Thursday, 16 June 2016
My Birthday Wish - We Need To Talk About Orlando
Less than 2 weeks ago, on Tuesday 7th June 2016, I made a wish as I blew out the candles on my 21st birthday cake. My brother commented at the time that I seemed to take a while to think about my wish. I know the whole thing about your birthday wish not coming true if you tell someone about it, but I feel that this needs to be said:
My birthday wish was for a full stop to homophobia and transphobia, and any other hateful behaviour towards the LGBT+ community. This wish was in immediate response to reading an article about a 17 year old girl from Texas called Sarah who had been sent to a Christian-based gay conversion therapy facility because she had taken her girlfriend to prom. With the help of her cousin (Supergirl actor Jeremy Jordan) and the public, she has now been released from that facility, but she was to not have any contact with the outside world at all for a whole year. I was horrified that these types of facilities had still not been banned in the United States and shut down since President Barack Obama expressed that he wanted them to be banned following the suicide of Leelah Alcorn in December 2014. This wish was also in response to the transphobic comments that have very recently been made towards a few of my friends, including misgendering and asking if one of them was a "boy girl". I want the homophobia and transphobia to stop. I want to be able to call my best friend by her correct name and pronouns all the time rather than only around certain people (this isn't because she isn't out to those people, but rather their refusing to use the correct name and pronouns).
On Sunday 12th June 2016, at approximately 10:30am, I started to see a headline trending on Facebook about a shooting at an LGBT+ nightclub in Orlando, Florida. I knew that on Friday night, singer Christina Grimmie had been shot at her own concert in Orlando, but at the time, I didn't click on the headline and continued to do other things and read a book for a while. When I turned my laptop back on later in the day, the news of the shooting was everywhere - across all three social media platforms I mainly use (Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr), across the news sites, and if you dared to type "Orlando" into Google, you'd read about the shooting and not anything about Disney. I was going to watch Aladdin on Sunday evening, but during one of the advert breaks, I decided to switch over to BBC News 24, where they were only reporting about the shooting and were due to have a statement made by Obama. By this point, they had already identified the gunman, and were discussing his possible links to IS and how he'd allegedly called 911 just before carrying out the attack to pledge his allegiance to the group. But the only thing I knew was that this attack had been carried out at an LGBT+ nightclub. This is what I added to my reblog in one of my earlier posts on Tumblr about it on Sunday evening (I've reblogged and talked about it on Tumblr a lot in the past few days):
"I am so fed up of hearing the BBC and their sources put the suspect’s religious beliefs as more of a cause of this crime than his beliefs about the LGBT+ community.
He could have gone to yet another school or university.
He could have gone to a supermarket.
He could have gone to a cinema.
But he went to an LGBT+ nightclub intentionally. He went into a space where people are meant to feel safe and were just having a good time and he targeted them. Neither the media, the police nor the government can overlook this."
Now that the news about this attack is starting to die down on the news (or I've just started to avoid the mainstream live news), it's still being mainly labelled as a terrorist attack linked to IS by all the main news corporations. This media branding has even made me question whether or not this was just another attack that IS have claimed responsibility for or if it was a homophobic hate crime. But I'm still standing with it being a homophobic hate crime, and it's been really helpful to have had friends around me who realise this and think the same.
One of the things that I've thought about over the past few days was the possibility of this happening to me or any of my LGBT+ friends. If you're wondering why I'm putting myself into the picture, it's because I identify as LGBT+. Well, the + really. I identify as the A and the P in LGBTQIAP+ because I have identified myself as asexual since March 2015 and panromantic since October/November 2015. I am currently in a romantic relationship with a girl and have been for over 6 months now. Neither of us are the type to enter an LGBT+ club or any club, but I have friends who feel comfortable at these clubs (including a non-binary friend who spoke about this in a video they made following the attack in Orlando).
What if this had happened to any of my friends?
