An Open Letter to Straight People on the Pulse Massacre
Tolerance is not enough.
Less than one year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage legal across the country, finalizing a trend that began eleven years earlier in Massachusetts. Less than three days ago, over 50 people were murdered at Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando, in what is now the biggest mass shooting to occur in the United States. And it happened during our LGBT Pride Month.
Some of you may think that the LGBTQ+ battle is over, that it ended with the triumphant legalization of same-sex marriage. Some of you may even think that the LGBTQ+ community has been greedy and overreaching by “infringing” upon the “rights of the majority” — rights LGBTQ+ folks continue to be denied. And to an extent, I can understand why you think these things.
As a whole, us humans like to distance ourselves from the past when it is ugly. We like to convince ourselves that we’ve reached some sort of fairy-tale ending, so that no one has has to deal with feelings of guilt or accountability. This kind of thinking is not new — just look at pretty much EVERY conversation surrounding rape culture and racism.
We do this so we can wash our hands of the atrocities committed in our country on a daily basis. We do it so that when things like this horrific shooting happen we can chalk it up to an extremist madman instead of acknowledging that many of us played a role in shaping the culture needed for this type of crime to occur.
This kind of approach is easy and it’s comfortable, but it’s beyond dangerous. It does not fix the situation at all; it simply perpetuates the cycles of violence in place.
You can say that the LGBTQ+ battle is over, but I say that is far from true. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I cannot forget the struggles and injustices that have shaped and continue to shape our community. I cannot forget that our own president, Ronald Reagan, refused to acknowledge the AIDS crisis until almost one million people died from it. I cannot forget that Matthew Shepard, a college student, was beaten, tortured and ultimately died because of his sexual orientation, or that Brandon Teena was raped and murdered for being a transgender man.
I cannot forget all of the LGBTQ+ youth who took their own lives because of bullying, harassment, and rejection. I cannot forget that over 20 transgender women — many of them transgender women of color — were murdered in 2015 alone. And I will not forget that 52 percent of LGBTQ+ population lives in states that do not prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and that people continue to be denied basic rights like bathroom access.
The reality is that LGBTQ+ people are still discriminated against and victimized on a daily basis. Same-sex marriage does not change that and you cannot expect us to conveniently forget the past as some sort of payment for the rite of marriage. This mass shooting was not an isolated event, or remnants of antiquated homophobia, or just religious extremism. It stemmed from the very real homophobic culture that exists in our country — the culture many of us contribute to whether we’d like to admit it or not.
If you are a person who believes “tolerance” is enough, you are contributing to the problem. You don’t need to beat up an LGBTQ+ person to commit a hate crime or encourage another person to do so. If you misgender Caitlyn Jenner, say problematic and incorrect things about bathroom equality, cringe at the thought of gay affection, or use phrases like “no homo” or “that’s so gay” you are contributing to the culture that fostered this crime.
“Tolerance” isn’t a real thing; anything but acceptance is just gross indifference or suppressed hatred. Loving Neil Patrick Harris, but finding gay sex “gross” is not acceptance. Embracing white cisgender gay men while rejecting trans people is not acceptance, and every time you commit one of the above acts you are telling criminals like Omar Mateen that they are not alone in their thinking. You are sending out the message that LGBTQ+ folks are a nuisance and an intrusion only meant to be tolerated for social appearances. By doing these things you are not only dehumanizing an entire group of people; you are providing the social ammunition needed to commit these kinds of atrocities.
If you are an ally, you must be an active ally and truly combat homophobia and transphobia when you see it. This means calling someone out when they say something hurtful or ugly. It means caring more about what you feel is right than what other people think of you. It means not tokenizing LGBTQ+ people, or dismissing their struggles, or spouting “liberal” thoughts just to score social brownie points. The LGBTQ+ community does not need to be patronized. What we need is for people to stand up for what is right.
The LGBTQ+ community is one of the most resilient groups in the world. We are full of vibrant survivors who continue to be joyous and loving in spite of the ugly battles behind us and ahead. The shooting at Pulse was an attack on LGBTQ+ love, an attack meant to break us, but the truth is we can never be broken. We have suffered through and survived too much to be destroyed, but at the same time just because we can withstand the worst of storms does not mean we should be subjected to them.
We shouldn’t have to live in a world where our love is questioned and dismissed. We shouldn’t have to live knowing that many of our community members are on the streets or in the cemetery. And we shouldn’t have to live in a world where we have to mourn the deaths of fifty of our brothers and sisters.
Because we deserve better from our government, from our society, and from you. Because we shouldn’t have to say “it gets better.” We should be able to say “it is better.”
I’d like to end on a quote from The Laramie Project, a documentary theater piece about the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. The quote is by Zubaida Ula, a Muslim woman who was in college during the crime. She speaks to how we need to own crimes when they occur and not distance ourselves from them. Eighteen years later and this quote is still painfully relevant:
And we have to mourn this and we have to be sad that we live in a town, a state, a country where shit like this happens. I mean, these are people trying to distance themselves from this crime. And we need to own this crime. I feel. Everyone needs to own it. We are like this. We ARE like this. WE are LIKE this.