies in place today, and they were acts of civil disobedience. For that matter, there was period of time in the not-so-distant past that coming out was an act of civil disobedience.
Just because we’ve evolved to a point of more acceptance than in the past does not mean the work is done. Just because we enjoy more freedoms in this day and age, does not mean we can take those freedoms for granted and not address issues such as race, gender and class because it will make our allies or our peers uncomfortable.
Just because, as a community, we place respectability politics above activism doesn’t mean we won’t have to one day revisit the marches and protests to have our voices heard. Civil disobedience can be a very simple gesture and here’s mine: To the Latino brothers and sisters who lost their lives to a senseless act of violence, I see you. To the Latino families who lost their children, nephews, mothers, nieces, fathers, cousins friends and co-workers – as a person of color, gay and a leather man, I feel your pain.
To the community that believes it is OK to deny or overlook a key component to another’s personhood, acknowledge the whole person. Why? Just because it’s the right thing to do.