orlando proves we need pride more than ever

The horrific attacks in Orlando yesterday show us how much work is still to be done to fight homophobia, and that we all need to stand together to do it.

by Jacob Hall
13 June 2016, 1:58pm

Some of the greatest nights of my youth have been spent in gay clubs. Like millions of queer kids worldwide, I deliberately seek out these spaces to escape the prejudice of the outside world. In these sweaty sanctuaries of acceptance I can dance freely, meet like-minded allies and truly celebrate my identity without fear of violence or prejudice — for myself and millions of others, these safe spaces can literally save lives. That all changed on Sunday morning, when 29-year old Omar Mateen entered Orlando's Pulse nightclub with the sole intention of murdering as many queer people as possible. He succeeded. 50 lives were lost and a further 53 club-goers were wounded; contextually, it's the largest mass shooting in American history and the most devastating act of terror seen in the country since 9/11. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack in an official statement released through its Amaq News Agency and reports surfaced that the attacker pledged his allegiance to the organization in a phone call, but it's clear that the motivation behind this shooting spree was hatred. 

The real surprise is that mainstream media outlets have been reluctant to classify this as a hate crime. British journalist Owen Jones discovered this last night as he quickly became a scapegoat during a newspaper review session on Sky News. Jones was quick to point out that national publications were downplaying the context of these attacks in their coverage. He argued that this was "one of the worst atrocities committed against LGBT people in the Western world for generations" and was met with the response "well, it's something that's carried out against human beings, isn't it? Let's just make this point, you cannot say this attack is worse than Paris." Jones became increasingly frustrated, stating, "you don't understand this because you're not gay" — a sentiment which has been largely echoed online. Lola Okolosie, a fellow writer, nailed the argument well, stating "The 'We are all human argument' is a first step in erasing the specific struggles I face & is just another way of saying shut up." To scores of LGBTQ activists worldwide the discussion felt like a slap in the face intended to silence their justifiable distress.

Publicly celebrating queerness in its various forms is still a monumental act of bravery and a definitive "fuck you" to bigots worldwide.

This was, undisputedly, a specific attack on a minority community and to remove that context in a news report (which many mainstream outlets have done) amounts to censorship. Worse still, it looks to be indicative of a wider intention to harm gay communities — just hours later, a man loaded with guns and explosives was detained and arrested en route to L.A. Pride. For many, it was a brutal reminder that many queer people worldwide walk the streets with a target attached to them; it was painful proof that strangers out there want us dead for no reason other than our sexuality. The massacre further highlighted the dire need for Pride celebrations — a brilliant article published a few days ago on Matador Network reminds straight allies that "the first Pride was a police riot" and highlights the importance of these events as a place for queer people to "celebrate our wins and mourn our losses as a community." Just three days later, the writer's words have more resonance than ever — last night was proof that publicly celebrating queerness in its various forms is still a monumental act of bravery and a definitive "fuck you" to bigots worldwide. The sobering fact is that many of us have forgotten this or become complacent. Coverage around the events this year have largely focused on their commercialization; a clear indication that many millennial queer people wrongly assumed that the battle for equality was nearing its end.

In the same way that we all #PrayedforParis and #PrayedforBeirut, we're all currently #PrayingforOrlando online in an attempt at solidarity. It's genuinely heartwarming to see such widespread expression of grief online, but the question is what can we actively do to voice our support? Are prayers really enough? Trans writer and activist Paris Lees was quick to call out the country's senseless gun laws, tweeting '"It happens other places". Do you know how many times I've heard a British Prime Minister deliver a speech after a shooting? Zero. Obama? 17." Her words were impassioned but her point was valid — these massacres happen with alarming regularity in the States and the lack of gun control is the obvious culprit. Contextually, America makes up 4.4% of the world's population in total, yet the country also accounts for almost half of all civilian-owned firearms worldwide. There have been seven gun massacres in Britain since 1849, whereas there have been seven in America since Monday. Something needs to change.

The mainstream media has demonstrated its willingness to strip gay voices of their power to discuss a hate crime that targeted them specifically. 

What's important to remember is that solidarity is the way to respond to this violence, not hatred. Many have depressingly underlined that this event will undoubtedly help Donald Trump is his bid for an Islamophobic presidency — one article which has gone viral after Orlando is titled "I'm a gay activist and, after Orlando, I have switched my vote to Trump." The problem is that Trump is openly racist, meaning that siding with him represents siding with fear, opposing homophobia with Islamophobia. A beautiful article this morning surfaced which perfectly encapsulated the terror that queer Muslims must be feeling as they readily anticipate a barrage of abuse. Written by Samra Habib, "Queer Muslims exist… And we're in mourning too" outlines that Muslim activist groups are tasked with apologizing for the actions of terrorists and "reminding the world that Islam promotes peace so innocent Muslims who are just trying to go about their daily lives don't suffer repercussions." It is not the responsibility of queer Muslims to apologize for this — this isn't the work of an entire religion, but the work of a "criminally misguided Muslim" whose actions result in "the entire religion and all its followers being questioned and placed under suspicion." If you didn't agree with Trump before this massacre, don't let it act as a catalyst for changing your vote — to do so would be to hasty and motivated by fear.

This attack has illuminated several truths, and none of them are pleasant. The mainstream media has demonstrated its willingness to strip gay voices of their power to discuss a hate crime that targeted them specifically. There's a true paradox in the treatment of victims too; those that were shot but are still in critical condition are in desperate need of blood, yet laws prevent gay and bisexual men donating unless they've been celibate for the last 12 months. There are, of course, other ways to help — a GoFundMe page has already raised over $1,000,000 for the victims and their families, whereas vigils have been planned worldwide to mourn the massacre and show solidarity, there's one in London's Soho tonight which looks to attract huge attention. The most important thing that queer individuals can do is continue to live their lives authentically as opposed to giving in to fear. It goes without saying that gun laws should be questioned; that queer voices should fight to be heard in the scrum of straight writers declaring this an issue that "affects all people"; that Donald Trump's fight for presidency should not be buoyed by the actions of one homophobic radical. The first Pride event was a police riot; 40 years later these are huge international events that largely pass without incident. We might, generally, be in a much more privileged position now than that of the Stonewall activists that paved the way for our generation of acceptance but we shouldn't forget how much hatred still exists, how much work there is still to be done.


Text Jacob Hall
Photography Benjamin Alexander Huseby 
Styling Thom Murphy
Hair Justin Fieldgate using Bumble and Bumble
Styling assistance Leeds
Models Adam and Richard
The Youth Issue, No. 271, November 2006

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