I remember the shock of first reading the news reports of the attack on Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
A violent attack against people who thought that they were in a safe place. My people, the LGBTQ community, in a gay club in the US.
Shock, grief, mourning. There were vigils. Politicians made speeches. Celebrities made speeches. There was no shortage of points of blame in this unexpected stain of violence.
The LGBTQ Pride events in the summer of 2016 were admirably defiant, demonstrating the resilience and resolve that has characterised our community across the years.
It’s only a year ago, but so much seems to have happened in the past 12 months that the tragic violence of Orlando somehow already seems like a lifetime ago.
One year on, where are we now?
Minority Stress Syndrome
Minority Stress Syndrome describes the health impacts that have been documented on any minority population. Minorities are generally exposed to a constant level of threat ― real or perceived ― and this has a material impact on their overall health and well-being.
The LGBTQ community is always a minority ― whatever country we live in, we will always be a minority in every sense.
It’s little surprise that the Orlando attack not only made the LGBTQ community in the US feel vulnerable, less safe, but the impact of that reverberated around the world. If a gay bar in the US could be attacked, targeted in a homophobic hate-crime, it makes it almost impossible to feel safe anywhere.
That sense of threat, of danger, hasn’t dissipated ― if anything it’s becoming even more apparent. The election of Donald Trump, the continued persecution of gay men in Syria, and a worsening outlook for gay men in Indonesia, Chechnya, and numerous other geographies around the world. Things don’t seem to be getting better for the LGBTQ community, and we seem to be powerless to do anything about it.
One of the interesting developments in the aftermath of the Orlando attack was an apparent shift in perception of the role of ‘straight allies’ in relation to the LGBTQ community.
The concept of a Straight Ally is something that emerged out of the corporate diversity and inclusion programs in the US and elsewhere ― a term to describe the senior executives who would support and speak up for LGBTQ employees, a way to describe and include the men and women who didn’t identify as LGBTQ but wanted to visibly and demonstrably support the company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.
It’s a concept that soon extended beyond the business world ― actors, musicians, politicians, anyone who was happy to lend their voice and lend their support to the LGBTQ community could comfortably describe themselves as a Straight Ally.
When you’re part of a minority (as LGBTQ people always are), there is a big feel-good factor when a politician, a celebrity, or a person with influence publicly declares that they sympathise with your goals and aspirations, and that they’re on your side.
However, some of the common themes that we saw emerging in the immediate aftermath of the Orlando attack was people struggling to process their emotions. Some of the sentiments that we saw widely expressed included:
- Unless you’re gay/lesbian/LGBTQ then you can’t understand how I feel.
- I feel solidarity with LGBTQ people around the world.
- This kind of attack makes LGBTQ people stronger.
- Why aren’t my straight friends as angry as I am?
- Why aren’t our straight allies being more vocal?
What was interesting was that the LGBTQ community were quick to identify and criticise inconsistency from public figures. For example, news presenter Anderson Cooper (during a live interview about the Orlando shooting) confronted Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi about her past opposition to marriage equality: “I will say I have never really seen you talk about gays and lesbians and transgender people in a positive way until now…” Cooper said to Bondi, highlighting her hypocrisy. Cooper was widely applauded for publicly calling out Bondi for suddenly declaring herself a friend of the LGBTQ community when her past actions had shown that she was not.
But we weren’t always so quick to recognize inconsistency in our own responses. We applauded singer Nick Jonas when he cancelled concerts in North Carolina (in protest over HB2 legislation banning all local LGBTQ rights ordinances in the state); however when he spoke at the NYC vigil for victims of the Orlando shooting there was a bit of an outcry along the lines of: “Why is Nick Jonas speaking for us?”
Obviously there’s a lot of diversity of opinion within the LGBTQ community in the United States and around the world, but one of the things that seemed to emerge from the days and weeks following the Orlando attack was a strong sense of LGBTQ resilience and identity, and a sense that we no longer needed straight allies. A sense that it was time to thank our straight allies for their support and encouragement, to recognize that we probably couldn’t have got this far without them. But that from here, from this point, we needed to have the confidence to speak for ourselves and to fight our own battles.
It’s seems to be a sign of the times we live where we’re not even twelve months on from one violent attack against our community before we’re rocked by another. Obviously there’s been numerous in the months that followed the Orlando attack, but the explosion at a concert in Manchester in the UK is the most recent.
Obviously the attack on the Ariana Grande concert wasn’t just an attack on the LGBTQ community, but in the context when our Minority Stress Syndrome readings are already off the chart, this kind of violence feeds into sense of vulnerability.
Grande is a singer at the top of her game. She’s been a vocal supporter of the LGBTQ community, her brother Frankie is a prominent gay celebrity, and gay men have embraced her pop aesthetic and demonstration of female empowerment. This was a concert where there were a lot of gay guys in the audience. This was a concert that gay men around the world could easily imagine themselves being at.
Another safe space that no longer feels safe at all.
Should we be feeling angry? Who should we direct that anger at? I can’t work it out.
At the moment I can’t get past an overwhelming feeling of sadness.
I guess that will pass. I guess that we’ll move on. We always seem to, somehow.
There will be new events to focus on, other tragedies that draw our attention and make us gasp with horror.
It is a world of uncertainty, a world of change, but we are still here. We are still here.