During the fallout of the Orlando massacre, I have observed many trends on social media, in newspapers and in conversations. This is a time when people will reflect on their personal ties to LGBTQ identity, whether it be a loved one or themselves. It is also a time when some will reconsider their most long-lived stances toward the attainment of social equity for LGBTQ persons.
When we discuss violence, it is so often framed in the physical: a hit, as hot, a slap. Rarely do we consider how violence is much larger than any one physical incident. Ultimately, what we platform and advance has the most real, deadliest ramifications for people.
As a resident and native of North Carolina, I have lived the ramifications of others’ platforms because I am black and have been openly gay since age 16. Whether it was the brutality of high school bullying from teachers, principals and classmates who commonly referred to me as the fag and nigger or my estranged parents, I was aware that opinion manifests in action more than we would like to admit.
The Pulse in Orlando was not simply a club or a gay club – it was a club that held a Latin-centered night. Of the LGBTQ murdered, they were overwhelmingly black and brown persons. The carnage on the floor of that club had endured way more than anti-gay violence. By their sheer virtue of living and breathing in the United States, their skin color was met with extreme violence and their sexuality was made complicated as a result.
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Many of those brave souls were not from money or students at top colleges, and many were using that night as a space for empowerment and engagement. Like myself, an LGBTQ black, these persons were used to avoiding death on multiple levels every day. While white LGBTQ counterparts discuss their encounters with anti-LGBTQ violence, it is a much more nuanced and difficult reality for those of us who do not have pale skin. We are not allowed into many places of employment, though qualified; black gay men are now up to 1 in 2 likely to contract HIV, according to CDC; and the average life expectancy for our trans of color family is below 40. One could explore the socialized criminality of black and brown LGBTQ and our representation in the criminal injustice system, but that’s for another time.
So, while we discuss the physical violence of Orlando, let us discuss the violent society in which we participate on a daily level. Most black and brown LGBTQ die from these forms of violence: exclusion from a health care system, poisoned water supplies, criminalized survival work, educational inequity and segregation and poverty due to racism-homo-trans phobic institutions.
Many of us commit suicide before we are 30. I know. I have attempted suicide. Opinions turn into practice all of the time. It’s not “just my opinion” when it turns into policies that kill.
Further, the reason why many LGBTQ of color have their own nights is because we have been historically and even currently excluded from predominantly white LGBTQ circles, many of which are also not safe for us. LGBTQ of color have been making their own nights and scenes since the dawn of NYC, when white LGBTQ did not allow us into their spaces. It is important to realize that not every LGBTQ has the same reality and, more so, to honor it by watching whom and what we prioritize in conversations.
This is a time for everyone to realize that we live in a society of constant violence and to recognize how our privileges and power are implicated in that vicious process.
Timothy McNair of Carrboro is an alumnus of Northwestern University, where he held the Eckstein full merit scholarship for music.