WE’RE HERE. WE’RE QUEER. AND WE MATTER: THE HIDDEN FACE OF THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY

by Julian Ignacio Canlas

Content warning: mentions racism, homophobia, suicide, arson, massacre, mental health 

On June 12th 2016, a mass shooting happened at Pulse, gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, USA. 49 people were killed and 52 injured, mostly of Latinx descent. Across the world, lgbtQ+ communities and allies have been organising vigils and other events to express support and condolences.

‘Look, you don’t understand this because you’re not gay,’ Owen Jones said, before storming out of a Sky News debate on the massacre, after the two presenters refused to see the incident in a lgbtQ+ context.

Now the largest killing of lgbtQ+ people in US history, this replaces the widely-forgotten 1973 arson case that killed 32 people in Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans. While the arson was widely ignored by media outlets outside New Orleans, the shooting has captured mainstream media attention.

Only this time, when lgbtQ+ rights have entered mainstream consciousness, a different kind of lgbtQ+ erasure has manifested. It’s one stemming from this often well-meaning but ultimately myopic, misinformed view that today’s Western society is truly tolerant of lgbtQ+ folks and people of colour; that homophobia and racism are remnants of a past that in no way can not repeat itself.

Reality check, this queer, genderblind, colourblind utopia doesn’t exist just yet. Stating otherwise is not only ignorant and offensive. It is dangerous.

In the US Congress, most Republicans have voted against an Act protecting lgbtQ+ people from hate crimes. In North Carolina, a Bathroom Bill has recently passed this year alone that restricts people of using which gendered bathroom they want to use on the basis of their own gender.

well-meaning but ultimately myopic, misinformed view that today’s Western society is truly tolerant of lgbtQ+ folks and people of colour

It is important to put a face behind the statistics. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) reports that over 90% of lgbtQ+ victims are people of colour. We cannot ignore the fact that most of the victims were Latinx — people of colour — especially when the lgbtQ+ community has been accused of being whitewashed and racist.

(Vigil for Orlando victims © Anthony Wallace / AFP / Getty Images via Bustle)

This knee-jerk anti-Muslim sentiment becomes even more ironic when taking into account how iterations of homophobia and racism function upon the reduction of minorities into various degrees of caricaturisation, based around the concept of otherness — that these minorities are dangerous because they deviate from the conventions and norms of Western society: cisgendered, able-bodied, neurotypical, heterosexual, and white.

We need to realise that the acknowledgement of the privilege held by the majority and the want of these minorities to self-represent are neither acts of segregation nor personal attacks to those privileged, but to reconsolidate the dynamics of social power to reflect the diversity and multiculturalism in today’s society. These anti-Muslim statements in the community further drive a wedge in the progression of lgbtQ+ rights, simply because Muslims are also part of the lgbtQ+ struggle for equality.

These anti-Muslim statements in the community further drive a wedge in the progression of lgbtQ+ rights

This hateful rhetoric only further alienates fellow lgbtQ+ Muslims who are not only ostracised from their community for being queer, but also by the lgbtQ+ community’s rampant, visible racism. Suicide in lgbtQ+ POC are significantly higher than their white counterparts, because both their own POC circles and the lgbtQ+ community have abandoned them.

We need to claim ownership of our own plights, to support the community through the expression of our individual voices reiterating this collective identity in relation to other intersections — such as being a person of colour, a woman or non-binary, and disabled.

For decades lgbtQ+ and concerns by other disenfranchised identities have been pushed to the back burner, or lumped in this bullshit pseudo-inclusive normative idea of a ‘common humanity’, which can only acknowledge death as data and actively aims to hide how these are crimes aimed at particular groups of people with a history of experiencing discrimination and oppression.

This is a mental health issue. While the US (and UK) government has been investing on racist anti-terrorist measures, its mental health industry has failed to cater to issues of people of colour, which fundamentally stem upon their pursuit to integrate in this postcolonial society that actively aims to discriminate against non-white bodies simply based on the colour of their skin. The tragedy here lies in the deaths of these individuals and normative society’s refusal to announce parts of their identities that have been used as tools of oppression — that they are Latinx and lgbtQ+.

We need to condemn this out-dated stance supporting harmful gun laws in the US that allows any person to possess firearms with incredible administrative ease, especially when even the proposed stricter firearm laws do not strip Americans of their guns, but to ensure that only those of apt mental and physical health can possess firearms.

Thank goodness that Owen Jones stormed out of the debate. This echoes the sentiment of most lgbtQ+ folks, who feel the same frustration and anger, when lgbtQ+ issues are being explained by cisgendered, heterosexual figures, who can only feel an approximation of this hate crime. It is not just an ‘Orlando nightclub massacre’. It is an Orlando lgbtQ+ Latinx nightclub massacre. Various media outlets’ efforts to frame this as an example of Islamic radicalism and not a crime of homophobia are both racist and homophobic, implying a religion and culture as inherently violent by taking spaces, where this homophobia can be denounced.

It is not just an ‘Orlando nightclub massacre’. It is an Orlando lgbtQ+ Latinx nightclub massacre.

We need to be angry. This anger defines the bones and sinews of every disenfranchised identity who has fought with tooth and nail to be accepted in a society that has told them that every single aspect of theirs that depart from the norm is wrong and unnatural. We need to be angry, to have our queer voices heard in mainstream media, in all its diversity. We need to narrate our own plights with consideration of other intersectional experiences. We need to be angry, because we’re here. We’re queer. And we matter. And if we don’t, we will be forgotten.

Featured image: a minute’s silence in the Soho district of London on Monday © Dylan Martinez/Reuters via Guardian

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