Friday 17 June 2016

On Orlando

I was trying to put my thoughts into words this entire week, trying to fit all the different branches that have come out of this massacre into a coherent picture, the points of debate, the context, the frustration with the media. It is hard to do, when the primary reaction is shock and anger, sadness and horror. We woke up that morning, I scrolled through my newsfeed, I tried to comprehend, quickly, what had happened. It felt personal. It felt this way even though we were continents away and my safe space was never a club, always strories, television, books, the internet.

It was horrifying what had happened, and frustrating and sad how fast mainstream media was in erasing the fact that it was a targeted attack on a LGBTQI safe space, and on that night, a space claimed mostly by LGBTQI people of colour. It was equally sad and predictable how fast the same mainstream media was in latching on to the fact that the attacker was Muslim. The first reaction of the New York Times was to publish an article that warned against "identity politics".

If we apply this perspective to it - erasure, and killing as the most literal way of erasing - everything becomes relevant. It happened in a country that has been debating the (intimate) space that trans people are allowed to occupy this whole year. It happened in a country where the cultural debate about the future somehow happens along the lines of gender essentialism and gun ownership. 
Of course, a Republican state representative in Kansas might not see any intersection between the massacre in Orlando and a bill restricting transgender students’ access to bathrooms. That’s because Republicans have been unwilling to acknowledge that the Orlando shooter specifically targeted the gay community. Texas Republican House Representative Pete Sessions refused to even acknowledge that Pulse, the site of the shooting, was a gay club.
Conservative recalcitrance may be less heartlessness and more calculation. Their reluctance to recognize the Orlando massacre as a hate crime—and their complementary insistence on declaring the attack an act of radical Islamic terrorism, despite a lack of evidence of links between the shooter and ISIS, Hezbollah, or al-Nusra Front—is important for two reasons.
First, however clinical it sounds, the political salience and visibility of the gay community may have shifted as a result of this tragedy. In the weeks and months leading up to the shooting in Orlando, more than 200 bills were introduced in state and local government restricting the rights of LGBT individuals. Even after the Orlando shooting, the U.S. House of Representatives blocked an amendment preventing sexual-orientation and gender-identity discrimination in federal contracting. But as stories of love, compassion, heroism, grief, and community circulate, introducing new audiences to the plight of the gay community in America, these efforts may sink in popularity. After Orlando, another transgender bathroom bill may seem like piling on.
The Atlantic Citylab: Will the Orlando Massacre Move the Needle on Hate Crime Legislation?, June 16, 2016
It is opportunistic of the Republican party to erase the fact that the shooter specifically targeted a gay club. Shifting the narrative towards the religion of the attacker and away from the fact that his targets have consistently also been the targets of right-wing politicians (through legislation, but this is also the right moment to remember that Republican politicians have associated with people like Scott Lively, who advocates against gay rights and inspired anti-gay legislation in Uganda) obscures the fact that he wouldn't have needed to look abroad to find an ideology rooted in toxic and violent homophobia. He wouldn't have needed to look abroad for a culture of toxic masculinity. The absurd fact that gay men are still banned from donating blood, and were unable to do so to help the victims of the attack in Orlando, is one of many examples that homophobia is still deeply entrenched, regardless of how many times conservative politicians try to paint this as an attack on liberal democracy. Equally, using terms like "radical Islam" is analytically useless and merely serves as a dog whistle to attract racists and xenophobes.
There are no triangles, circles or other geographic shapes that can demarcate a population or religion or phenotype or (gasp) civilization as “the homophobic one.”  The sad truth is that homophobia and misogyny are unavoidable global hegemonic forces that shape everyday life. The United States is no exception to this rule. In the past six months over one hundred anti-LGBTQ bills and laws have been tabled and discussed across the United States. These are governmental and structural manifestations of the devaluing of queer life. The most prominent of these laws are all out assaults on trans bodies and their uses of bathrooms. This law will ensure that trans people will experience even more violence and hatred than they already do, and in an already vulnerable space (bathrooms). Queers of color, queer women of color, and trans people of color (especially trans black women) are daily assaulted, killed, incarcerated, criminalized, brutalized, and raped across this country. The criminalization and wholesale removal of homeless populations from our cities also disproportionately targets queers, and those that are most vulnerable, young queers of color. Yet these daily and hourly attacks (often against the more and most vulnerable within the LGBTQ community) rarely inspire national outrage, as Sima Shasksari reminds us. They do not elicit twenty-four news hour cycles or “special programming” on mainstream news outlets. 
