I am openly trembling with rage. I am openly scared. This is refreshing. Normally, I swallow these feelings. But for the first time in an age, something overtly homophobic has happened.
A homophobe opened fire on a group of LGBT* people and allies in a gay club in Orlando, Florida, USA. A safe space where people from all walks of life can talk, dance, hold and love whomsoever they choose.
‘This was an attack on our Western Freedoms’ is something that keeps being said. Yes, it was. Everyone who enjoys Western Freedoms, like going to see live music and drinking beer at the Bataclan, or enjoying competitive sport with women and children sharing the stadium at the Stade de France, should feel violated when these freedoms are attacked.
But this was a particularly acute attack on the LGBT* community. It was a gay club. Not a club where gays sometimes hang out. Not a gay friendly club. A gay club.
The people in Pulse were killed because they were, or were suspected of being, or were associating with people who were queer; people who live their lives, at least within the walls of that club, as other, gay, queer, non-cis, pan, whatever the hell they decide. And within those walls, it is not just accepted, but celebrated.
The media’s response has made me even more upset and angry. For the Sky News team to try to sanitise the story as ‘an attack on Western Freedoms’, for the Daily Mail to push the story to any page but the front, for rolling news to talk for extended periods about the Queen’s 90th Birthday, for the Brexit mob and Trump to sidestep the uncomfortable truths about this event and still dare to use it for political gain, when they should all be fucking mourning this tragic, devastating act, the worst terror attack on US soil since 9/11 is just baffling.
It’s made me realise some things.
Of course I feel this attack more than others because it is my community. This is a tribal, human thing. We feel the attacks on our family far harder than we feel the attacks on our distant, disconnected human family on the far side of the world. It’s not shameful, it’s not callous, it’s realistic. We, as humans, are innately innumerate; we cannot possibly empathise with all 7 billion humans on the face of the Earth without good cause.
But the reason people from the LGBT* community feel so strongly that this attack should be called a homophobic hate crime before it is called ‘an attack on our Western Freedoms’, is because ours is a community which is bonded, has been shaped, and is sculpted every single fucking day by the hate and anger directed towards us.
We have marriage equality in much of the Western World, so surely homophobia is dead, dying, on its way out?
No. The events which unfolded in Pulse nightclub in Orlando were openly homophobic and unimaginably horrific. But every single day, every single fucking day, members of the LGBT* community are battered by weapons, by fists, by words, by looks, by the assembled forces of the heteronormative mainstream media telling us, sometimes very, very subtly, that we do not fit the mould, telling us we are only acceptable if we pass for the lowest common denominator.
I am a middle class white guy. So the sort of assault I get is occasional physical violence, more frequent name calling, and regular disapproving looks. I am scared, not only to kiss my boyfriend in public, I am scared to hold his hand, to walk too close to him, to look too romantically at him. And that makes me fucking angry.
My boyfriend and I have had ups and downs in our relationship. There has been stuff we have had to sort out between us for sure. But neither of us, until today, registered that our relationship trembles, bows and almost breaks unde a huge pile of subverted prejudice. I’m allowed to marry him, but I’m not really allowed to kiss him in public places. I’m allowed to adopt with him, but I’m fucking terrified of people seeing me looking lovingly at him. Try taking the affection out of your relationships, try carrying out all of your affection inside your small bedroom and tell me how quickly your relationship starts to struggle.
So when someone (crazy maybe, extreme Islamist maybe, unhinged maybe, angry maybe, marginalised himself maybe, but homophobic DEFINITELY) goes to one of your safe places, one of the safe places of your community, your loving, vibrant, multicoloured, multi-faith, eccentric community, when someone goes there, to that room where the walls are damp, the floors are sticky and the drinks are warm, but it doesn’t fucking matter because it’s safe, because whatever you are and whatever you have it’s accepted, it’s tolerated, it’s celebrated, it’s the best thing about you, when someone goes there and fires hundreds of bullets into your already scarred and lonely and cowering and damaged brothers, sisters, siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, queens, kings, role models, inspirations, strangers, lovers and friends… when someone does that to them, to your people in your place, you will have every right to be angry, upset and scared. I would expect you to be raging.
So, my challenge to you and to myself: instead of waiting for the next open act of homophobia to come along and claim more of our beautiful family, call out the secret acts of homophobia. Call out the names, the side glances, the sneers. Orlando is the lethal, jagged tip of the iceberg, the rest happens every day and it makes our family members consider, attempt and commit suicide at a far higher rate than our straight brothers and sisters. Call out the banter, speak out for other marginalised groups facing bigotry, hold hands, go to the clubs, cafes and parties, fill up the safe spaces. Fill the safe spaces until they overflow, until the walls crumble down and the safe spaces grow and grow. And do not stop loving, defending, taking the hits and helping each other getting right back up again until the safe spaces meet, until there is one safe space, for everyone, of every colour, gender, sexuality, religion.
Do not stop until everyone can be anyone everywhere.