Over the past few days my social media feed has been flooded with messages of love and support regarding the shooting in Orlando. I’ve received kind messages congratulating me on the impact of my Huffington Post article, and I’ve seen the members of the LGBTQ+ community come together to support and care for one another in one of our darkest times. But what I hadn’t realized until today was that barely any of my straight friends have actually reached out to ask how I’m doing. I’ve noticed the compassion the straight community has had toward the shooting, but I have also discovered how few people understand the gravity of the situation for LGBTQ+ people, and how deeply this tragedy affects us. And I think it’s because at a basic level many straight people fail to understand the sanctity of gay spaces and the trauma that comes from having one of those spaces defiled and taken from you.
If you are straight you most likely do not understand what it is like to have your love dismissed or invalidated. If you are straight you most likely don’t know how political love can be until you are beaten for holding hands with your partner or showing the smallest sort of affection that many straight people take for granted. To some people, gay clubs are nothing but debauchery, flaunted sexuality, and drunk bachelorettes, but the reality is that gay clubs have served as a safe space for LGBTQ+ people to share affection and own their sexuality without feeling threatened or targeted. Gay clubs have served as a place for LGBTQ+ people to come together and celebrate with community members. The first time I ever kissed a guy was at a gay club, and in that moment I felt safe and free from judgment, and for LGBTQ+ people those are not feelings that we experience on a daily basis. Gay clubs are practically the only place where an LGBTQ+ person can enjoy being in public but break free of mainstream judgment.
Despite strides in equality, LGBTQ+ people still experience widespread discrimination and homophobia, and many of us have internalized the hatred we’ve experienced. I used to feel uncomfortable every time my ex-boyfriend reached for my hand in public because I was afraid we’d be harassed or targeted. I refused to display any sort of public affection, even in safer spaces, because I was conditioned to be fearful and alert in my surroundings. The only place I really felt comfortable enough to own my sexuality was at a gay club, and that is something that is true for many LGBTQ+ people. That is why the attack on Orlando affects me in a way that it doesn’t affect straight people- the shooter did not just kill innocent people; he killed the sanctity of LGBTQ+ comfort and security.
I did not need to know anyone at Pulse to feel violated or unsafe, and that is something that is true for other LGBTQ+ people. This tragedy shook us to our core, and while I have deep compassion and empathy for the victims and their families- I also feel deeply afraid and broken because of it. If you are straight, I want you to know that this massacre has deeply impacted the LGBTQ+ community in a very personal way. If you are an ally I want you to know that now more than ever we need your support, empathy, and attention. It will take a very long time for Orlando to recover from this tragedy, but the same can be said for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. Facebook posts and social media updates sharing your sympathy and condolences are great, but what would really help is reaching out to the LGBTQ+ people in your life and knowing they are loved and that you’re here to support them.