Jadaliyya: Fear and Loathing in Orlando, June 14, 2016
This is short, but a summary of why it would be pointless to focus on a  real or imagined connection with international terrorism:
Terrorist attacks are unconscionably frightening—that is the point. We long to believe that something as enormous as our fear stands behind the attacks. ISIS fits that need, as, earlier, did al-Qaeda. We listen to the stories the terrorists tell about themselves, and we mirror them back. We envision giant international groups, well-armed and well-organized, waging well-planned war in which the individual terrorists are soldiers. The vision seems perfectly to match the image ISIS wants to put forward: that of a group with vast reach, capable of wreaking havoc on streets the world over and influencing the course of American politics. But the attacks themselves don’t quite fit this story. 
The New York Review of Books: Terrorism: The Wrong Conversation, June 13, 2016
It is important to remember context, and to understand this attack in context, and to comprehend the specific heinousness of attacking a queer safe space, rather than claiming some kind of universal ownership of this grief. This has nothing to do with identity politics and everything with basic human empathy, and recognising that white, straight, cis men are privileged in their inability not to understand this from personal experience. 
The police-inflicted violence against predominantly black and brown bodies at Stonewall throughout the late 1960s is one of our most enduring examples. But there is a long, documented history of LGBT spaces in the US becoming the targets of violence: 32 people died in an act of arson against the New Orleans’s gay nightclub, Upstairs, in 1973.
The lesbian bar Otherside in Atlanta was bombed in 1997. Arson was committed at Neighbours Nightclub in Seattle in 2013. And on Sunday, as the dead were still being counted in Orlando, Los Angeles police reported they had stopped a second, unrelated act of terrorism against the LGBT community planned for the Los Angeles Pride Parade and festivities. 
Quartz: LGBT Americans have never really been safe in America, June 13, 2016 
Maybe your Ma blessed you on the way out the door. Maybe she wrapped a plate for you in the fridge so you don’t come home and mess up her kitchen with your hunger. Maybe your Tia dropped you off, gave you cab money home. Maybe you had to get a sitter. Maybe you’ve yet to come out to your family at all, or maybe your family kicked you out years ago. Forget it, you survived. Maybe your boo stayed home, wasn’t feeling it, but is blowing up your phone with sweet texts, trying to make sure you don’t stray. Maybe you’re allowed to stray. Maybe you’re flush, maybe you’re broke as nothing, and angling your pretty face barside, hoping someone might buy you a drink. Maybe your half-Latin-ass doesn’t even speak Spanish; maybe you barely speak English. Maybe you’re undocumented. 
Washington Post: In praise of Latin Night at the Queer Club, June 13, 2016 
“It’s sacred,” he said of the bar behind him, draped in rainbow-colored flags. “These spaces, even though they are quote-unquote ‘bars or clubs,’ are those spaces for people in the L.G.B.T.Q. community. Those are the spaces we come to.”
He spoke of the thousands of young gay, bisexual and transgender people who flock to bars and clubs in the West Village: “Night after night after night, these kids come down here because they feel like it’s their safe space. The queer kids from various colors, various communities come here because it’s their space. They can be who they want, they can be who they are to themselves and each other, to reflect each other, to know each other, to love each other, to discover each other, to grow with each other, in order to become grown-up people.” 
New York Times: "It's Sacred": A Gay Refuge, Turned Into a War Zone, June 13, 2016
I think that every single time that we claim back ownership over the narrative, rebuke attempts to force an islamophobic and xenophobic interpretation of this massacre on us, turn the attention back on the fact that these lives may have been saved with stricter laws on gun ownership and an understanding that queer bodies are also sacred, we foil the attacker's intentions. 


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