At moments like this we're expected to find words that encompass a full range of emotions - grief, anger, resignation, outrage, and, we would like to believe, resolve and hope. I don't know how to do that, not in an America where so many have become inured to mass shootings. Saturday night's gay nightclub shooting in Orlando is the worst such in American history. Should that matter? Is it more horrific than any school shooting? How can one make any moral comparisons? And that's without shifting back to recall the carnage, much of it state-sanctioned, of the last century.
This event stands out because its target was the gay community, at Latin night at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. The previous worst such event - a fire in a New Orleans gay club, the Upstairs Lounge that killed 32 back in 1973 - has been lost to memory. This event, the most horrific of all, is just the most recent episode of anti-LGBT violence. That is my takeaway - anti-LGBT violence is endemic in America.
We often hear about an epidemic of anti-trans violence in this country, directed predominantly toward African-American women, but the fact is that violence is endemic. Twenty to 30 women are murdered every year, and have been for decades. The annual Trans Day of Remembrance was created to mourn and memorialize those victims, and the inaugural Memorial Day was in 1999! Just as anti-trans violence is endemic, so is anti-gay violence.
The gay bashings occur less frequently, but they occur throughout the country, including gay havens like New York and D.C. Individuals and couples are the usual targets, many of which, unlike the anti-trans violence which often is domestic to some degree, are purely targets of an amorphous hate, as were the club patrons in Orlando. What I fear today is that the nomination of Trump has signaled to the haters that it is acceptable to get violent, to remove their self-imposed restraints, and act out their simmering self-loathing-induced hatred. The Washington Blade cover this Pride Week shows a caricature of Trump with the headline - "Enjoy Pride; it may be your last." When I saw it yesterday at the D.C. pride parade I laughed; I'm not laughing now.
We are fortunate that we have in our community, from the local to national level, strong anti-violence advocacy groups. Led by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, we record hate crimes and share best practices with local governments and advocacy groups. We support and succor those most in need, raise funds to help the survivors and families of the dead, and interact with the FBI and local law enforcement.
This massacre, though, is bigger than anything we've confronted as a community. Wandering through the DC Pride Festival today, whose theme is, appropriately enough, #LivePride, with its multiple meanings, I just read that the President has labeled this crime an act of domestic terrorism and a hate crime. The murderer had sworn allegiance to the leader of Daesh, known as ISIS here in America, which has claimed credit for the attack, and was allegedly inspired by his disgust at the sight of two men kissing in Miami. It seems that being openly gay or trans in 2016 America is still a radical act of living.
Events are spiraling out of control. The viciously homophobic and transphobic Lt. Gov of Texas, Dan Patrick, posted a vicious tweet near the time of the slaughter. That this is an act of radical, triumphalist Islam in the heart of America will not go unnoticed by the Trump campaign which markets its anti-Muslim animus 24/7, yet the hypocrisy of his using this terror attack to justify his campaign for President when his supporters hate their LGBT neighbors more than some abstract Muslim-American will not be lost on our community. In an era of extremism and assault rifles, daily gun deaths and gag orders on physicians against speaking out for gun control, the emboldened fascists of America are having a wet dream - Islamic extremists slaughtering gay people, in a club that was advertising black and Latina drag queens.
So what are we to do?
Don’t despair. As a friend of mine said today, this event will be “one of the defining moments of LGBTQ worldwide for the rest of our lifetimes.” Let’s commit to making that definition a very positive one.
Respond positively. Through the arts – I enjoyed a second showing of a wonderful play about which I’ve written recently, called “When January Feels Like Summer” by Cori Thomas. This work of art, like many others, has the ability to uplift us, in the LGBT community and elsewhere, and to enable us to persevere with the hard work of creating community and a better America.
Through politics – as I mentioned above - I have little doubt that the development of a homegrown fascist anti-politics as embodied by Donald Trump has contributed to the atmosphere of fear and actual acts of destruction. The only way to deal with that, right now, is to campaign and then vote for Hillary Clinton for President, and down-ballot Democrats for the Senate and Congress. We must all, including Republicans and Bernie supporters, be true patriots and elevate country over party in this time of great need, when the future of the republic, and not just LGBT equality, is at stake.
Just as President Johnson had the wind at his back to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the wake of the assassination of President Kennedy, so can we begin again to lobby Congress strenuously to pass the Equality Act. We can build upon the Civil Rights Act and the federal courts’ and Obama administration’s embrace of trans and gay persons to have those protections written explicitly into law for all of us.
And we can lobby – again – for gun control. Not just gun safety, but gun control. The NRA can no longer be allowed to enable the carnage on our streets, in our schools, and in our places of worship and play. Let’s build on Orlando as we’ve built on the massacre in Charleston.
Finally, through love. I will leave it to the President:
Dana Beyer, M.D., is an LGBT rights advocate and a retired eye surgeon. She is currently the Executive Director of Gender Rights Maryland, Board Chair of Freedom to Work and Vice Chair of the Civil Rights Coalition of Maryland.