Can love win? Is there any hope?
After a tragedy like the Orlando shooting, it is really hard to believe in love, or hope for a better future. It is all too tempting to despair, to think that after each previous mass shooting, the calls for gun control went unheeded, and to give up on working for change. It is easy to despair when gun sales increase after every mass shooting, and the gun that was used by the shooter is “gun of the week”, and it only takes seven minutes to buy one. It is easy to give up when we know that every shooting done by a person claiming to be a Muslim will result in more anti-Muslim rhetoric, and every shooting done by a person claiming to be a Christian will be regarded as “just a lone nutter”.
We are tired of being vilified, tired of being erased, tired of being targeted, tired of hate preachers. It’s horrible when people who have previously vilified everything about LGBTQ people are suddenly horrified when so many LGBTQ people are murdered – as if their hate-filled rhetoric hadn’t contributed to their deaths.
Homegrown terror is the product of a long history of colonialism, including state and vigilante violence. It is the product of white supremacy and capitalism, which deforms the spirit and fuels interpersonal violence. We especially hold space for our Latinx family now, knowing that the vast majority of those murdered were Latinx, and many were specifically Puerto Rican. From the forced migration of thousands of young people from the island of Puerto Rico to Orlando, to the deadly forced migration throughout Latin America and the Caribbean — we know this is not the first time in history our families have been mowed down with malice, and we stand with you.
Religious extremism is not new to America and is not unique to Islam. For centuries, religion has been used to subjugate queer people of color and lay the groundwork for our deaths. We live in a society that gasps at mass murder but does little to produce the policies or radical ideological shift needed to keep LGBTQ people and our families alive and safe.
But there is hope. There have been terrible injustices, horrific murders, and all the rest. But when these things happen, there are always people reaching out in love, and trying to help others. In the attack on the World Trade Center, people helped others, went back up the stairs to rescue others, called their loved ones to say goodbye. After the Pulse shooting, when emergency workers went in to retrieve the dead and the wounded, the cell-phones of the victims were ringing as anxious loved ones tried to contact them. The next day, 600 people queued around the block to give blood to help the survivors.
— Steve Helling (@stevehelling) June 12, 2016
All around the world, vigils have have taken place in memory of the dead of Orlando. I attended the Oxford (UK) vigil for Orlando last night with two friends. It was beautiful. There were poetry readings, candles, flowers, speeches, and a silence. LGBTQIA people and our allies came together in a shared moment of grieving. Hertford College was flying a rainbow flag at half-mast. The person leading the Oxford vigil for Orlando was Muslim and LGBT. There is a huge number of LGBT Muslims around the world, and they are in mourning too.
It was also noticeable how many of the families of the dead loved them unconditionally, and that the families of one of the couples that were killed – Juan Ramon Guerrero and Christopher “Drew” Leinonen – have arranged a joint funeral for them. They had planned to be married, but now they will be buried side-by-side.
This is in stark contrast to the sad story of the funeral of Tom Bridegroom, which his partner, Shane Bitney Crone, was not allowed by the Bridegroom family to attend – they threatened violence towards him.
In the face of such an appalling tragedy, it is all too easy to assume the world is full of hate. Yet every day, millions of small acts of kindness and love go unnoticed and unreported. People helping refugees, building community, reaching out to each other in friendship and love.
Sadly, as with any social progress, it’s a case of one step forward and two steps backwards. The unsightly rash of ‘bathroom bills’ currently disfiguring the legislatures of America are evidence of that. The horrific murders of 49 people are evidence of that. The fact that demagogues are all too ready to spout anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ hate is sadly still with us. And we must not forget that being LGBTQ is still illegal and subject to the death penalty in far too many countries around the world.
There is some good news today – that Democrat Senators held the floor of the Senate for nearly 15 hours in a push to get some gun control bills heard. They have put forward bills that would institute universal background checks and bar suspected terrorists from buying guns. Such legislation might have prevented some of the recent spate of mass shootings.
But what this tragedy has done is to show the love that the LGBTQ community has for one another. The solidarity represented by the many vigils around the world is beautiful. We have survived centuries of persecution and hate, and we are still here. As Owen Jones said:
The terrorist who carried out America’s worst ever shooting in Orlando will fail just as a neo-Nazi terrorist did 17 years ago in London when he detonated a nail bomb outside the Admiral Duncan pub. The LGBT community will mourn, will cry and will rage but ultimately we will win and the love of LGBT people all over this planet will burn even brighter because of what he did.
Earlier this month, my husband and I went to Oxford Pride. On our way there, we met a grandma who was also going. She expressed regret that she couldn’t get a rainbow bandanna for her little dog (she had ordered it online but it hadn’t turned up). She was going to Pride (to meet up with her entire family) to support her lesbian grand-daughter. My husband was going to Pride to do some morris-dancing with Oxford City Morris to entertain Pride-goers. Both of these things would have been extremely surprising twenty years ago.
Below are some photos from the Oxford (UK) vigil. The one that really sums things up for me is the placard that reads “Stay Proud. Stay Visible”.
As Pat Mosley wrote in a blogpost, Pride is the Answer:
Pride is the way attitudes change. Refusing to live in the shame assigned to us defuses the power of that myth for others being raised in it.
I have anger. But I also have Pride. As an atheist, as a fat diabetic Queer, as a sex-positive, socialist, gender resisting, sober/recovering addict, and occultnik weirdo. I refuse to let the dominant paradigm’s shame narrative closet me. And I refuse to do their work for them by hating the others who join me in living our Queer utopian consciousness.
The LGBT+ community is one that is born from pride and resistance, but also from love. It is our love that marginalizes us and yet draws us together. It is our love that informs our politics and challenges the world around us.
My heart hurts for the loss of so many beautiful lives. And yet I am aware that there is still beauty and grace in the world. Hope and despair, love and loss, joy and sorrow, live side-by-side in our hearts. Life is always renewing itself in the face of death. And the beauty of love is always present, even in the midst of fear and terror.
These are all the Orlando-related articles that I linked to in the blogpost.
— Steve Helling (@stevehelling) June 12, 2016