Yes, I know I live in the UK where we have much stricter regulations on obtaining guns, but there's still other weapons that could be used. The Admiral Duncan pub in London was bombed in 1999. I have a LGBT+ friend who was in Orlando (or Miami, I'm not sure, but was definitely in Orlando a few days beforehand) at the time of the attack, and although I knew he was safe because of the reason why he was there, I'd thought about what could have happened if he was in Orlando for just a holiday rather than the reason why he was there, and had visited the Pulse nightclub that night? The first post I saw from him afterwards was a sharing of a image about the irony of asking for blood donations for people from a community who are banned from giving blood themselves (because men who have sex with men and haven't been celibate for a year are banned from giving blood due to the increased HIV/AIDS risk), before a later post about how those who had shown solidarity with France in November 2015 and Belgium in March 2016 via the application of Facebook filters to their profile pictures but hadn't applied the Pride flag filter for Orlando to not do so straight away out of guilt, but to truly think about why they weren't standing in solidarity with Orlando.
While the media have been largely ignoring the identities of those whose lives were taken, I've read through the posts of friends and pages on social media about the names of the 49 victims and sometimes even a bit about them.
Luis Vielma worked at one of the Harry Potter rides at the Universal parks in Orlando.
Jerald Arthur Wright worked at one of the shops on Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World.
Juan Ramon Guerrero and Christopher "Drew" Leinonen were planning to get married and build their future together, but will now share a joint funeral and will spend their future buried together.
I've thought about Shane Bitney Crone and Tom Bridegroom, whose story I learned about around this time last year after a classmate attended a screening of the Bridegroom documentary with a talk by Shane Bitney Crone himself during her year abroad in the USA. A man who was prevented from seeing his boyfriend in hospital before he died from injuries sustained in an accidental fall from a roof, and all because of the lack of legal recognition of their relationship of 6 years.
I've also thought again about the 21 trans women, including many of colour, who were murdered in the USA in 2015 alone, including 21 year old Zella Ziona. I've thought about Leelah Alcorn and Ashley Hallstrom (the latter of whom died in the same week as Zella Ziona) and the approximately other 20 trans people who took their own lives in 2015.
I've read again about Matthew Shepard, who was beaten, tortured and left to die on 6th October 1998 in Wyoming, USA. He died from severe head injuries on 12th October 1998, the day after my brother (who will be 18 this October) was born.
I read for the first time about both the bombing of the Admiral Duncan pub in the Soho area of London, UK in April 1999, which killed three and injured approximately 70 others, and the Fire at the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans, Louisiana in June 1973, which killed 32 and injured 15. The latter of these was previously considered to be the "deadliest known attack on a gay club in US history" before Sunday's attack in Orlando.
I've wondered if this will EVER stop? When will LGBT+ people be able to live in peace and have the same rights to safety, marriage, adoption, healthcare and even bathrooms as everyone else? Not just in the USA, but in the UK as well. Only yesterday, I read an article about protesters standing outside a parliamentary equalities conference in London and demanding legislation, similar to that passed in North Carolina, that would aim to prevent transgender people from using the bathrooms of the gender they identify with. Although same-sex marriage is now recognised in all 50 states of the USA now, I feel like there's still been backwards steps since.
And right now, I'm scared that we will not go far enough forward for a long time. I'm scared that I'm just going to continue to read and hear about homophobic and transphobic attacks against LGBT+ people both in the USA and everywhere else around the world. I'm scared that I might still be silenced for trying to speak out when it's not to other LGBT+ friends or allies of the community. I'm scared that other very similar attacks to that in Orlando could happen, and they'll be branded by the media as "terrorist attacks on all of us" rather than attacks and hate crimes against the LGBT+ communities of the world. I'm going to cry over and over again at this and other similar tragedies that have happened and are happening and will happen around the world.
Everyday, I'm grateful for the acceptance, support and knowledge of my friends, especially those who have listened and supported me and possibly others over the past few days (and even before that), but I'm scared that one day, if they were in the USA or even other countries, that this could be them.
If there's a vigil held near you and you identify either as LGBT+ yourself or an ally, go to it. Dress colourfully and know that I'm with you in spirit (although I may not be allowed to attend my nearest vigil in person with my friends), in the rainbow tie-dye Mickey Mouse T-shirt that I made last year and my Hogwarts badge.
Here are the words from a call and response chant that I saw in a video from a vigil held in Nottingham on Monday:
"Black and brown,
Trans and queer,
Their (Our) lives matter."