So, I am finally home after an exciting and rejuvenating weekend with friends, loved-ones, and new (Bonna) family. It was a great experience for me because I needed a recharge. I truly feel like Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, a yearly summer concert in Tennessee, is home for four sweltering, hot days of my life. It is a home, a safe haven, and a getaway for many of us queers (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender if you wanna play the “respectability politics”). At Bonnaroo, we are free to hold hands, kiss, caress and just live without fear, anxiety or victimization. That is the type of place Bonnaroo has come to be. For many queers (both young and old), gay bars and clubs are the same type of safe haven and place of community.
This was not the case for the many people who went out to Pulse Nightclub in Orlando this June. I would be remiss not to mention that this particular night was Latin night, predominantly attended by Black, Hispanic and Latinx Americans. So this was not only a homophobic attack, but a racially-motivated one to boot.
As a queer, person of color who is slightly gender non-conforming… it is rough living in society where such ignorance and hate is rampant. Hate for choosing your gender expression, hate for your black body and hate for your very existence. Your body is instantly political. If I wear baggy clothes and hoodie, people label me a thug, clutch their purses, grab their girlfriends and cross the street. If I wear short, pink shorts and a cut-off, people call me gay or a girl, whistle at me or even physically block my path. I am constantly judged by the things I wear, the length of my hair, the way I talk and move through the world.
There is not a day that passes where I am not harassed, aggressed or cat-called. Sometimes, they don’t incite violence, other times they do. I have learned that words are a lot easier to dodge than bottles. And, sometimes a stranger is an ally, and other times they are an instigator. This routine has become so emotionally, physically, and psychologically exhausting that I have to get away annually to The Farm in Tennessee. There, I don’t have to constantly be aware of my surroundings or worry that someone may try to spit on me while running past them. We need to get to a place in society where queer and trans people (of color) don’t have to leave their city to find solidarity, inclusion and acceptance. Your city should be your home, not your prison.
While I am happy to return to Cincinnati, I am sad to come home to the news of tragedy, hate, and oppression. I am sad that we have to have conversations with our queer and LGBT youth about gun violence, homophobia and racial terrorism. I am sad that I have to explain the mass shooting in Orlando as a hate crime to the parents of LGBT youth who are new to the community. Although the news media fails to do so, we must label this shooting as an act of self-hate, discrimination, prejudice and homophobia. This heinous act was facilitated by America’s willingness to other queer people, especially queer and gender non-conforming people of color, such as the Public Library of Cincinnati denying insurance claims for gender confirmation surgery. According to the Human Rights Campaign and other sources, nearly 1 in 12 people who identify as transgender will experience lethal violence towards them based on their gender presentation. This is ridiculous and can be prevented by the incorporation of laws, rights, and protections of LGBT, queer and trans-identified people.
It takes work and emotional labor to live life when the body is political. Racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, islamophobia, patriarchy and other systems of oppression all exist to tear us apart. We shouldn’t forget how leaders such as Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major Griffon-Gracy, and Sylvia Rivera lead the community to fight against the systematic and institutionalized violence against queer people at Stonewall. This is our time to come together and support those who need it.
So, what are some strategies we can implement to support our LGBT community? First, we can support the LGBT youth who are experiencing homelessness. Helping them as youth can potentially deter other negative consequences they may experience as adults. Insist that community organizations, including the social services, community agencies and police undergo competency training to learn how to deal with marginalized groups such as people of color and LGBT individuals. Question our park boards why they insist on installing obstructive objects to deter people experiencing homeless from using their facilities. Spikes on perimeter walls and bars in park benches are physical signs of exclusion and we shouldn’t be moving in that direction. We need to hold our political leaders accountable for supporting oppressive laws and policies that target LGBT people and other marginalized communities. Finally, we need to support our compatriot groups such as Black Lives Matter, Radical Feminists, and Palestinian Liberation groups.
If you don’t feel you are ready to fully support equity, start with baby-steps. Hug your neighbor. Volunteer at a GLSEN event. Go out and meet the LGBT community. We need to protect each other from violence and hurt the best we can. We need to value each other for our differences and learn to welcome the unknown and not fear it. Only when we pull back the curtain of ignorance do we learn the truth. So let’s lead with empathy and love instead of hate and misunderstanding.