Dear White, Hetero, Cis People: Please Don't Co-Opt This Tragedy
If you are a cisgender, heterosexual, white person, please do not write about the largest mass shooting in American history, which took place this Sunday at a gay club called Pulse in Orlando during the venue's Latino night. Of course, share condolences, express how horribly you feel for the victims and their families, tell your queer Latinx friends that you love them, lend support. But please do not take it upon yourself to publicly point out the hypocrisy of Paul Ryan tweeting "thoughts and prayers" when the legislative agenda of his party actively marginalizes queer people all the time.
Please do not wax poetic about the outrage of Trump supporters doing the same, while their presidential hopeful advocates building a wall intended to keep out the very folks Pulse was aiming to create a safe space for. Do not condemn confused conservatives who are blaming this on radical Islam. If you are a straight ally, please do not write about the infuriating injustice of Orlando health centers being in desperate need of blood when the queer community is not permitted to donate it.
Queer people are already saying these things. (Hi.) Latinx people are saying these things. Muslim people are saying these things.
And while we're at it, do not write an article or a Facebook post patting yourself on the back for not saying any of these things, because even that takes valuable space away from the marginalized people who this story is really about. This is the time for their voices to be heard, and for the rest of us to listen. This is the time for the authenticity of their lived experience and their communities' history of collective trauma to radiate. This is a time to share their stories.
If healing is what we want, then we must give the marginalized voices targeted by this tragedy the space to articulate their suffering. This is what will emancipate them of their pain. This is what will empower others in communities who are suffering. If you are an ally, of course, your suffering matters too, and you are welcome to express your emotions. But, today, let searing indictments and heartbreaking personal accounts come from queer people, and especially queer communities of color. It will make all the difference, I promise you. It will resonate in such a way that cannot be achieved by a person who hasn't lived an authoritatively queer, marginalized experience. These are the voices that will generate empathy, create cultural shifts, and reset the dial on progress. Please give them a chance to do so.
Here is a brief personal anecdote on safety from a queer pal of yours named me. I live in Spanish Harlem, a neighborhood in the city that spearheaded the LGBTQ+ rights movement. I enjoy the privilege of an IRL queer community whenever I feel like seeking it out. And yet, when I walk a date back to the subway stop near my house at night, I am not necessarily safe kissing them goodbye.
I once kissed a masculine of center person goodbye at my subway stop in broad daylight the morning after a date, and someone spit at us. I already knew that displays of affection towards a feminine-presenting person as a feminine-presenting person myself would also court leering sexual violence. I cannot imagine how much more complicated daily feelings of unsafety in my neighborhood are for Latinx queer folks, and I cannot imagine how much worse it gets on a day-to-day basis in less queer-friendly cities than my own.
Queer history is already so painful, so traumatic, so violent, and so unjust. We didn't need this to make our point. But now that we have it, the least allies can do is let us make our point.
I have written publicly before about my experience with family rejection over my own queerness. I said then, "Even if [family members] say that they're not going to love you, or even if they say that their love is conditional, it's almost always coming from a place of their own fear, or their own desire for you to be safe. And the easiest way for you to be safe is for you to be 'normal.'" The worst part of an event like this for someone like me is that it "justifies" my mother's rejection of me. She was fearful that something very much like this would happen to me if I chose to live queerly, and her response was to try and crush it out of me in any way she could. When she couldn't accomplish that, she simply withdrew from me to mitigate her own risk of loss and suffering as a parent. Of course, that only drove me to seek out my chosen queer family with even greater urgency. Now, I am reminded once again that I am very much in the danger that she feared.
That the largest mass shooting in American history was perpetrated in a queer space is not a designation that any of us wanted. Queer history is already so painful, so traumatic, so violent, and so unjust. We didn't need this to make our point. But now that we have it, the least allies can do is let us make our point.
Chances are, queer voices, Latinx voices, and Muslim voices are already saying what you wish to express, and you will likely find that they are expressing it in a more articulate way than you are able to. Make the choice to share those voices instead of centering yours.
If you're not sure where to start, share this article, or just share a tweet. Here are some to start with: