|photo: Eric Diesel|
It is about ten a.m. on Sunday, June 12, 2016. Along with the rest of us, I have spent my morning being shocked, enraged, and profoundly saddened by the news that, earlier this morning, an American-born terrorist slaughtered fifty innocent partygoers at a gay nightclub in Orlando, using a military grade weapon of mass murder that it was perfectly legal for him to obtain and to have. As of now, reports are of at least fifty more, also partygoers, also innocent, wounded, in a scene of chaos, of carnage, of terror. It was an egregious, brutal, and unforgivable act on the part of the killer, and it is warranted to condemn him for all eternity to suffer the full weight and force of what he did.
This comes at the halfway mark of a difficult year and an upsetting last few weeks. Aside from well-publicized public losses such as David Bowie and Prince, the last few weeks alone have seen the patriarchy conspire yet again to lighten the burden of answerability for a rapist just because he is a young while male of privilege; inattentive parents causing a chain reaction of preventable events that resulted in the slaughter of an endangered species and then having the affrontery to chafe at being told they are responsible for their actions; a political threeway circle jerk between a blustering asshole, a corporate politician, and an insider's outsider; and, prior to this morning, my own community distracting itself by arguing over whether what some smartass tv actor said about some closet case tv dipshit was "appropriate" (it was, and I acknowledge that I myself participated).
It also comes on an ironically gray and damp weekend in Los Angeles that happens to coincide with LA Pride. Usually, Pride Weekend is gloriously sunny in LA but the weather combined with an ongoing community discussion had caused John and I to consider skipping the festivities this year. Like most big city Pride weekends, LA Pride comprises a variety of events. When I first came out here, I was impressed by Pride, which was inclusive as illustrated by the breadth of the event planning: there were safe-space events for women, for people of color, for trans-identified individuals, for those in recovery, for young people, and so forth. That resonated with the Prides I remembered, which I have written about extensively both on Urban Home Blog and as a GLBT correspondent and feature writer since time immemorial. Every attempt was made, including accountability, to provide in some way for every individual. It wasn't thought of as lofty and anyone who suggested as much was decisively snapped away.
I have noticed that, in a steady fashion, each year LA Pride seems less inclusive and more corporate, less celebratory but reverent and more self-involved and, if not exactly less focused, than problematically focused. Here I note that this is also what I had begun experiencing of NYC Pride by the time I left NYC. LA Pride is headquartered both as an event and as an entity in West Hollywood, where the populace, while noticeably lgbtq* but not exclusively lgbtq*, is nothing if not alert to transgressions against equality and diversity. Over the spring, discourse started bubbling up in West Hollywood that LA Pride was becoming ageist (it is) and exclusionary (it is). Many lgbtq* people had decided to forego the festival in order to further the discussion and the reforms that already have and, it is hoped, will continue to proceed from it.
In the West Hollywood community, the discussion about Pride has been passionate, divisive, and occasionally rancorous. Though passion and anger were, division was most definitely not in evidence this morning. One of the cornerstones of LA Pride is a march, inaccurately labeled as a parade, that steps off Sunday morning to run a boisterous route down Santa Monica Boulevard, which places it along the literal artery of West Hollywood. As soon as the news about Orlando broke, the expected buzz started buzzing about whether or not the march or PrideFest should or would be cancelled, culminating with the correct call to hold them as outly, loudly and proudly as can be. Before step-off, there was an important moment of remembrance, there were galvanizing words of dedication and action from West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister and from Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti. Local and national news were all covering LA Pride, because the timing of the morning's devastating news from Orlando coincided with LA's Pride weekend.
And then, amid the rainbows and the feather boas and the sequins and the shirtless firefighters and the thumping dance music in West Hollywood, and the sorrow and the gravity and the unspeakable grief in Orlando, news surfaced that a simple phone call to tip police had resulted in the arrest of an individual in Santa Monica, whose car was equipped with guns and the components to make an explosive device, who was supposedly planning to attack LA Pride. These plans are not being reported as verified as I write this, beyond repetition of the claim that he was en route to LA Pride where, if true, it follows that he planned an attack. At the moment, details about this arrest are minimal though speculation is broad, but it is noted that the police made a point of releasing the information as a significant arrest. Everyone is being very careful not to link this individual with the killer in Orlando, at least not as part of a single, organized effort.
But there is one inescapable link: the Orlando slaughter happened in a gay nightclub, and the Santa Monica arrest happened on Pride weekend. Whether or not these two individual paths ever crossed in actuality, their destination, their target, was my community.
We who live in enlightened communities easily forget that the closet is a fact of life for more lgbtq* people than those for whom it isn't. Because we have entire business districts of restaurants and bars and card stores and bookstores and community centers and, yes, porno huts, we forget that there are lives lived where the closest gay bar is a long drive away, yet a paradise even to have it that close; where the closest thing to camaradie or companionship is available at a worship center whose doctrine negates lgbtq* lives; where letter carriers dispose of brown paper packages in case they might contain an lgbtq* book or movie; where being called FAGGOT or DYKE or HE-SHE or QUEER is not only a cultural norm but one that is colloquially protected in the names of religious freedom and cultural history. This kind of gender/sexism parallels the racism of those bigots who defend anything and everything from mammy culture to usage of the N word as part of the "rich cultural history" of a locale rather than the deep vein of cultural shame that it actually, and only, is.
