Orlando: A bitter reminder of why we need Pride
The Orlando massacre is unignorable proof that we're far from achieving LGBTQ equality. It's time for change.
It felt like we were getting somewhere, didn’t it? After all, there was so much evidence of progression. The sluggish mainstream was widening its bleary eyes to the modern struggles of people who aren’t straight, cis, or either. Those who slotted more comfortably into society’s categories were beginning to shuffle self-consciously atop their glass ceilings. Binaries were collapsing into a technicolour sea of glittering individuality. Exclusionary marital laws were evolving for the better; and from Malta to Vietnam, Thailand to Bolivia, legislation was passed to protect and bolster the rights of trans people. Teen Instagrammers successfully platformed and demystified queerness, and although capitalism pulped and commodified the movement into an excuse to sell Jaden Smith-inspired clothing lines, the ripples of delicious, beauteous change remained. Hell, even the Pope was vaguely on board with the formerly forbidden fruits of LGBTQ lifestyles.
But on Sunday 12 June in Orlando, that bonfire of progressive energy was almost smothered. A 29-year-old US citizen took a gun into gay nightclub Pulse, killing 49 people and wounding a further 53. Clubbers who’d eaten a big dinner to avoid a hangover the next day. Friends who’d picked outfits with tomorrow’s Snapchats in mind. People who looked forward to kissing crushes in a safe, welcoming and celebratory space. People for whom this was only the start of a month-long string of Pride parties. 49 of them, taken because gun laws, sex education and societal outlook had failed them.
Immediately, the press pitched tents in different ideological camps. Terrorism. Homophobia. Both. Other. The LGBTQ community exploded into action, kindness and support; blood banks lifted bans on homosexuals’ rights to donate blood, the cast of Hamilton performed at the Tony Awards without their gun props in tribute, survivors poured mournful words across social media and collectives organised vigils and fundraisers.
Orlando is excruciating because it’s a reminder of the extent to which we were kidding ourselves about how far we’d come.The worst mass shooting in the history of the US took place in a gay nightclub during LGBT Pride month; the injustice couldn't be clearer. It reminds us that despite landslide campaigning victories, despite Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair, or Zara’s genderless clothing line, or a piecemeal attempt at marriage equality, there’s a long way to go and millions of changes to make. These changes are being asked for – and ignored – on a daily basis. What’s more, Orlando reminds us that when things like terrorism or legislation failure hit, it often hits the marginalised harder. While we panic about terror and rage about Trump, we can not ignore the voices of the marginalised who are always hurting more deeply and more frequently.
The heartbreak of Sunday morning at Pulse is not reversible. But we can hold this tragedy as unignorable evidence that it’s time to change. In the US, gun laws must change. Worldwide, mainstream LGBTQ sex education must be taught, quelling homophobic predispositions before they take hold. Safe spaces, both physical and digital must be protected. Pride must be allowed to shine as a rainbow in a turbulent, uncertain sky. Those who are now afraid to live their truest lives must be reassured that although gunman Omar Mateen had a homophobic ‘grudge in his heart’, the rest of the world does not.
If you thought Pride was irrelevant, you were wrong. And if you safe spaces aren’t necessary, you were wrong. If you thought we’d come far enough, you were sorely, sorely wrong. We are light years and heptathlons away from healing homophobia, and on 12 June 2016, Orlando proved it.
Vigils in support of those affected by Orlando will take place in various cities across the UK over the coming week. See the Equality Network for more information.
Edinburgh: St Andrew's Square, 15 Jun, 7pm
Glasgow: George Square, 13 Jun, 5.30pm
Dumfries: The Stove Cafe, 13 Jun, 6pm
Aberdeen: Cheerz bar, 13 Jun, 7pm
Manchester: Sackville Gardens, 13 Jun, 6.50pm
Liverpool: St George's Hall, 13 Jun, 7pm
Leeds: Lower Briggait, 13 Jun, 10.30pm
Those who wish to donate to the cause can do so to LGBT organisation Equality Florida here.