I thought these hate crimes and atrocities had superseded me. We have pride parades now. Big ones. We are visible; the western world seems more accepting of queer and trans people than ever before. However, there remain people in this world who are full of hatred, who are capable of doing something horrific, something unimaginable. Queerphobic and transphobic events are not a thing of the past. I was wrong. I was naïve.
Tragedy like this should not happen.
The LGBTQ patrons at Pulse Night Club did not think it would happen. They were celebrating Orlando Pride together, at a place where they felt safe and could be authentically themselves, a place where queer folk have historically congregated and unified while the rest of the world shut them out and caused them harm.
In the early hours on Sunday, June 12, a gunman opened fire on club patrons as they danced and celebrated unity, diversity, and love. He violated their sanctuary, their safe place, in the most harrowing way. He stole their lives, he stole their voices and he cast a shadow on the queer community worldwide.
I woke up Sunday morning feeling safe, content, and free, looking out the window at the sunrise before I began to get ready for the Mayor’s Pride Brunch. Little did I know others woke up in hospital beds, bullets lodged in their bodies, in an unimaginable amount of pain, clinging to, and begging for life. Some did not wake up at all — 49 people did not see the sunrise I was gazing at — and more people will die as they succumb to their injuries.
Sunday evening, I had the honour of standing under the pride flag on the steps of the Alberta Legislature at the Orlando Shooting Candlelight Vigil, my fellow board members from Edmonton Pride and I holding each other, community members and speakers surrounding me on the steps, with an estimated 1,000 queer folks and allies staring up at us.
I looked into the faces of my friends, my loved ones, my supporters and colleagues, and I saw a pain that was raw, a pain I will never be able to unsee.
In the wake of this unmistakable tragedy, it is imperative to look at this horrible act and accompanying media coverage with a critical, intersectional lens alongside our mourning and anger.
Do not trust the media as it attempts to whitewash the shooting by not acknowledging people of colour in the queer community; let it be known that Latinx queer folk and other queer and transgender people of colour were predominantly affected and make up most of the victims. Let it be known that these groups often get erased and silenced in queer spaces and in society. Let it be known that 80 per cent of queer and trans homicide victims are people of colour. Be an ally and make space for these marginalized people to share their stories and their suffering. Listen to them. Say their names.
Do not believe the media as it blames Muslims and allows this account of violence to manifest and perpetuate more Islamaphobia and hatred towards Muslim people. The Muslim community stands and mourns alongside us — many are a part of the queer community and many are our allies. Do not let anguish justify racism and do not let societal biases and bigotry silence the true tragedy that has taken place here. Allow the queer community — especially queer people of colour — to mourn.
It is not the time for politicians to push agendas on how to stop ISIS, or time to give space to people’s fear-mongering and bigotry. It is time to fully support queer people of colour and acknowledge and address the disparities that exist in the LGBTQ community and the disproportionate percentage of queer and trans people of colour experiencing violence and death, simply for being visible in a society in which they are oppressed.
It is time to reflect and mourn for the irrevocable loss in our community. It is time to be visible and to celebrate the visibility of those in our community who are silenced. It is time to love and be loved.
We stand in solidarity for the victims of the Orlando Mass Shooting. Love will always win.
Data and percentage from the National Coalition for Anti-Violence Programs (2014)