I know exactly where I was when I heard about Orlando. I was in the South, the Bible-belt South, the red South where I was seeing more Trump signs and Confederate flags than I ever had planned or wanted to see in my entire life.
It was a place where, as an African American, not overtly religious, queer woman from the North, I was feeling like the proverbial fish out of water. After I’d been there a few hours, one of the first things I asked was “Is there a gay bar around here?” I needed my tribe, my temple not just for a “good time” but to feel safe and secure.
In our post-Obergefel world, images of LGBTQ people are more common, but it’s still only in the sanctity of the club where we can dance, laugh, and even kiss with freedom. Freedom to be brand-new, awkward in our coming out with the knowledge that someone shares an equally awkward coming out story. We can turn off the gay-dar and flirt outrageously. Whether you are newly out or have been living out for years, gay venues provide a space where we can relax, and generally let our hair down without wondering about reactions from onlookers and checking for safety. Gay venues, especially bars and discos, are the places where you stop being the “odd one” out in the group.
Even though as an African American, queer woman I have no illusions about being safe from violence in this world, in moments of insecurity I find joy, happiness and safety in queer spaces. The massacre at PULSE shattered that last illusion of safety
Bad things have been happening in our world violating our safe spaces – Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Charleston, San Bernardino. According to the Gun Violence Archive, a “mass shooting” is any incident where four or more people are wounded or killed. By that definition, there have been 136 mass shootings in the first 164 days of this year. In the first six months of 2016, 273 children under age 11 have been killed/injured. 1,388 teenagers have been killed/injured. In the first six months of 2016, the murders of 14 transgender people have been reported.
People – women, children, young, old, gay, straight and transgender – are dying, being murdered often in spaces once considered safe – schools, churches, neighborhoods, workplaces and now a gay bars. We are not safe!!
But rather than looking at the root cause of violence we have strapped up, citing our 2nd amendment right to bear arms, erroneously believing that if we all had guns we would all be safer.
Now I am not anti-gun, but the proliferation of guns, from hand guns to assault rifles, and the mounting number of deaths from kids getting accidently shot by unsecured guns, to random street violence (gangs, road rage, etc.) to mass shootings have made me feel less secure.
The vigils, the reading of names, the photos in the media every day – I’m cried out, almost numb and more than a little angry. And our legislators (many receiving thousands of dollars from the gun lobby) after taking a moment of silence have gone on to do nothing. All talk and no action. No wonder so many have been turned off by politics.
While still trying to cope with the loss of 49 lives in Orlando, remembering the senseless massacre of the Charleston 9 the previous year, after watching Congress again fail to take action on measures to expand background checks for gun purchases and prevent suspected terrorists from buying the weapons, something amazing happened.
Led by Civil Rights hero, Congressman John Lewis, House democrats began a sit-in on the House floor demanding action on gun control that lasted more than 24-hours.
After Speaker Ryan turned the cameras off, House Democrats turned to social media broadcasting from cell phones, tablets and iPads with feeds picked up for broadcast to the nation by C-SPAN. Democrats did not succeed in securing a vote on the gun-control measures they had hoped for in staging the protest but, amidst the chants of No Bill, No Break, you heard real talk about the consequences of our armed society.
There were stories of loved ones who had committed suicide by gun or survived suicide attempts because they didn’t have a gun and had time to rethink and refocus. There were stories of neighborhoods ravaged by gun violence; families who lives had been forever changed following Sandy Hook. There was a statement from Gabby Giffords.
And then there was the remarkable words of Illinois Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez. A man of Puerto Rican ancestry, who spoke about grappling with his Catholic upbringing, dealing with his own prejudice and bigotry, to becoming an ally to the LGBTQ community, of the loss he felt as a member of the Puerto Rican community for the lives at PULSE, 23 of whom were Puerto Rican.
We are not safe not because of guns but because of hatred, inequality, indifference and inaction.
In leading the sit-in Congressman John Lewis said ” Sometimes, you have to do something out of the ordinary; sometimes you have to make a way out of no way.”
We may not see the vote on gun control but with this sit-in perhaps, just maybe, a change is going to come. As Rep. John Lewis said “Don’t give up, don’t give in!”
Michelle E. Brown is a public speaker, activist and author. You can follow her writing and activities at http://www.mychangeiam.com and onhttp://www.twitter.com/mychangeiam