A powerful guest post from my college friend, Shawn McGuffey. An important read that needs to be shared far and wide–and I’m proud to share it here.
“They want us dead. I’m gay. They want us dead.”
This morning I woke up smiling. Laughing. And making jokes with my partner. While morning laughter is usually as routine for us as eating and brushing teeth, it was notable today because we have not done so since the tragic massacre in Orlando this past weekend where 49 people – primarily Latin@ and Black – were killed. My partner, Erik, is the one that told me that KJ Morris, an advocate for women’s and transgender rights, was among the dead. KJ and I danced together many times at a club in Northampton, MA called Divas.
Since then I have actively avoided people. I needed time to reflect as I received yet another reminder that my life could be taken just because of who I am and whom I love. Today, though, for whatever reason, I was getting back to my normal, happy self. And I am thankful.
I took my dog, Simba, for our usual morning exercise. I live in a very Latin@ and Black part of Boston, where I am almost as likely to hear Spanish spoken as I am English. Halfway around the block we ran into a neighbor who lit up with a smile when she saw Simba and exclaimed, “Oh, I need some Simba loving. Come here, boy.” She came off her stoop and Simba leaned against her as she pet him enthusiastically. After a couple of rubs down Simba’s side she said, “So, we’re here again. When will the violence stop? Too much bloodshed and I’m nervous.” I agreed and told her about KJ. She cried and prayed for both KJ and me.
She then went on to explain how this event made her afraid for her family, especially her grandson. Although she and her grandson are South Asian, her grandson, who lives with her, is very dark, has curly hair, and is often perceived as Black. She’s seen the way Black and Brown men in the community have been mistreated by some police officers; including my own police encounter that ended with a gun pointed at my head for no other reason than me being Black. “I worry every time he goes out to play. I worry that police will kill him because he’s running and playing, like they killed Tamir Rice.” Her household is also Muslim, and anti-Muslim sentiments worry her just as much. And she fears that Donald Trump’s blatant Islamophobia, racism, and cruel comments after the Orlando attack will fuel tensions between Muslim and LGBT communities.
She reaches out to me, grabs my hand, and says: “We can’t let that happen. I love you.”
After a few more words Simba and I continue on to Nira Rock park, and I decide to stop at Dunk ‘N Donuts before heading home. I tie Simba up outside and go in for some coffee. When I come back a pregnant woman and her daughter are petting Simba. As I bend down to talk to the little girl I hear a deep baritone voice exclaim: “Professor A-B!,” which is a nickname some youth gave me back when I used to volunteer at an urban mentoring program. I look up and smile, as I easily recognize this young man whom I used to mentor. He’s taller, has more tattoos, and has cut his Afro but his face is exactly the same. We embrace and I realize that the young woman and child petting Simba are his fiancé and soon-to-be stepdaughter, and they are expecting another child in two months.
After some banter he says: “ Yo, we gotta go, but I just want you to know that Orlando mess is messed up. We gotta do something about that. And I just want to let you know when my pastor started saying some homophobic crap at church I – we walked out. And we ain’t going back until I talk to him about that. You ain’t going to use my God to justify your hate. If your God is telling you to hate somebody for being who they are, it ain’t God you praying to.”
We talk more about the politics of religion, race and sexuality and once the daughter is out of earshot I tell him about KJ. What he said next truly moved me:
“Remember what you told me years ago, when Jaewon was murdered in those projects right over there? [indicating the nearby housing project] I was mad as hell, throwing shit, and I think I even hit you. It’s my turn to tell you what you told me back then: You are loved. You are worthy of love. And I will do everything I can to prove that to you. You can get through this.” After another hug he and his family get in the car and before driving off he yells, “Stay strong Black man. I got you.” And even though I’m not sure when I will see him again, I believe that he does.
Once home I felt refreshed and eager to work from my home office. I was amazingly productive– I finished an assessment for a sexual assault center in South Africa, did some work for the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition, and reworked a syllabus for one of my Fall courses. Next thing I knew it was after 4 pm – well after Simba’s usual second outdoor excursion. I grabbed the leash and some poop bags and headed back to the park.
