Last night I was on the rooftop of our residence hall here at Rice University, sharing drinks and dancing and laughing with friends from the Milwaukee Teach for America corps. A few of us had gone to Rainbow on the Green, a family-centered LGBTQ celebration here in Houston, and since I hadn’t been able to attend, I eagerly listened as my friends shared their thoughts on the music, the atmosphere, the same-sex couples walking hand-in-hand with their children (“Life goals, right there,” Sean said, his hand on his heart, his eyes closing ever so slightly, and all I could do was smile and agree). And Houston Pride is two weeks away, so we’re already making plans to attend as a group.
Then this morning I was sitting at breakfast, and another friend said, “I’m kinda scared after Orlando,” and I didn’t know what she meant (my first thought was, “I haven’t been on Facebook lately” since that’s where I tend to get my news), and when she told me last night had been the largest mass shooting in US history–with more dead and injured than at Virginia Tech–and that it happened at a gay nightclub, I was stunned speechless.
It’s easy to rationalize different places and different spaces as a series of overlying Venn diagrams, here there is inclusion, here there is not, and here is that region in the middle full of tension and bated silence and awkward encounters at the bar, leaving everyone uncomfortable. But such drastic dehumanization forgets the fact that while we were celebrating our queer identity in the middle of a college university in Texas, the lives of hundreds were impacted by the bigotry born and raised in Florida.
We may be in separate places, but this space is shared: the sudden fear that all our years of visibility and changing hearts and minds has brought us nowhere, that the hatred against gay and lesbian and bi and transgender (and all other sexuality/gender-non-conforming) people is as paramount today as it was in the nineties when DOMA was passed, when Matthew Shepard was slaughtered, when Harvey Milk was assassinated.
Earlier this week someone told me that I “don’t really look gay,” and later this week I had a conversation with peers about a presenter who we all had thought was gay, and isn’t, and it only pushes to the forefront of our minds that sexual orientation and gender expression are not purely inherent, individual identities, but faces that can be inscribed upon others through the lenses of ignorance and assumption: I can move through the world being assumed straight, and that demands my authenticity even more. That privilege obliges me to be open about my sexuality and speak about all of these issues.
Because even when we speak openly, even when we keep to our own and stay in our own spaces, outsiders can and will and have come inside to shoot us down, to end our lives.
I will not be held silent. I will speak, and I will sing, and I will stand against hatred in each of its forms, before each of its faces, because if I cannot live bravely, who can?