This is the Second Post in a series of posts that will run throughout the month of June. June has been Pride Month for many years. To honor that history, I will be talking about different aspects of why I am proud during Pride Month.
To read the first post on pride in Chosen Families, click here.
As long as I live I will never forget waking up on June 12, 2016. School was out so Humphrey and I were sleeping in, but when I woke up I had tons of text messages and news alerts on my phone. In the early hours of the morning, a cowardly gunman* walked into Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida and opened fire with semi-automatic weapons and went on a killing spree. Before taking his own life after a hostage standoff that lasted for several hours, the gunman killed 49 people. A club that I have been to twice before, now held the bodies of 49 people. 49 people whose only crime was dancing with their fellow members of the LGBTQ community. 49 people who were the brother of someone. Or the daughter of someone. Or the mother of someone. 49 people would not go home that morning.
Two years later, the pain has not diminished. The sorrow and the hurt have been moved to the back burner, but they are still present. To be completely transparent, I have not fully processed my own feelings about it. It hurt too much to work through them at the time; but in an effort to honor the 49 beautiful people who were robbed of their dance that night, I dedicate this post to their memory. I will continue to feel proud this month, because they can no longer feel proud for themselves. Tonight’s post, I take pride in the bars and clubs of my community. Tonights post is pride in OUR places.
If you look at all those names of Gay Bars past and present, what do they all have in common? What do all of those names say or symbolize to you? Every single name on that list projects one of two things: Strength and Safety. The reason for this is simple. Even in 2018, The United States of America is not always a welcoming place to members of the LGBTQ community. We are harassed. We are discriminated against. We yelled at. Spit on. Beaten. Raped. Killed. All of these things are done on a regular basis and have been done for years. Sometimes society cares (mostly when it is a white LGBTQ person). Sometimes society does not care. In an effort to make life the best we can for ourselves, the LGBTQ community did what it has always done. We rallied around ourselves. We provided each other with bars, dance halls, and night clubs. Places were we could simply BE.
If you are a heterosexual cisgendered person, you will never know what I mean by that. Especially if you are also white. I don’t say either of those things to be exclusionary or inflammatory; if I could somehow connect my consciousness to yours so you could feel what it feels like I would. But this is not Avatar and James Cameron did not write the story of our lives. I wish you could feel the feeling I am talking about. Maybe then my community would not have struggled so long. But take comfort in NOT having to feel it. It is better that way. There is less sadness. Less Shame. Less Loss. Less Worry. When I thought about feelings to try and describe that feeling, those are the 4 words I would combine to describe it.
Sadness. Sadness in your gut when you see heterosexual couples sit on the same side of the booth at a diner or lay on a blanket at the park.
Shame. Shame in yourself for caring what other people think of your shorts and your tank top as you walk towards the club in November (Yes some of us do wear tank tops and short shorts in November. Deal. With. It.).
Loss. Loss of equality and protection when the word faggot is yelled at you from across the street or a passing car. Or God Forbid the loss of a friend who was simply killed for living while gay (For the record, my friend was Sean Kennedy and he was the first gay person my age I ever met who was confident in his own skin and nice to me. And he changed my life because of it).
Worry. Worry that creeps into every other thought that runs through your head because you are in public with your significant other and are terrified someone will see you and tell your family, your place of employment, or your friends.
In order to suppress those feelings – because for some people they never go away – we did the only thing we could and gave our bars and clubs names that project strength and safety. They became our churches when we didn’t have a Sanctuary to go to. They became our castles and retreats when the world would not protect us. They became the very beating hearts of the gay community. That is part of the reason Pulse was aptly named and part of the reason it devastated my community. The attack on Pulse was an attack on the heart of the gay community. For some queer people, gay bars are the only place they have ever truly felt safe. If we don’t have those spaces any more, what else do we have?
