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From one queer to another

Feel what you need to feel, but we will rise up despite the tragedy at Pulse

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Image Credits: Nancy Chen

Early on June 12, another gun-related tragedy struck Florida. This time at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Pulse, that was hosting a Latin night. One man walked in, fully armed, and took hostages. He wanted nothing other than to hurt the people in that club. By the end of the three-hour police situation, 49 people were dead and more than 50 others were injured. As of publication time, six people are still in critical condition. Now, before the pain and suffering has settled, around the world, people are talking about what happened in Orlando.

It is the biggest mass shooting in the US since the start of the 21st century.

In the aftermath, the outcry online has been overwhelming. Queer people have watched in horror as names have been released, along with the final videos, voicemails, and texts sent that night. Blood was needed to help aid the survivors, and many of us couldn’t be there to donate to save others like us, to save our friends, though we so desperately wanted to be there. We watched as news reports rolled in, as the media tried to focus the story on the assailant, and his radical ideologies, rather than the survivors, their stories, and the assault on the LGBTQA+ community.

We watched as two facts were covered up by people in suits: that it was Latin night, and that the celebration was led by trans* women. Some outlets mentioned Latin night in passing, but they overlook the importance of the theme night. I remember reading update after update online, and when the names and pictures of the dead started to crop up, most of the first names and pictures released were of Latin heritage. By the end of the tally, more than half of the 49 “were of Puerto Rican descent,” as Reuters reported.  

One of the very first reports I came across mentioned that Pulse’s Latin night was being hosted by trans* women. After that, the information was lost amid details, like getting a background on the shooter and showing traumatic footage of loved ones calling out for the dead. Trans* humans are part of the queer spectrum and do not deserve to be overlooked. This night, and this location was chosen for a reason. It’s not a random attack, this attack was meant to shake two communities that all to often are plagued by discrimination and hate.

Maybe the media assumes we’ll figure that out for ourselves, but they do their profession and their audience a disservice by quieting any talk that race may have been a factor. The people covering this tragedy on the major news networks are so focused on the shooter, Omar Mateen. They only care that he self-identified with ISIS. . .  too many people put on blinders as soon as they hear that. They neglect to consider other issues like homophobia, transphobia, and race. Issues such as these always get put on the back-burner, and as a result we end up fanning the flames of Islamophobia.

This attack was devastating. The legacy it leaves will be destructive. The tears we shed on behalf of the victims, survivors, and their families because of this hate crime will become scars on our skin that never fully heal. They will hurt long after they have begun to fade with the bittersweet erasure of time.

It didn’t happen here in Vancouver. It didn’t happen here at SFU. But even though we are not on the front lines, do not think for one second that this traumatic event does not affect us. Do not think it does not affect the queer population of Vancouver and SFU.

My mom tried to talk to me about what happened. She could see that I was upset and when I told her, her face fell a little and she got sad, too. “Any loss of life is tragic, Courtney,” she said, in that ‘Mom’ tone of voice that’s part commiseration but mostly reprimand. As though I valued the queer lives lost in this tragedy more than those lost in any other, simply because this was the one that I couldn’t help crying for.

But I wasn’t just crying for the lives that had already been lost. I was crying because there will be so many more losses to come in the wake of this violent crime. The attack at Pulse sparks potential for attacks elsewhere. And those attacks, the spillover of one man’s hate, won’t get included in the final count. They probably won’t even make the news.

We say that we will not hide, but the sad truth is that some of us will

Being a member of the queer community at SFU is a different experience for everybody. My time here has been full of acceptance and support, and that is what we need more of at this time. Any time I have mentioned my girlfriend, or brought her with me to an event, people have been nothing short of fantastic fellow queers and allies. No dirty looks, slurs, or violence has befallen me because of whom I’ve had the greatest pleasure to love.

As we all know — from Orlando, from the dime-a-dozen stories of queer kids being bullied and beaten and killed for being who they are — that’s not the typical story a person like me has. My mother does not support me or understand the life I need to lead in order to be honest with myself and with others. The friends that I’ve made here at SFU have filled that void in my life. Care, acceptance, support, and understanding is what the SFU community has given me.

As so many people — celebrities, activists, and students included — have stated, this is a time when we need to show everyone that love conquers all. I can think of no better environment to show that ideal, than SFU. Peace does not spawn from fear.

But there are many people who are scared, and who will continue to be scared for a long time to come. All queer spaces, be it a gay club or a group like Out on Campus (OOC), are supposed to be a safe space. If you don’t feel safe at home, at work, wherever, then these queer-friendly spaces are where you’re supposed to be able to find comfort.

If a queer person should be safe at any time, it’s at a queer event during Pride month. This tragedy has shattered our illusions of safety. My friends’ parents have asked them not to go to any Pride events out of fear. And though the message across Vancouver’s queer community is that love will conquer all and that we will not hide, some of us will.

Some of us have been hiding for a long time, waiting in the shadows of OOC’s door, in the wings of a support group. And it’s hard to imagine they will want to stop hiding anytime soon now that these previously safe spaces no longer feel all that safe. People who need these support systems will be denied access through fear of being found out and targeted, or through fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Some of us are realizing that there are targets on our backs for the first time, while others have seen and lived through this kind of demoralizing, fearful time before. The fear of being persecuted for loving someone is real, and although we may not see a lot of blatant homophobia present on campus or in Vancouver at large, it’s still out there.

As a member of the queer community, I am here to tell you that the open environment we have cultivated at SFU and especially at OOC allows us to keep feeling safe. It’s alright if you’re afraid, if you’re nervous — I am too.

But I want you to remember something: it was one man. He did a lot of damage and ruined a lot of lives, but he is so greatly outnumbered by every person who believes that love is love is love. He is one person who will never amount to what we can do if we can work together to heal and create a better world for us all.

The message all around is that the queer community will overcome this tragedy, any kind of domino effect it might have. With the added news that a man with assault rifles and explosives was arrested on his way to LA Pride the very same day of the shootings in Orlando, people may not feel safe being out or coming out. And if we exert more caution in light of recent events, that’s OK. Do whatever makes you feel safe.

We will mourn the losses of our friends in Florida, but we will still be here. We will be strong and we will be seen. We may fear, but it will not rule us. Some say that to feel fear is to be weak. That’s a lie. True strength comes from knowing that you are afraid — knowing, but standing tall despite the risk.

To paraphrase poet and writer Dylan Thomas, we will not go gentle into that good night. We will continue to be visible, continue to love and be loved, and we will look forward to the day that we as humans are no longer divided by society based on who we love or the colour of our skin.

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