This Is Not An Open Letter, This Is A Call To Action
Imagine if two days after the disturbing and horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, no one ever mentioned that it was children who were murdered. Instead, they focused on how it was "all Americans" who were attacked at that school. Imagine if two days after the congregants of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were viciously killed in their own church, the media conveniently forgot that the victims were African American and that racism fueled the senseless violence. For the Pride Community (aka LGBTQ+), it isn't hard to imagine either of these scenarios, because we're living it right now.
In the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, the media has honed in and focused on the alleged terrorist connections of the shooter. During his senseless murder spree inside the gay club, he made a call to 911 and professed allegiance to ISIS. Not waiting for an investigation to be conducted, the politicians and the media immediately went in "all of America" mode. Well, here's the thing, "all of America" wasn't attacked - the Pride Community was attacked. This was a hate crime against the Pride Community. This was at a gay club. It was during Pride month. The vast majority of the victims were members of that community. The victims were also predominantly Hispanic, as it was Latin Night at Pulse, which has been addressed to some degree in the media coverage (still inadequately). But predominantly, again, this was a hate crime against the Pride Community. And we have heard so little from our straight friends, families, and "fellow Americans" to acknowledge our suffering, that your silence if deafening and becoming loathsome.
I think I understand, at least partially, why there has been so much straight-washing and de-gaying involved in the coverage of the massacre. You, our straight families, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and fellow citizens, have no way to relate to our collective experience, so it doesn't resonate as personally for you. Everyone was once a child, so when something happens to children it's universally felt. The equality struggle for African Americans has been long, hard-fought, and very visible, so when a tragedy befalls their community empathy is more accessible (albeit far from universal). Because the Pride Community has only in recent years become successfully vocal, more visible, and somewhat accepted by mainstream society, there just hasn't been the time to develop that relationship with what it feels like to be one of us. Without that ability to relate to us as a people, the discussion has been framed in terms that straight society can accept and digest: this must be terror. Let me tell you, on behalf of the Pride Community, this was a hate crime against us, and by virtue of you ignoring that fact and continuing to not reach out to us, we're all suffering.
At times over the past few days, it has felt like I was back in the closet, hiding. My natural instinct after the massacre in Orlando was to tuck in and not be noticed. Thankfully we ended up meeting friends at a neighborhood gay bar, but hiding was my first thought. It was something that was instilled in me growing up: don't "act gay", don't be obvious, blend in and you'll be safe. It's a common self-preservation tactic in our community. Luckily, as I've gotten older and more comfortable, I know that it only creates a false sense of security. Sadly, what this disgusting episode has taught many of us in the Pride Community is that the places we go to "fit in" and be comfortable in our own skins can sometimes be just as falsely secure. That man come in to one of our safe spaces – because in the Pride Community bars are like community centers, especially for the newly out – and destroyed our feeling of sanctuary. Those of us not present in Orlando feel it too, that pervasive paranoia and sense of exposure. It's like the feeling all Americans felt on 9/11: where am I safe; when will it happen again; who can I trust. This time, the sentiment is just more narrowly focused, and of a lesser scale.
I say all of this as prelude to a plea to the straight community: we need you to acknowledge what happened. Tragedy impacts everyone at different paces and in different ways. But your gay friend from college, he needs for you to validate that this was particularly harrowing for him. Your lesbian coworker and her wife, just want someone at work to mention Orlando so that they understand that you know it's real and difficult for them. A simple text to your bisexual sister asking how she's doing will help her sleep at night. Your trans neighbor and his girlfriend want to hear you say "Can you believe how crazy this is?" and start a conversation with them. This was a crime against the Pride Community, recognize that and keep it in the national dialogue so that while we mourn, we can also keep our dignity and build security.
We are already being barraged by the "don't take my guns" crowd, turning a mass murder into a scare tactic to bolster membership to the NRA. The rabbit hole of how Muslims caused this and should be kept out of the US has been revoltingly climbed down. Instead of those dead-end-knuckle-dragging stances, why not help change the conversation to focus on those lost and their families, and those who will continue to carry, at least a bit, fear with them past tomorrow.
Donate to Equality Florida's effort to assist victims' families here: https://www.gofundme.com/2942a444
Jordan Myers is an openly gay man living in Atlanta, GA. His boyfriend Jake was an inspiration for getting this message out.