Orlando Taught Me That I Need Queer Culture and Community
I’ve been out since high school, but before Orlando, I rarely thought of myself as being different from straight, cisgender people. After an early series of unsatisfying encounters with LGBTQ support and advocacy groups, and a total aversion to gay nightlife once I reached drinking age, I decided that queer culture just wasn’t for me. This was perfectly OK, I thought. I just got on better with straight people, and since there were so many of them, it was no hardship. I even thought this was the future of queerness. Sure, I appreciated the political gains LGBTQ activists had made, and on an intellectual level I understood why marginalized people might have needed to band together into a subculture. But I figured that all this activism and separatism was rapidly becoming old-fashioned and even outdated. I doubted there’d be any need for it in the coming decades, and I suspected it would fade away, allowing queer people to just be, well, people. I even wrote once, cheekily, that I was “dancing on the grave of gay culture.”
Orlando changed that. I didn’t expect it to, I didn’t want it to, but I was devastated to discover a deep gulf, a gulf whose existence I’d always denied, between myself and the straight/cis people in my world. The only consolation has been to learn that I’m more a part of the queer community than I ever thought I was.
What Gun Control Advocates Can Learn From the Marriage Equality Movement
In 2015, Evan Wolfson had the rare pleasure of witnessing the culmination of his life’s work when the Supreme Court affirmed his constitutional vision of nationwide marriage equality. For many Americans, the battle for same-sex marriage rights appeared to have been fought and won in just a few years. But Wolfson began advocating for the freedom to marry in 1983; he spent the next several decades pushing past a series of crushing losses before finally seeing his goal come to fruition.
Since the marriage-equality victory, Wolfson has advised other progressive causes, including the gun control movement, to help them strategize and mobilize most effectively. On Thursday, we spoke about what gun control advocates can learn from the marriage-equality campaign in the wake of the Orlando massacre. Our interview has been edited and condensed.
After Orlando, the Queer Nightlife Community Is on High Alert
In the days since a shooting took 49 lives at an Orlando gay club on Sunday, everyone has been searching for some meaning in this unthinkable event. On Monday, I woke to the sound of British pundits discussing the attack as a symptom of America’s love affair with guns. Downstairs, the story was splashed across the front page of every newspaper on my stoop, with dozens of articles carefully tip-toeing around questions about Islam and terrorism. Monday night at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, the LGBTQ community gathered to claim the event as an attack on our tribe—though at one point, someone shouted, “Black lives matter,” a passerby responded “All lives matter!” and for a moment, the focus was lost.
But for many of the people in my community—that is, the group of people that make up New York’s gay nightlife—the attack in Orlando is not aboutanything. It’s not about gun control, terrorism, religion, queer safety, or race. It doesn’t bear a meaning or a lesson. Our response is visceral: We simply feel unsafe. Gay bars, our places of work, have once again become targets for anti-gay violence—and with a fury not seen since the early, far more openly hostile days of the liberation movement. So while other people try to figure out how to frame this moment intellectually and politically, we’re experiencing a reaction that’s almost physical as we try to go on with business as usual.
How Conservative Christian Activists Spent Decades Fomenting Anti-Gay Hate in Orlando
Following Sunday’s mass shooting at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, many progressivesmade a straightforward observation: If the gunman was not motivated directly by anti-gay activism, conservative Christian rhetoric around gay rights is both vicious and irresponsible—and the Orlando massacre could mark a moment for anti-gay advocates to reconsider the vitriol of their language. In response, and with tellingly defensive vigor, many conservatives rejected the notion that their rhetoric on LGBTQ rights might be reckless or dangerous. A statement by Matthew Franck, a National Review writer who has repeatedly compared same-sex marriage to slavery, is representative:
Christians who have resisted the redefinition of marriage, and who now want to be free to live what their faith teaches them is the truth about marriage, do not hate anyone, and legislation to protect their freedom is not “anti-LGBT” except in the minds of the intolerant enforcers of coerced conformity.
The thrust of Franck’s assertion—echoed by others—is that anti-LGBTQ have never done anything more than promote “traditional marriage,” and protect the belief that marriage is “a union of man and wife.”
Let us examine the recent historical record to ascertain the veracity of this claim. We will focus on Orlando, the scene of Sunday’s crime, and use as our anchor that city’s most famous and beloved icon: Walt Disney World.
The LGBTQ Movement Offers Lessons in How to React to Orlando
There’s no one way to react to the massacre at an Orlando LGBTQ bar Sunday, the deadliest mass shooting in the nation’s history. There is no way, ultimately, to make sense of it. But there may be ways to process and harness our grief and anger that are more—rather than less—productive, and the LGBTQ rights movement itself may contain some of the best lessons for doing so.