This is when the day takes a marked turn.
At the upper level of Nira Rock I see an unconscious Latino man near the edge of the cliff. At first I freeze, as I can tell that he is not sleeping, but in serious trouble. While Simba is running around off-leash I check to see if the man is breathing. He is not, as far as I can tell. I call 9-11 and let the operator know I’m at Nira Rock, which is technically classified as an “urban wild,” not a park. I try to describe our location but can’t concentrate. I come here about twice a day but I can’t seem to remember the street name of the closest entrance where we are situated. I hang up the phone, run to that entrance to observe the street name and call 9-11 again to give a more solid location.
I go back to man. Perform CPR (poorly). I feel a heart beat. Then I feel it stop. I go numb. I call Erik. I don’t know exactly what I say to Erik but it’s something like: “I’m at the park… A man’s not breathing… I don’t know what to do… Oh my God, he’s breathing again. He’s coughing. I gotta go.” And I hang up the phone. The man’s eye’s open and he looks at me and says: “They want us dead. I’m gay. They want us dead.” The paramedics arrive and it seems as if the man was trying to commit suicide. Simba provides comfort, rubbing his head against me and leading me out the park.
The world needs more dogs like Simba.
The social scientist in me is cautious in assigning causality to this situation, especially since I do not know the precipitating events. But the human in me is confident that this gay Latino man has received the same message many of us received after the Orlando slaughter: LGBT people – especially those that are Latin@ and/or Black – are disposable.
We must change this narrative.
First, ALL religious leaders need to come out and support all of God’s children and condemn those religious leaders that are celebrating or justifying the death of those in the LGBT community. Using religion to justify homophobia fuels a culture of violence that makes these hateful crimes more likely to occur (again). Prayer is great, but we need more people to be like my mentee and take a stand against homophobia. Be brave and challenge your church communities. It is a matter of life and death.
In the same way, we the people need to hold our politicians accountable and truly make them work towards the equality of all people – even those that may not look like, love like, or pee like us.
And finally: Donald Trump is dangerous, and we must do whatever it takes to make sure that he is not the next President of the United States. Regardless of your political affiliation or your feelings towards Hillary Clinton (I voted for Bernie), Donald’s courting of the KKK, his racist comments against Mexicans, Islamophobic orotundity, proposed Muslim ban, and encouraging hostility between Muslim and LGBT communities will further divide us; and embolden more violence against many of us at the intersection of multiply-marginalized communities.
I firmly believe that Trump– and the followers he inspires– will lead to more violence, more murders of people like KJ; and more people attempting to end their life like the unconscious Latino stranger in the park.
In the meantime, how many people have to die, and how many friends and family have to bury loved ones before we have a serious discussion about guns? It’s time to realize that assault rifles should be restricted to the military; background checks should not have loop holes; and if you are identified as a possible terrorist and not allowed to fly on a plane then you also should not be able to purchase a gun. It’s ridiculous that in this culture of violence that military style weaponry is so easily accessible. As Erin Wathen so succinctly stated: “A nation so filled with hate should not be this well-armed.”
C. Shawn McGuffey, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Sociology and African and African Diaspora Studies at Boson College. A native of Lexington, Kentucky, his scholarly work primarily highlights how race, gender, sexuality and social class both constrain and create the choices survivors pursue in the aftermath of trauma. Two of his current projects focus on sexual trauma. One examines how gender, sexuality, and race shape parental responses to child sexual abuse; and the other investigates the social psychology of Black rape survivors in the U.S., Ghana and South Africa. A third project investigates the ways in which Darfurian genocide survivors navigate the International Criminal Court; and a fourth examines Black LGBT views on same-sex marriage. McGuffey is the recipient of two American Sociological Association section awards: the 2006 Sally Hacker Award for research excellence and a 2009 “Best Research Article Award.” The Ford Foundation, a Research Incentive Grant, and the Institute for Liberal Arts have supported his research. He has given invited lectures at the Center for Children and Childhood Studies at Rutgers University, The Center for the Study of Violence and Prevention at the University of Colorado, Harvard University, and the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.