This essay is about the Orlando shooting and the attempted erasure of the LGBTIQA+ community
When I woke up to the devastating news about the shooting that occurred in Orlando, Florida, the first thought that entered my mind was: We are not safe anywhere.
The “we” I am referring to are members of the LGBTIQA+ community—Black and Brown individuals in particular. The majority of the victims (alive and deceased) were Latinx and Black club goers celebrating their heritage at Pulse’s Latino Night, when Omar Mateen casually entered the gay night club and immediately opened fire. According to survivors, he was heard laughing as he caused the deaths of over forty-nine innocent people while injuring others.
Of all the clubs to choose, Mateen chose Pulse, which indicated that the shooting was far from random. In fact, the assault was premeditated: he monitored the club for months (for not years), masquerading as a gay man when frequenting this establishment, blending into the crowd effortlessly. He even went so far as creating a Tinder account to correspond with members of the community, establishing enough trust to accumulate information—possibly about Latino Night at the club.
Mentally absorbing the coverage on the Orlando shooting, I just stared at my computer screen, seriously wondering how to respond. While the majority of my friends (straight or otherwise) expressed their outrage through everything from uncontrollable sobbing to unadulterated rage, I was at a complete loss emotionally. It wasn’t until I attended a candlelight vigil at Open Arms Metropolitan Community Church that I was able to identify my emotions: powerlessness and intense apprehension.
I felt the former because I myself was unable to alleviate the suffering of the victims of the shooting. I cannot comfort them, encircle my arms around those who survived and designate myself as an available source of comfort. But I also experienced a sickening, overwhelming onset of paranoia to the point of having a panic attack during the event. What happened in Orlando could very easily occur here in Rochester. I attempted to eliminate my episode with deep breathing while holding my friend Maur’s hand, mentally reassuring myself that we were indeed safe. Yet I’m certain the victims in Orlando also had a similar sense of false security when they decided to go to Pulse on Sunday night. So it was illogical—even naïve to assume that everyone in attendance wasn’t one hate crime away from becoming the subject of international outrage.
This semi-paralyzing trepidation, I shamefully admit, was the reason I chose not to attend the candlelight vigil at the Bachelor Forum. In addition to my struggles with an anxiety disorder, I feared for my safety as a Black Pansexual woman. From the beginning, disenfranchised groups are viewed as the Other, the malevolent threat whose solitary purpose of existence is to dismantle and obliterate the so-called moral fabric of America. And the more diligent our efforts to gain overdue acknowledgement and well-deserved serenity, the more adversity we will ultimately encounter.
The Orlando attack was just the most recent example of an excessive attempt to either silence or erase the existence of a disenfranchised demographic. On June 17, 2015, 22-year old Dylann Storm Roof attended a prayer group held at Emanuel Methodist Episcopal Church, prayed with the nine innocent victims before murdering them in cold blood. Similar to the Orlando perpetrator, Roof methodically observed his targets over an extended length of time without rousing suspicion. When questioned by law enforcement about his motivation behind the murders, Roof replied that he was a White supremacist who desired to commence a race war. His efforts were not only applauded by supremacist organizations, but initiated a week-long string of arson attacks involving several historical Black churches.
Just as Roof received support for his act of violence, Mateen earned public commendation from many fundamentalist Christians and intolerant social media commentators, who argued the assault inflicted upon the Orlando shooting victims was a warranted act of divine intervention. Similarly, the South Carolina law enforcement and judicial system seemed to rationalize Roof’s transgressions despite the racist overtones. Both incidences are eerily parallel in terms of how the system and members of fundamentalist Christian communities (regardless of ethnicity) willingly tolerate assailants who commit a crime against a demographic viewed as socially unacceptable.
The fact that the shooting in South Carolina was rarely mentioned in terms of its similarities to the Orlando attack seriously concerned me. It was as if the latter is treated as an isolated incident and that acts of terrorism of that magnitude were infiltrated solely by Islamic extremists. If anything, this recent crime highlighted a more significant issue—how, in the United States, those intolerant of a disenfranchised group (the LGBTIQA+ community, in this instance) utilize their power and resources to dehumanize their target and how the former applauds any measure promoting the erasure of an oppressed group—regardless of the extremities. The onslaught of discrimination laws targeting the transgender community resulting in increased suicide attempts among and assaults against transpeople is an unfortunate example.
So when analyzing the Orlando shooting, I give less credence to the “Islamic terrorist” narrative propagated though the mainstream media because it is a mere distraction. I am more concerned about the lack of protections for the disenfranchised, how “Otherness” is used against the oppressed incessantly to establish the erroneous beliefs that are undeserving of an existence.
Be that as it may, I also recognize that Orlando either awakened or rekindled our will to persevere with a fierce determination. Since Sunday, numerous individuals and organizations have vowed (with words and through action) that despite of the risks, they will fight with the strength, courage, diligence of one thousand ancestors to preserve the rights and resources earned, our history, our validity as a people, and well-deserved honor to live our truth with pride and in peace.
Our presence will be acknowledged. We will not be erased.