"We are Matthew Shepard. We are Stonewall. We are Pulse." A passionate dissent of recent LGBT hate crimes

June 14 2016 | Guest post by Christen Reighter
Rainbow flag at half mast at LA Pride. (Photo by Shelly Guberek)
Rainbow flag at half mast at LA Pride. (Photo by Shelly Guberek)

In response to the Orlando, Florida shooting at a gay nightclub, AND the arrest of a man armed with assault weapons and explosives, on his way to attack attendees at LA Pride, my heart is heavy with so many reactions…

I am heartbroken for the wounded, the murdered, the families, and the community torn apart in chaos.

I am angry that I must witness this kind of violent hatred in my lifetime. One that, like so many before, was full of the promise of unity, tolerance, and progress. I am weary because this is not new… and I am not surprised. But I should be. This should be shocking and unheard of. But this kind of horror is commonplace in our country, where the spread of hate is protected more than the human beings simply existing in its wake.

I am also afraid. As a counselor-in-training, my principal promoted philosophy is that of living authentically — whatever that may mean to any particular individual. However, any time I express my identity and my support for my LGBTQI family, I am painting a target on my back. Even at events and locations that we, as a community, have created for ourselves in an attempt at (emotional and physical) safety, we are sought out, targeted, persecuted, and violently attacked.

We have been disillusioned by recent political victories into the notion of societal equality. But we are not safe. We were never safe. They are murdering us.

They call it "shoving it in their faces." But to declare one's existence in the face of threat is not an act one can commit quietly.

They call us so radicalized for being forced to bravely stand out, and proud, and in protest of our oppression. They call it "shoving it in their faces." But to declare one's existence in the face of threat is not an act one can commit quietly.

We wear our rainbows, march in our parades, patronize our affirming establishments, and express intimacy in public, not in some grandiose rebellion against "the wholesome and the norm" — as so many would portray us as doing. But, instead, we live our lives as ourselves, in various states of sublime and bold, amended with the screaming, sobbing, sweating declaration that perpetuating the heteronormativity of this culture is strangling us.

We are being legally evicted from our homes, fired from our jobs, and denied services we have worked so hard to earn. And all so many can talk about is how our "agenda" ruined television for you, with our mere representation.

We are being murdered in the streets, and all some can express is their dissent that our President declared June to be LGBT Pride Month. Because, apparently, our blood in the gutters has not earned us a month of our own.

When bigots are among members of the queer community, they fear for the preservation of their masculinity. When members of the queer community are in the presence of bigots, we fear for our lives.

We are Matthew Shepard. We are Stonewall. We are Pulse.

We are Matthew Shepard. We are Stonewall. We are Pulse.

These hate crimes committed against us are domestic terrorism in every definition of the term. This is a civil rights issue. This is a human rights issue. And every time an atrocity like this happens on our soil we are faced with a choice as a nation: What are we going to do about this to prevent it from happening again? How are we going to protect our citizens?

But, as a nation, we tend to answer with averted eyes.

  1. I'm a member of the LBGT community as well, and I can't relate to this at all. My sexuality is such an unimportant part of who I am. I accept and love it as part of me, the same as I accept and love my curly hair or skin tone, but far more interesting about me are the pieces of who I am that I've chosen and developed through work and education. I would be brokenhearted if someone looked at me and saw nothing but rainbows.

    I'm sorry for you that all you can see in this case is something to fear. One man did a horrible thing, and yes, there are others who want to do the same. At the same time, communities all over the country and the world are lit up in rainbows in support. In my lifetime (and it's not a long one), the US has gone from "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to legalized gay marriage. We've gone from being a marginalized minority to being able to sue people who don't want to provide us with services. We've gone from a group that was frequently killed with no consequences for the murderers to a protected group of people who are celebrated and championed. There are victories EVERYWHERE.

    I'm sorry that this shooting has opened your eyes to the fact that you're still not safe. That's a rough awakening. But in reality, no one is safe. Ever. Someone will hate you for being black, white, fat, skinny, gay, straight, male, female, other, etc, and someone will hate you enough to kill you for that. That's why we have to spread love to everyone around us. Without it, we'd all destroy each other.

    12 agree
    • I appreciate that this response comes from a place of positivity. Hope is an incredibly important thing, and the desire to spread it is not something I want to quash. I also appreciate that in calling out the fact that "no one is safe," and speaking about your own personal sense of identity, you're trying to communicate your empathy for the writer's situation.

      That said, I still question whether this is an appropriate response. When someone is hurting, regardless of the reason– illness, community tragedy, the death of a family member –people often try to relate, but end up making the discussion all about them. This feels supportive, but only from your end. For the person in pain, it feels like a deflection, a dismissal, or an invalidation of what they're feeling.

      I don't think this site is the place to argue whether we're all equally unsafe in this country. To me, this feels so untrue that it makes me angry. Some of that, undoubtedly, is deeply personal rather than factual. I freely admit that I'm in a bad headspace today. But because I don't think hurting or angering others was your intention *at all,* I wanted to let you know how your message made me feel.

