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Why the Orlando Shooting Isn't as Surprising as It Should Be

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Shrine to the Orlando victims in the Castro. (Photo: Jay Simpson)

Sunday morning, we woke to the horrifying news of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. A shooter, who was, according to his father, full of rage over seeing two men kissing months before, walked into an Orlando gay club with a singular goal: murder as many innocent people as possible. And yet I wasn't surprised to hear about any of it.

Americans have come to expect mass shootings. The stories of people murdered in their churches, in movie theaters, on college campuses, in elementary schools stay with us; they cling to us like the NRA and certain politicians cling to the Second Amendment. Not even the senseless deaths of 20 children (aged six and seven) at Sandy Hook Elementary could move the meter on the effort for sensible gun laws in this country. And in all honesty, I don't expect the murder of so many queer people -- many of them Latino -- to make a meaningful impact on the gun debate either; after all, LGBT and Latino communities have been ritually dehumanized by our elected officials and our overall culture since time immemorial.

Another reason I wasn't surprised that someone would single out LGBT people for execution is because I move through this world as a gay person. We in the LGBT community rarely feel safe, which is why gay clubs exist in the first place. Even in San Francisco, touted as an LGBT Mecca, we constantly monitor how gay or trans we come across, always on the lookout for a person who might turn the moment into one of confrontation or violence. When my partner goes in for a kiss on the street or in a straight space, sometimes I go with it, but I'm not fully there; a part of my mind is always preoccupied with who's watching and what this might mean for us. Sometimes I pull away.

This may come as a surprise to some straight people. After all, the impression is we've come so far, what with nationwide marriage equality and the fun gays on Modern Family and all that. Progress is often confused with the destination.

After the Supreme Court finally put an end to the majority going to the ballot box to decide what rights should be afforded to a minority, a friend of mine congratulated me: "Now gays are fully equal!" I responded with something along the lines of "More equal than before, yes. But no, not fully equal." The response: "Well, what else do you want?"


Hmm, let's see. How about if:

  • the LGBT community had a constitutional amendment to protect us from discrimination (you know, like gun owners have)?
  • sexually active gay men had been allowed to donate blood yesterday, or ever?
  • LGBT people weren't able to be fired or evicted for being who they are in many states?
  • trans people -- and where they decide to pee -- weren't politicized?
  • queer and trans youth didn't experience such a high rate of homelessness and poverty, many times because they've been kicked out of their homes or abused due to their sexuality or gender expression?
  • trans women of color didn't regularly experience such a high rate of police harassment and violence?
  • LGBT teens felt supported and accepted enough that they didn't feel that suicide was the only solution?
  • certain high schools didn't cancel or hold alternate proms simply  because a gay person wants to bring a date?
  • murals featuring queer love weren't routinely defaced?
  • LGBT people could simply hold hands with their partners without fear of retribution?

I could go on.

The friend I mentioned before, along with many others, might not see this side of things because their eyes aren't open enough or because they live in a bubble or because their LGBT friends have grown weary of talking about the oppression they face on a regular basis.

When someone asks me about my weekend, I will usually leave out incidents like when a man with a baby strapped to his chest nudged past me in a parking lot and called me a faggot for no reason or when someone tried to knock me off my bike with her car while shouting "Faggot!" from her open window or when someone yelled in my face on my last birthday "That's how you choose to live your life?!" while his friends stood there and laughed or when just yesterday, at the vigil march for the Orlando victims, a group of teens stood on the sidelines and mocked us with laughter and cries of "Tear gas them!" Again, I could go on.

For many straight people, gayness is what they see at Pride, a celebration, but what they fail to realize is that this spectacle of fearless expression is the one time of the year when our community congregates to revel in our truth and honor our perseverance and decide that, for at least today, we won't pull back from kisses or hesitate to speak, that we will dress and be exactly how we wish, that we will bravely stand together, despite the homophobic attitudes and laws that affect us the other 364 days of the year.

And even at Pride, there is the threat of violence. Look no further than the man authorities apprehended in LA over the weekend, who had multiple weapons and planned to attend that city's Pride celebrations. And that's saying nothing of other countries, where the expectation is to be beaten, arrested or worse, for participating in Pride events (or just everyday life).

When San Francisco celebrates Pride in a few weeks, there will naturally be an added layer of threat, but we're used to feeling unsafe and deciding to bravely be our fullest and truest selves regardless. We will still show up. We will still laugh and dance and march and kiss because what better response is there to hatred than the resilience of love?


Last night's vigil was a way to say no to hatred and yes to love and unity. Here's what that looked like:


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