a queer call-to-arms for a better 2017
2016 has been the most lethal year on record for trans people, a rise in hate crimes, the Orlando nightclub massacre. We need to start the fight back for a brighter future now.
It's arguable that every queer person has, at some point in their life, faced bullying, discrimination or assault on account of their gender or sexuality. Despite increasing trans visibility, frank discussions of discrimination, and a growing number of excellent queer role models, 2016 has officially been named the most lethal year on record for trans people, with 23 killed unlawfully already this year. These statistics don't even take into account the 175 new pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation published in America this year, 44 of which specifically target trans people.
Then, there was the largest act of terrorism committed since 9/11, the Orlando massacre, which saw 49 murdered and 53 more injured in Pulse, a nightclub dedicated to keeping the queer community safe. It was a hate crime, but the media were reluctant to label it as such, thus symbolically denying the queer community its right to grieve.
Orlando may have made headlines and sparked vigils worldwide, but the truth is that acts of violence towards the LGBTQ+ community are perpetrated on a smaller scale every single day but often go unreported. Britain has been rocked by the divisive rhetoric of the Brexit campaign which caused a spike in violence - the number of hate crimes has risen astronomically since the referendum results were announced, and those aimed squarely at the queer community have risen by 147%.
A recent illuminating piece penned by Owen Jones and published by the Guardian highlights the disastrous effects this discrimination can have on mental health - he quotes Stonewall research, which reveals that 52% of young LGBTQ people have self-harmed, 44% have considered suicide and 42% have sought help for mental distress. Former Attitude editor Matthew Todd further highlighted this epidemic in his recently-released book Straight Jacket, an essential text that underlines the link between homophobia, hate crime and the staggering ubiquity of addiction within queer communities.
It's essential to be aware of these harrowing statistics, but it's even more essential to consider how society can collectively unite to unpick and subsequently dismantle this climate of hatred. According to Farideh Arbanian, a New York-based model currently studying for an MA in Fashion Studies, education is the answer. "Hatred in most cases is simply rooted in ignorance," she explains. "Using education as a defence mechanism or a mediating tool in less-than-ideal situations of discrimination or harassment is important: information is power. If our responses to these events are rooted in violence, we perpetuate the misconstrued ideas that exist around people like us, who choose to live true to their authentic sexual and gender identities."
She also argues that segregation only aggravates the problem. "The need for differentiation comes from some rooted belief that I am not like the rest, and as long as this belief stands - as long as we still have racism, Islamophobia and everything else - discrimination will stand strong." Arbanian's words can be read as a rallying cry for communication between all communities - we need straight allies, POC and an entire spectrum of LGBTQ people to discuss their experiences with one another in order to disintegrate the labels that keep us separate.
Juno Roche, a journalist and patron of inclusive health clinic CliniQ, is more optimistic when discussing the events of this year, explaining that they have only reinforced her belief that solidarity and power already exists within queer communities. "As depressing and retrograde as 2016 seemed, one thing stood out for me: that our wonderful queer community stood firm and, where there had been political and personal differences, we came together and said to the world 'Fuck you. We are here to stay'. My own beautiful trans community stood firm against intrusions, against poor and inequitable healthcare, against violence - be that on the street or in the pages of the Red Tops."
The fact that Roche's spirits remain high is refreshing and, above all, inspiring. Like Arbanian, she praises the increasing educational emphasis on the constructed nature of gender and describes our new generation as 'change makers'. "We are the ones freeing up society to live more balanced, harmonised lives. Gender stereotypes are being deconstructed and loosening their grip on children suffocating under the demands of 'acting like a man' or 'acting like a girl'. It is us pushing forward these debates, asking questions of the church, of religion, of the state, of what families and love can look like. As negative as 2016 was, we stood firm."
Another way to encourage solidarity within the LGBTQ community is to look at the problems entrenched within it - MIC recently published a video which reinforced the ongoing prevalence of racism, whereas dating apps are still often breeding grounds for femme-shaming and transphobia. Australian photographer and writer Jonno Revanche not only reinforces the responsibility of society at large to make the world less threatening for queer people, they also expand upon the idea that there are various ways for queer people to look out for each other. "The separation we enact upon each other even through dating apps is still a form of violence," he explains. "When we celebrate certain bodies over others, prioritise attractive, 'able-bodied' queers and and try to cut out the voices which aren't convenient to us. I think, to create a positive response, we need to practice gratitude and acceptance over divisiveness while taking note of our similarities and differences, and acknowledging that not all of us suffer in the same way - a white gay man walks through the world in a very different way to a trans woman."
Revanche also highlights the vicarious suffering experienced whenever we hear of hate crimes or discrimination. There's an overwhelming feeling of solidarity and empathy involved which means that, for many of us, news of yet more death and more violence brings a gut-wrenching reminder that, as queer people, we walk the streets with metaphorical targets on our backs for purely existing.
"One of the big things about acts of violence and abuse is that they convince us we're unworthy, unloved, broken or significant", explains Revanche. "There's vicarious trauma we inherit from seeing these things happen to other people too. We really need to acknowledge that shame and speak it out of existence by bringing queer consciousness into spaces that wouldn't be aware of it; by making "pride" more accessible and less generic; by centring the experiences of those who are most vulnerable. If they benefit, we all benefit."
The core message is that discrimination won't defeat us. Through communication, community and more accessible, progressive education, modern society has the power to make life easier for a new generation of queer people lucky enough to grow up without the threat of persecution. Our ancestors had a tougher life, as do those queer individuals living in the 70+ countries which still legally punish same-sex activity - despite the work carried out by global activist charities such as All Out.
The Western world may have seen a spike in hostile attitudes, but it's essential to remember that the queer community has the tools to dismantle them. Whenever I see hate crime, I am reminded of the powerful chant that, earlier this year, rang throughout cities worldwide in solidarity with Orlando victims: "We're here, we're queer, we will not live in fear."
Text Jake Hall
Photography Ellie Smith