Pride and Prejudice

With the slew of LGBT victories during the Obama administration it's often been asked these past few years whether we should continue celebrating Pride. People are getting married, moving to the suburbs and raising kids, and some kids who are only slightly older are coming out at an age which we elders find stunning. The pace has been extraordinary, but it has also been occurring in parallel with another cultural wave - political fascism and triumphalist religious fundamentalism.

Most Pride celebrations, including parades, occur in their bubbles. It's only in deeply homophobic states, such as Russia, where one cannot exist even for a moment oblivious to state-sanctioned forces of prejudice, that such bubbles do not exist. But here at home, even in the least-welcoming of places, LGBT folks have been able to carve out time to celebrate, time to be themselves, time to live.

Until Orlando.

I've written about the civil rights dialectic before, and in some grand, value-neutral, academic manner even Orlando can be fit into the narrative. Great success engenders vicious backlash - Pride sparks growing prejudice - and the Orlando massacre is different from the usual violence only in the scope of the murderous rage, enabled by an assault weapon. We know every day that while we are gaining our rights, and have the protection and support of the President and his administration, that it is the cultural change that is needed to underpin and solidify those rights. In the Age of Trump where the hate is brazenly showing its face (make no mistake, it's always been there, but now it's emboldened after decades of conservative and religious hate speech and action by a broken political system), the risks to body and soul are greater. In some respects we can view the backlash as the result of our success, however horrid it is to contemplate. If we were all in the closet, there would be no backlash.

The real long-term communal danger comes when a society, from top to bottom, demonizes a group of distinct people for long enough that the general population, under an enabling political party, comes to agree with the governing philosophy and to then consider that their lives would also improve if the offenders were removed. This has happened throughout human history, most horrifically during the last century, but the potential remains, and we are, to our surprise and consternation (thank you, Republican party!) seeing the first shoots of such a political world today. In a functioning democratic constitutional system the people can be protected, and the dialectic allowed to progress in an ultimately positive direction, bending towards justice. We must believe that possibility still exists here, and we must campaign and vote in November as if our lives depended on it. Because they do.

Orlando is the demonic side of intersectionality. Reports are still sketchy, and I do not want to jump to conclusions, but it is entirely possible that the jihadist Islamist, whose Afghani father admires the Taliban, was a closeted, misogynistic gay man with an untreated mood disorder, living in a southern state without general anti-discrimination protections, and, because this is America, easy access to assault weapons. He was even able to escape the FBI's interest.

Friends report that he was shy and bullied as a young boy, and one classmate believed he was gay. He reportedly attended the Pulse club multiple times prior to the massacre; we still don't know why. To scout out his killing field, or to be, for however short a time, anonymously with his people?

Where have we heard this story before? It's just that this time the guy is a Muslim who called 911 to announce his fealty to ISIS. Because he meant it? Or because his shame as a closeted Muslim man became so great he needed to project his hate in a more socially acceptable manner? That wouldn't be very different from the behavior of closeted radical Christian fundamentalists in this country who do the same from the pulpit or elected office. Self-loathing is destructive not only to the self, but, as we've repeatedly seen, to many others as well.

All the factors that go into creating a personality are important - the intersectionality theme - and we can't allow our Pride to be erased in the discussions of the attack. It's already happened, both here and abroad, though it seems to be fading as we in the community speak out. In an era where some college students love to shout "cultural misappropriation" to African-Americans who enjoy sushi or caucasians who practice yoga, we must ensure that the targets of the attack are clearly recognized. Yes, an attack on an American gay club is an attack against America, but it is, first and foremost, an attack against gay people in America. Just as the murder of the journalists at Charlie Hebdo was viewed as an attack against French and western society, it was first an attack against caricaturists who offended the perverted religious sensibilities of the terrorists. Just as the attack against the Parisian kosher supermarket was an attack against Parisian multiculturalism and openness, it was first and foremost an attack against Jews. The massacre in Orlando was an attack against gay people, trans people, gender non-conforming people, and, let's not forget, Latino Americans as well.

The intersectionalities that compose the lives of the victims, and not just the killer, must be recognized in totality, and then we can all unite in the knowledge that it is only in lands that are free and self-governing that such a confluence of cultures is possible. And that freedom, unfortunately, also facilitates the hatred of those who hate themselves for not being able to express their authentic fullness in their own lives, their own communities, or their own countries.

Pride and Prejudice are the yin and yang of our postmodern society. We need to understand that in all its facets if we're going to deal with the curse of intolerance.

And we have to start by dealing with the only factors in the massacre over which we, as citizens, have direct control - naming the perpetrator, and describing him clearly, when all the facts are known; and dealing with the availability of weapons of mass destruction on our streets. We must hold all our elected officials accountable, Democrats as well as Republicans, however difficult some of those conversations may be. We've got pretty good at speaking for ourselves about ourselves as LGBT people; let's join with our neighbors and speak clearly as Americans.

And if our evangelizing brothers and sisters want to join with us in mourning the dead, they're welcome to join, as long as they begin to acknowledge their role in fomenting the hate which has damaged so many lives, including those of their children. They need to confront their prejudice before they can stand with us in Pride.