2016, the year the lgbtqia+ community suffered and united
This year saw the most fatal mass shooting in U.S. history, and a catastrophic blow for the LBGTQIA+ community. In the face of evil, the community united — but going forward we need less talk and more action.
In 2010 Dan Savage — notable journalist, podcaster, and homosexual pundit — launched the It Gets Better campaign. A video series aimed at young LGBTQIA+ people who are struggling to come out, It Gets Better collects home-made videos of people (many of them celebrities) disclosing how their life got better after they confronted who they really are. While this drip-feed of information and advice — which can thankfully be accessed at the click of a trackpad — is vital for the survival and education of so many distressed LGBTQIA+ people, is the campaign's message really true? Did it get better for the LGBTQIA+ community in 2016?
With endless movies, articles, and political "wins" — plus more gay, queer, and trans people being granted a sliver of the media-pie — than ever before, it appears that our causes, our struggle, and our rights have possibly never been more front and center. But what does this all count for when, in reality, life for us is becoming increasingly punctuated by violence (verbal, media-driven, and physical), when our communal spaces are disappearing, and with the swift dismantling of the meager legislative support we have? It's very easy for liberal social media users to share a viral video or an article, but active engagement with the realities of life for LGBTQIA+ people is a far less frequent occurrence.
According to The Hate Crime Report — published by LGBT anti-violence charity Galop — homophobic hate crime has risen by 147% since Brexit, but nobody is talking about it. The same report saw a 10% rise in transphobic hate crimes reported to the UK police. However, it is calculated that up to 80% of transphobic hate crimes still go unreported. All the while, the UK's conservative Tory government continues to ignore the need to address homophobic and transphobic bullying in school curricula.
In the UK, the National Health Service, and local HIV prevention services, continued to battle against activists in the conundrum of who should fund PrEP — a little blue pill which is 99.7% effective in safeguarding its users from contracting HIV during intercourse. It's not a conundrum: why is our government denying high-risk communities the freedom of safety and security? 10,000 people will now be able to access PrEP on the NHS, but is that really enough?
Our gay and queer forefathers were given pardons decades too late by a bunch of men in suits whose legislative failures continue to kill LGBTQIA+ people today. Our places to meet, be convivial, and recharge our queer energy continue to close — demonstrating so starkly that those in power would rather have twelve most probably white, heterosexual tenants in a flat-pack-new-build, than a visible gay bar. In London: first it was Out Cafe, then Candy Bar, The Joiners' Arms, The George and Dragon, The Black Cap in Camden, Chariots Shoreditch, and The Hoist. These are just some of England's once-thriving LGBTQIA+ hotspots that have been lost to property developers over the last few years. She Bar in Soho is the only lesbian space in the entirety of London, and Ruby Tuesdays is the only weekly club night for gay and queer women — utterly dire for a cosmopolitan metropolis. The Red Arrows flew over our pride parade this year: a parade that has been starkly capitalized upon by global banks, chain stores, and arms companies who have a significant role in the murder of LGBTQIA+ people all over the world. And we have no say in the matter.
And if all of this wasn't enough, 2016 also saw the most fatal mass shooting in U.S. history — an attack which directly targeted the Latinx LGBTQIA+ community. On June 12 at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, 49 people were shot dead, and many more were injured. This sparked global communion and protest, with members of the LGBTQIA+ community gathering in city streets around the world to remember those lost, and to stand in solidarity with our siblings across the globe. "It was very overwhelming seeing the community come together," said Tony Marrero, one of the few survivors from the Pulse shootings. He was shot in the back four times because, like so many others, he was seeking a safer space to dance as a gay person. "Yes, what happened was terrible, but how we supported each other was a beautiful outcome. So much love pouring from all corners of the world made us survivors feel better. This tragic event made our LGBTQ community unite, and be more powerful."
Tony is unwaveringly positive. "After the tragedy I did get more involved with the LGBTQ community. Before, I was always working two jobs and did not really have a lot of free time. But from a negative situation blossomed something beautiful," he told i-D. "The way our community and people from all over the world came together in support has been the strength that has helped me move forward and be stronger."
"Receiving messages from people across the world telling me how I was helping them cope by sharing my story made me realize I was left on this earth with the purpose of helping others," Tony continued. "I remember a message from someone which said, 'You have given me the courage to come out to my parents, I am on my way to their house right now, thank you.' To me that was incredibly empowering."
LGBTQIA+ people's propensity toward forgiveness — and their ability to look forward and keep going — is staggering. "As long as my story can be heard by others, to heal people and help them cope and overcome this horrible event, I will always be present. I always say we need to remember our brothers and sisters who were lost that night forever; but to do this we must focus on how we are going to honor them by living, making them proud, and coming together to make sure something like this never happens again."
2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in the UK. And although we have made countless steps towards a better future for our community, the only reason these steps have been taken is because we — and our queer elders and ancestors — fought for more. As Tony's story demonstrates, we must not give up the fight for our rights when things get incredibly tough: we must take these messages and signals of hate and fight back, harder.
And in order to tackle the dishearteningly long road ahead — after a year of bad news upon bad news in this new world of neo-fascist politics and homophobic austerity measures — we must seek to engage with the actual experiences of LGBTQIA+ people. We must do this to ensure it actually does get better for ourselves and for others, to make sure Orlando never happens again, and to gain the rights we deserve. It is hard to be on the receiving end of such blatant mistreatment for who you are.
"I would tell someone who is struggling to come out, not to live in fear," Tony says. "That is no way to be living. Continue being proud of who you are. This attack could have happened anywhere in the world, but sadly it happened here. We cannot show fear, we must show how strong we are. People need to love you for you."
In truth, in 2016 it didn't really get much better. But we certainly got stronger — like we do every year. We got stronger at tackling issues, being vocal about our needs, and being proud of our identities. In the wake of Orlando, we united prouder than ever. There are so many LGBTQIA+ people who work tirelessly to tackle the issues in our way. But what really needs to happen now, alongside community cohesion, is that they need to get better. Cis gendered, heterosexual white people need to make their space open to us, now more than ever. Instead of capitalizing on what is special about our community (and turning a blind eye when it's convenient), people in power need to open up their space and their ears to others less platformed than themselves. Don't try to be queer, try to let me be queer first. Don't eat at my table, let us eat at yours, just the way we are. In 2017 we are going to need as much food as possible.
In 2017, I pledge to listen to, and love, my community more than ever before.
Text Tom Rasmussen