      19 agree
      • The air of being dismissive and invalidating others opinions could be true of your own comment here. I appreciate by your own admission you're not in a brilliant state of mind, but I don't think your hurting should trump the positive points Cassie made and the realistic point she makes regarding safety.

        It is not for us to moderate each others opinions

        4 agree
        • I'm very sorry that what I said came off as dismissive. I think it is absolutely valid to try and react to tragedy with grace and love, and to work to bring communities together.

          I also don't mean to speak for the group or say that this post hurt everyone. But I wanted to express how it made ME feel. Not in an attempt to force Cassie to change their opinions, but because I think the result of voicing them here and now in response to this particular post might not be what they expected or intended. If they– and you –think on the balance it was still a comment worth leaving, I respect that.

          5 agree
    • Hi Cassie,
      Thank you for you reply. I think the beauty of our different life experiences is that we certainly will experience events such as these differently. Though this article may have focused on one aspect of my reaction, perhaps the most salient to my experience at the moment, I absolutely feel inspired by the outpouring of human kindness in the wake of tragedy. I simply wish this kind of unity was not most often only reactionary. One of the related images that I have seen recently that has given me such hope was the photo of Orlando blood donors lined up around the block to come to the aid of the wounded.
      I do see our progress as a society, and I am so grateful for it, but I do not want to fall into the trap of forgetting that there is so much work to be done. As you said, "That's why we have to spread love to everyone around us," and I agree. Sometimes it's all we've got.

      6 agree
  2. How beautifully worded & thought out! I will stand with you, my fellow American, not because of your orientation, not because I know it won't happen again, unfortunately I know it will, but because we believe in something that is bigger than us. By our laws, we have been given the freedom to dance in public with whomever we choose or alone. I will stand with you and take the liberty of screaming on the doorsteps of the population that are afraid and tell them if they don't stand up for their fellow Americans, who will stand up for them, when it's their turn?
    My parents gave me the gift of Tolerance when I was very young. I don't participate in the LGBTQI community, even though I am bisexual and poly.
    Just as I do not participate in the feminist movement though I am female.
    These are personal choices. I tolerate feminism as long as I'm not being told that my desire to be a housewife wrong. I tolerate people in the LGBTQI community telling me that I should wear the rainbow and go to the rally & parades as long as they stay out of my personal life. And now, though I am not part of this community, though I do not participate in your parties or parades, I will stand with you in your time of need. I will be brave though very afraid, in your stead while you mourn. I will stand up for you as a community & as Americans. Not because I'm part of your community, but because I'm not. And it is the right thing to do.
    Let's yell our thanks to the watchful member of the Santa Monica community that called in the suspicious person. And let's call for a review of the FBI agents who let the terrorist slip through the cracks. How can the FBI let these agents keep their jobs know that they are partially responsible for the deaths of 50 innocent people on American soil?
    I will stand up for you. I will be by your side. If you'll have me.

    5 agree
    • Your solidarity moves me, WhiskeyKitten, and I thank you for your kind words.
      I couldn't agree more that one does not have to identify with a certain cause or group to genuinely empathize with their struggles, victories, and pain. We should be lifting each other up as fellow members of this nation; after all, we're all doing the best we can with what we've got, but instead we tend to rank vices and virtues against each other instead of being content with the fact that we all have both, they just manifest differently. I support your right to align or not align as you see fit for yourself, just as you are supporting me in my particular battles, and I believe that through kind of neighborly love of which you speak is truly how progress is won.
      I will have you at my side, with gratitude, and the knowledge that I will be equally as vocal and steadfast for your rights, as well.

      5 agree
  3. Dear one, I am going to address the elephant in the room. Religion has been used as the excuse for this kind of persecution. I want you to know that this Christian right here says "Enough! No more!" I am not the only Christian to do so. I also have Muslim friends who defend your right to be who you are–who God made you. I also have Jewish friends taking this stance, firmly, loving and defending their LGBT daughters and sons. Enough hiding our insecurities behind God! I don't think God likes that! I am a firm believer in what Jesus said: "By their fruits so shall ye know them," and I have seen not one shred of positive fruit, and plenty of bitter, toxic fruit, from condemning gays. I just want you to know that I, and others like me, in multiple religions, are speaking up for you. We've got your back. We're recruiting more. You're not alone anymore.

    7 agree
    • Thank you for your reply, Dreamdeer. It is an unfortunate truth indeed. I believe you when you tell me that you are among many religious brothers and sisters who truly align with the God is Love philosophy; I have seen it in my community, and it is a beautiful thing. To me, even as a nonreligious person myself, that is what religion should look like: a united force for love, for good. I believe in its power and I try to check my biases when the loudest voices speaking for entire religions tend to be far from representing the beliefs of the majority. A few hateful pulpiters tend to drown out the voices of the compassionate, and it paints an ugly picture on something that inspires and uplifts so many. I am grateful for your support, in the face of potential backlash. It does not go unnoticed nor unappreciated. Your indignance at injustice is palpable, as is your love and support!

      9 agree

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