Last week, I marched in my first ever Pride parade. I met with friends beforehand and we put glitter on our faces and drew rainbows on every patch of exposed skin. We joined the parade and walked from the Radcliffe Camera, up and across through the major shopping areas of town and down over to Oxford Castle, where there was a stage and booths and lots and lots of rainbow flags.
Along the way, we encountered a lot of smiling crowds and people happily waving and taking pictures. Thanks to a graduation ceremony, a couple of festivals, and the niceness of the weather, city center was packed, even for a Saturday. Out of the hundreds who watched us walk past and cheered, one man booed. One old man in a crowd that drowned him out.
The booing still frightened people—many of the marchers in the parade were young and had grown up in a world where queer people were much more visible in media and where the fight for marriage equality was over quickly. They don’t remember a time when the question of whether or not same-sex couples could get married wasn’t a question on the national scene, where it was so quiet and so low on the ground that almost no one talked about it. But they still got nervous when they heard a man booing the parade. They got nervous because we all know the stories of homophobic and queerphobic and transphobic attacks. In the queer community, we have a deep cultural memory of our persecution at the hands of people who hate us, and we know that the freedom we have now can be snatched away in a moment.
I woke up this morning to the scared and worried tweets of my friend Eliel Cruz, who was passing along news about a shooting at a queer-friendly night club in Orlando, FL. It was 5AM there, and the shooting had happened three hours before in the midst of Latin Night celebrations. Some major news places who had people working the night shift had information up, but for a while, our only source was local news and Twitter accounts from people who were there.
As it sunk in that this was yet another mass shooting, that this is Pride Month, that this was a night club that caters to queer people, I grieved.
In an instant, lives were changed forever. In a split second, a fun night out became a horrible nightmare. I mentally added “night club” to the long, long list of places where Americans cannot avoid being killed in a mass shooting—the list that include movie theaters, shopping malls, our workplaces, our schools, our churches, our homes.
There are no more safe spaces.
What is hitting me hardest about this newest shooting, this event that will soon by replaced by reports of another, somewhere else, is that it’s against the queer community. We are a community that has to seek out spaces to be ourselves, to be safe. And, from the reports, a lot of people saw Pulse as part of that scene, as part of that safety. This was a place where people could be themselves, their beautiful, fabulous, queer-as-fuck selves. And that has been stolen from them.
Authorities are calling it domestic terrorism, and feeling the way I do this morning, the way I do right now, I understand and agree with that designation. This was an attack on a community, on a population that has struggled to find safety and now have to rebuild amongst the blood and the pain. It is an attack likely motivated both by racism and queerphobia. It is terrorism.
But if there’s anything our community has learned during its fight for safety over the decades is that we are stronger than we ever thought. We are not stronger because of the suffering—suffering is not some test of our will and our strength. Suffering done by evil men is not some kind of cosmic retribution or test of our faith.
We are stronger because of our ability to stay true to ourselves even in the face of suffering. We will grieve. We will need help. We will need to lean on each other for a long time. But that does not mean we are weak. It does not mean we have failed. And it does not mean we are done.
Pride started as a way to demonstrate that the queer community exists and is strong and proud of who we are. Pride still means these things. Pride in the face of those who want us to be silent, who would rather us dead than to bear our presence—that takes strength and courage and love. And we have those things in spades in the queer community.
Next week, I’m planning on going into London for the London Pride parade. As I wave my rainbow flag and celebrate the lives of queer people—brave and bold and wonderful queer people—I will also be thinking of those whose lives ended last night in Pulse. All of us in the queer community grieve this loss, but we know that the best way to respond is not to shirk into the quiet, to turn tail and run.
No. We must lift our flags, lift the names of our friends and family who have been lost, and keep marching. The parade is not over; there is still a need for Pride in the face of hate. We are still here, we are still queer, and we are with those who grieve. We will not be terrorized into silence.