It often happens that, when those of us who can move to an affirming location such as the gay district of a city or town or a university that has an empowered lgbtq* presence do so, once we settle our internalized issues we move forward with our lives just as if we have the same right to live them and the same rights pertaining thereto as anyone else. Often we succeed, even to the point of influence, maybe even significant influence. But complacency is damaging to our culture and our people. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and -- perhaps because they came from a recent history where being out could and did have very grave consequences -- our foregoers knew that. They created Pride in order to honor the past and to validate and to remember the lives of those who sacrificed -- often ultimately, very often anonymously -- for a better future than the past they themselves had known. They created Pride not just to celebrate the present and revel in the moment but to honor the past, to grieve its victims, to insist upon learning its lessons. Pride started out as a self-esteem movement, a social justice movement. We do not have Pride parades; they are civil rights marches.
Those who created Pride saw themselves not only as organizing action for their own lives but as setting up a better future for their children. For in that time and place, all gay kids were all gay people's kids, not just conceptually but in very real ways. We took gay kids in to feed and educate them, we taught them their own history even if it meant that we created our own schools, we demanded self-esteem of them because we knew personally and we understood intellectually the damages of stigma. Because we knew full well how bad the world could be for gay people, both because of what we had experienced ourselves and because we knew our own history, we were fucking determined to create a future where it would never even cross a kid's mind that there was anything wrong with being lesbian or gay or transgendered or bisexual or fluid or queer or asexual or any other goddamn way there is to be. In many ways, we succeeded -- some would argue too well, as in the community discourse I mentioned above regarding LA Pride. In the revelries of their selfhood, many younger lgbtq* people don't seem to know or remember or honor the cost of their freedom to be that callous. We fought for it, we created it, and we got it. And it has an effect, not the least of which is that there are still many more young people who are in situations of want and danger than who have the luxury of self-actualizing.
I should acknowledge here that I can write this because I benefitted from the shepherding of my own gay life by great influences who rescued me. I am of the generation who came of age in the 1980s, as AIDS was becoming a fact of life even as the social movement known then as gay lib was barely into its second decade while pre-Stonewall was a recent, vivid memory. Once I was part of my community, I benefitted from Day One. I was mentored by elders who had been on the cover of Newsweek while marching in the earliest Pride actions; who had been part of The Mattachine Society; who had worked on Broadway and in movies and on ice rinks and in gay bars; who sent soaring, eviscerating writing into the world. One of the most profound influences of my life routinely helped prepare Pepper LaBeija To Walk both by sewing hems and by mopping makeup. They demanded nothing from me except the opportunity to provide for me and that I pay it forward to my community however I could. Aside from my own history, they taught me skills for survival, everything from holding down a job to working up the nerve to go into my first gay bar. And, at the risk of divulging a secret men don't typically share, about the comport of the inevitible proceeding from that.
All of this is important because, back at Pulse, there is blood on the dance floor. Partying became an aspect of Pride celebrations early on, for just exactly that reason: to dance in the streets because we could, to celebrate living openly not just for ourselves but for those who weren't as fortunate. But it was always done not just for the joy of it, but in remembrance of those who went before, who were deprived of so basic a freedom as openly being who they were and doing so without fear. Sometimes it was a heavy message, sometimes even morbid, but those lives matter, and while grief and acknowledgment don't bring anyone back, it pays them the respect and appreciation that are their due by safeguarding their place in the library of life.
First and foremost and always, my heart goes out to the victims and survivors of the Orlando massacre. But I am not going to invoke the dreaded phrase "thoughts and prayers," because while that is perfectly correct for a condolence card, there is no condolence adequate to the cold-blooded slaughter of people who thought they were safe, who just wanted to go out and dance. It is an egregious, brutal act, and it is unforgivable. Thoughts and prayers surely are important, as are giving blood, handing out blankets and coffee, comforting the weeping and supporting the responders; all appropriate, all humane, all loving. But also all bereft, and accordingly all the more important, because at that immediate level of person to person care, we give what we have to give: help, support, comfort, strength.
It is not possible for any good to come from mass murder. This was a vicious, brutal, unforgivable crime, and we do the victims and their immediate survivors a disservice by characterizing or remembering or labeling it as anything other than the vicious, brutal, unforgivable crime that it was. These people died violently, through no fault of their own, through every fault of an individual, and that must always be not just acknowledged but stressed. We must hold this killer's immediate survivors, his supporters, his enablers, his memory, his very spirit forever accountable for the slaughter, the carnage, the irreparable rift he has caused that he had no right to cause. We must hold him accountable, forever, for the full weight and force of what he did, no clemency, no forgiveness, with all of the judgment that this horror demands.
We cannot undo this damage, but we can honor these people who did not volunteer to be, did not conceive they would become, sacrifices in someone else's war. Sooner or later, the press will start releasing the names of the dead. Light a candle and say their names. Donate blood or funds or time if you have them to give. Feed someone, clothe them, educate them. Make your life a source of learning and refuge for any of the marginalized you can reach. And while it is acknowledged that not all of this morning's victims were lgbtq*, they were taken in our space, and we both revere them for being there and remember them as one of our own, beyond labels, in profound acknowledgment and profound grief.
But Pulse is a gay club, and I predict that this horrific act will galvanize my community around such crucial social issues as lgbtq* inclusion, whose battles so clearly aren't over yet, whose victims are as high profile as this morning and as quiet as names passingly mentioned in police blotters; as gun control and its relationship to domestic terrorism; as religious- or other ideologically based acts of terror and hatred aimed at lgbtq* people and our allies. We can reclaim this crime, to deprive the spirit of he who committed it of whatever eternal glory he believed in, to use whatever hatred he held in his heart for just exactly its opposite effect: togetherness. We queers have been doing that throughout history; hell, we did it with the word "queer." We have banded together to change society before, often while hiding in plain sight, and you can damn well bet we are going to do that again. And to anyone who responds "only God can judge," I respond: work that out with your demagogue and get out of my fucking way. Or, to resurrect a war chant from my ACT UP days, my way of fucking.