Today, 50 of our LGBT+ family were shot dead in a place that was supposed to be a shelter, a safe space, where they could be free to be and express who they are.
Tomorrow, I go to orientation for Time Out Youth Center in Charlotte, NC as my second step towards becoming as involved in the community as they will allow me to be.
I’ve said before that I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time because I’m finally coming back to who I am, to my family, and rediscovering my sexual identity. This is not to say that I was in the closet beforehand; on the contrary, since coming out, I’ve stayed out. But after college, where I was very active in LGBT+ groups, I lost contact with the community, and I ended up marrying a man- my best friend- and we now have a child together.
My sexual identity was, of course, not invalidated by my marrying a man. However, due to the way my life evolved, I’ve led a fairly quiet and domestic existence dominated by straight, white culture, and the issue of my sexual identity rarely came up. In the few times it did, I was very upfront about my pansexuality, and luckily, didn’t run into much homophobia. Well, at least not to my face.
But the last two years have reawakened me in ways I never fathomed, and as a result, my desire to be back with my community, my family, is completely overwhelming. I’ve never not been attracted to or desired women- that’s always been a ubiquitous presence in my life. But my reawakening has set fire to those desires, and women are constantly on my mind as they were in my early 20s.
The most telling change, however, has come from the stark reality smack across the face with the Orlando shooting at the gay club Pulse. Sitting here, writing this, watching all the news broadcasts and reading all the articles, I’m reliving memories of my teen and early 20s years where I experienced gay bashing, discrimination, and bigotry. I was aware that my re-entering the community on an activist level would put me back in direct touch with this unfortunate side of LGBT life, but it didn’t really hit me how dangerous that work can be until today.
I’ve remembered in vivid detail how in danger I used to feel when cornered because of being bisexual (as I identified then), because of having a girlfriend, being involved in LGBT groups or hanging with those friends. I was so scared at times. It’s a feeling a lot of my LGBT brethren have experienced in their lives, and compared to many, my experiences were mild.
Here I am, less than 24 hours away from taking that initial step back into the real world of LGBT issues and activism, and I’m painfully aware now of what I am about to risk. I don’t intend on being a passive member, nor do I intend on standing on the sidelines. All of us, just for being who and what we are, and for taking a visible and vocal stand against hatred, bigotry, and discrimination, will inevitably experience some sort of violence.
I can’t let that fear get to me. It didn’t stop the activists in the 1960s, it didn’t stop the Stonewall Riots from happening, it didn’t stop the first Pride March in 1970. It didn’t stop Vito Russo, or Sylvia Rivera, or the Lesbian Avengers, or Audre Lorde. It didn’t stop Harvey Milk, Dan Savage, Bayard Rustin, or ACT UP. It didn’t stop the community even when they were targeted so many times with horrendous acts of violence like the arsons in the 1970s, the silence of the US government during the (still extant) AIDS crisis, or the recent- sometimes bloody- battles fought for equal rights.
I am scared. I am terrified. I know the kind of climate I’m about to enter, especially here in the south. But, this isn’t about me, this is about all of them, and this is about everyone who is involved now and will be involved in the future. This is about lasting change, and a consistent push for visibility, and holding oppressors accountable for their actions. And I’ve never believed in a cause or a group of people more in my life. All those people who fostered real, actual change did so because they put everything on the line. I need to do the same.
As a white woman who is married to a man, and who has led a very quiet and “respectable” life for the last decade or so, I have experienced more than my share of privilege. It’s a safe existence that doesn’t honor my entire self, and it blatantly ignores the culture and community to whom I very much belong. I can no more stand idly by while these attacks are happening, and these laws are being passed.
I’ve had enough.
The community needs all of us. But, if I’m honest, I need them even more.
Barbara Poma opened the club in 2004 to promote awareness of the of the Orlando area LGBT+ community. The club name, Pulse, was named in honor of her brother who died of AIDS 13 years ago. Pulse is symbolic for his heartbeat.
I think it’s symbolic for all of ours as well.
(source for picture: CNN.)