Ask any of your close family and friends who are part of the queer community about their first trip to the gay bar. I promise you that in addition to the name, they will remember their age, their outfit, their drink choice, and who they went with. I was barely 18 years old and my first bar was The Castle in Greenville, South Carolina. It was the most exhilarating feeling in the world- there was terror and excitement all at the same time. I must have had a terrified look on my face because a drag queen named Robin Redgrave came over to me, hugged me, and pushed me towards the bar so she could buy me a drink. I was half-way through the first sip when she saw the X on my hand and slapped the drink out of my hand (which she then finished herself). I had never felt so welcomed and at peace surrounded by so many gay people in my life; and all of it happened in a run down, leaky when the rain came building. The Castle wasn’t much, but it was mine. And that was all I needed.
Pulse affected me and still affects me more than I realized. I couldn’t watch the news without watching Anderson Cooper breakdown on live television as he read the names of my dead brothers and sisters. I couldn’t listen to the radio without hearing the first responders say their dreams will be haunted by the ringing of cellphones of the deceased as family members tried to check on their children. I couldn’t read the news online without seeing the story of a mother (Brenda McCool) who jumped in front of the gunman and used her body to shield her son from the bullets. To this day, I still cannot watch the video of Christopher Leinonen’s mother tearfully talking to the media as she waited for the news of her son.
To those around the world who rallied around us, you will never know how much that meant to us. In one of our darkest hours, you gave us the strength with your hugs, your love, your vigils, your memorials, and other messages of support. Because of you, we were able to grieve for our loss, but still remember that rainbow that comes tomorrow. To the celebrities who wrote songs in their memory, we thank you.
And to those of us who still wish harm to us, know that we found strength in our sorrow. And our love for each other will not be broken and if you doubt that, he a warning from every queer person’s fairy gaymother:
— Hey Qween 👑 (@heyqweentv) June 24, 2016
I did not go out for months following the Pulse shooting. A lot of us did not. We did not know if we should and we did not know if we could. Would it be disrespectful to those who were killed? Would we be safe? Would we be able to escape if something bad happened? We did not know how to answer those questions so many of us subconsciously chose not to go out. Further removed from our shut in status, this saddens me. Because it means for one brief moment we let that piece of shit who riddled our safe space win. Because not going out would have been a slap to the face of those who could no longer out. Because for one brief moment, we let the hate shine darker than the love. Time eased the pain, but we continue to worry about our safe spaces. Worry about our friends’ safety. Worry about our own safety.
To this day I do not go out as much as I used to. Partly because I am getting old and partly because gay clubs typically aren’t welcomed in city downtowns so they end up in building on the outskirts of town that only have one entrance/exit. But I make it a habit of going to safe place in our community at least once every couple of months. This month will be no different. This Saturday I will go and honor our PULSE with my people. Out in whatever outfit I want with my people. I will dance with my people. I will drink with my people. I will laugh with my people. I will feel safe with my people.
And with my people, I will remember why I go. I go to The Fortress because Edward, Stanley, Luis, and Juan cannot.
I go to Sanctuary because Eric, Peter, Kimberly, and Luis cannot.
I go to The Armory because Eddie, Darryl, Deonka, Alejandro, and Anthony cannot.
I go to Olympus because Jean, Franky, Amanda, Martin, and Daniel cannot.
I go to Haven because Mercedez, Xavier, Enrique, Ramon, and Simon cannot.
I go to the Factory because Oscar, Miguel, Javier, Jonathan, and Joel cannot.
I go to the Abbey because Jason, Cory, Juan, Luis, and Shane cannot.
I go to the Complex because Jerald, Leroy, Tevin, Jean, and Rodolfo cannot.
And I go to Pulse because Brenda, and Christopher, and Angel, and Frank, and Paul, and Antonio, and Joseph, and Akyra, and Geraldo cannot.
This post is for them. And when I do a shot and dance to Whitney, or Cyndi, or Beyonce, or Mariah, or Ariana, or Celine, or Adele – that will be for them to.