Four years ago, I attended an HIV conference in the United States. At one session, we were discussing how best to reach out to gay men about getting tested and connected to care. Most people in the room were from places like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. We were all challenging each other, as public health stalwarts, to have our HIV outreach staff be more forward and directly engage men that were perceived to be gay, bisexual, and/or same-gender loving. The conversation continued as normal until one man who hailed from Indiana angrily stood up. He was clearly agitated by the entire conversation. He stated with no uncertain terms: "What you people from these big cities fail to realize is that what you are saying is unrealistic for the majority of us who work in the rest of America. In most parts of America, you will be beaten or worse yet killed if people even think you are gay. What you all are suggesting is absolutely unrealistic!"
This Hoosier was right. LGBTQ-identified people or even those who are perceived as Queer live in constant danger. The stories that make the national papers are ones like the young men who were killed in Seattle or the man who was killed in the middle of Greenwich Village in NYC. Only particularly heinous acts against the Queer Community in non-urban America make the news like the tortures and eventual deaths of Matthew Shepard or Brandon Teena. This weekend's massacre in Orlando is no different.
But I can't help but think that this will be different for a slew of other reasons. As the man from Indiana stated, Queer folks have to live in the shadows throughout the majority of the U.S.A. Many hide that aspect of their lives from their family and friends for fear of being ostracized or even attacked. They fear losing their jobs because they can still be fired simply because they are gay or trans*. This is the unrelenting reality for LGBTQ people in the Land of the Free. Even in the face of the greatest tragedies that most of us can imagine, we know that we will not receive the love and the support of the people that we most love in the world.
Those of us who are from the South or have family therein already know what will be the next steps for many of those injured or even worse killed. No one outside of the Community knows that they identify as LGBTQ. Many people who "know" them will learn for the very first time that their son, daughter, colleague, friend or even spouse is gay, bisexual, and/or trans*. Many of the survivors will be re-traumatized by those that they need most at this horrible time. The blame game began immediately from hateful community "leaders" who alluded that the victims were complicit in their own injuries or deaths because they refused to live every moment of the day in the shadows cast by their hate. We cannot be quiet when this disenfranchised are attacked in so many ways each and every days of their lives.
We will not accept the hate spewed from the mouths of people who state that we are pedophilic predators in the restrooms of America when each and every day I see cis-gendered heterosexual men being accused of actually molesting children. We will not accept the hate being spread that we are destroying the fabric of America when seemingly every other day I hear about cis-gendered heterosexuals attacking and sometimes murdering LGBTQ people while they are walking down the street or spending time with friends and loved ones.
It is past time that we shine a light on the shadows by ensuring that LGBTQ adults feel safe at work through passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), feel safe in their communities by ensuring all states pass Hate Crime legislation inclusion of sexuality and gender identity, and that LGBTQ children are not harassed at school by bullies in the classrooms including those who are their teachers and administrators.
In sum, this is the current radical Gay agenda: Be nice to us and treat us equally. Any questions?