The Orlando shooter chose for his harrowing death rampage the Pulse nightclub, where, as President Obama said, sexual minorities “came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live,” a spot where they felt a sense of safety, belonging, and empowerment to live authentically and push for a better world. The killer, Omar Mateen, found all this unbearable. It was also, whether germane to the killer or not, Latin Night at Pulse. This meant the majority of casualties were young, gay Latino men—many of them working service and clerical jobs—making Donald Trump’s barrage of anti-Hispanic comments that much more cruel.
But Mateen’s target was much broader than sexual or racial minorities. Ultimately, his target was an American way of life that celebrates freedom, pluralism, diversity, individual expression, and worldly love—that is, democracy. And so we must use democracy to fight back. It’s true, of course, that there are things to be angry at: Gun control ideologues and profiteers; conservatives and Republicans who have spent years opposing LGBTQ rights and demonizing LGBTQ people; nihilistic thugs who are exploiting a major world religion. But anger is at its most useful when properly harnessed so that we don’t just add to the division, resignation, and even hatred that helped cause the violence in the first place.
Lessons From Paris, as Orlando Attempts to Heal
Seven months ago, I was at a concert in Paris on a Friday night. I was there with other young people, enjoying a night out with music, with friends. At the same time, in another part of the city, hundreds of others were doing exactly the same thing at the Bataclan concert hall. For some reason I will never understand, my concert was spared, and theirs was not. Machine gun bullets tore through the Bataclan, through Paris, through flesh and bone, and the city was swiftly engulfed in chaos.
Foolishly, some might say, I made my way towards the unfolding tragedy that night: I ran down to the scene of one of the shootings at Le Carillon restaurant. Notebook and camera in hand, I tried my best to put fear and emotion aside to do my job: to observe, witness, ask questions. Later I headed to the Bataclan and watched as huddled masses covered in blood fled the concert hall.
The days that followed were tense and often sleepless, but still I kept emotion at bay as I answered calls from news networks, was interviewed on TV, wrote more stories, spoke to more witnesses. It was only about a week later, after panic had finally subsided, that I allowed myself the chance to grieve, making my way back to Le Carillon, to République, to light a candle and stand with others who had survived and finally weep.
How Can Gay Parents Explain Orlando to Their Kids?
I’ve been a regular contributor to Slate for years, but an introduction seems in order. This will be the first in a series of monthly columns I’ll be writing on one type of parenting: ostensibly, gay parenting, but more accurately, just my own up-and-down efforts at the task. Tolstoy’s opening line in Anna Karenina is famous, but wrong—all families, not just the unhappy ones—are unique. So while the pieces will run each month in this Outward blog, any broader lessons that might be drawn for LGBTQ families—let alone other families—will be some combination of luck and the (soon-to-be-legion) readers’ own connections to whatever I happen to be discussing.
Today’s column is written with a sense of emergency. The baffling massacre in Orlando has insinuated itself into me in unexpected dimensions, and caused me to ask all kinds of questions that, amazingly, I’d managed to sidestep until now. What do I say to my 11-year-old twin daughters about violence against LGBTQ people? What can I do differently, if anything, to keep them safe when the toll of violence is made so clear? How do I balance talking about uncertainty with the need to reassure them? And, perhaps most troubling, how do I deal with this fact: My fear for my children is bound up in my fears for myself, usually safely stowed in the overhead compartment but subject to falling out when I encounter unexpected turbulence.
Anderson Cooper Scolded Florida AG Pam Bondi on Her Anti-Gay Record
Anderson Cooper came down hard on Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s anti-LGBTQ history in an interview about the Orlando gay club shooting on Tuesday. Bondi recently said that “anyone who attacks our LGBT community … will be gone after to the fullest extent of the law.” In his CNN interview, Cooper, a gay, implied that she’s made an opportunistic turnaround, using Sunday’s tragedy to score political points with LGBTQ residents and allies.
Parents of Slain Orlando Couple Will Honor Their Sons’ Love With a Joint Funeral
As one crushing sketch of Orlando victims after another comes out, it’s become clear many of the men at Pulse nightclub were there with boyfriends, lovers, and partners. They included Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37, and Luis Daniel Conde, 39, who had been together 13 years. And Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35, who had met Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37, years earlier at a perfume shop where Perez worked. Oscar Aracena-Montero, 26, and Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31, had just purchased a home together.
All of these men were gunned down at the club.
Grief and Protest Mingle at the Stonewall Vigil for the Pulse Nightclub Massacre
I haven’t seen a gathering this large outside the Stonewall Inn, the bar in New York where riots in 1969 launched the modern era of LGBTQ liberation, since SCOTUS announced the historic win for same-sex marriage last year. The mood, this time, was not one of celebration. In the wake of the largest mass shooting in modern American history on Sunday in Orlando, Florida, the LGBTQ community was hurting. I, a Muslim ally, could do nothing but stand with those who sought comfort amongst each other on this hallowed ground. Here is what many of them had to say about the tragedy, one that will have a lasting effect on Americans everywhere.