By SD Holman
The scale of the loss in Orlando is unfathomable. This horrifying violence is a reminder that we live in a false paradise, that homophobia is still killing us. It's important that we don't fall for the rhetoric of crazy lone gunman and terrorist act—except insofar that every queer-bashing is a terrorist act, meant to keep us invisible and silent and in fear for our lives.
I speak only for myself—I can’t claim to speak for the breadth of our queer communities. But I think a lot of us are feeling PTSD right now. So many of us have stories of violence done to us. I am thinking of the man that came with a gun to my house in Rock Creek to shoot me, a story I have never told, until now—what’s yours?
My heart goes out to the families, chosen and biological, of the dead and wounded. We are going to be grieving for a very long time. Hate cannot bring an end to hate—only love can.
And since Sunday, we’ve been loving each other extra hard—reaching out to friends and chosen family, saying I’m glad you’re queer, I’m glad you’re alive.
While we mourn in our queer communities, it is important to remember that Orlando’s carnage is part of a bigger picture. Part of a system in which people of colour, black and Latinx [a gender-inclusive term for people of Latin descent] and indigenous people, are disproportionately targeted, assaulted and killed, often by the police, then blamed for their own murders. Part of a system in which assault weapons are easily available—when America’s founding fathers mandated the right to bear arms, they meant muskets, not semi-automatics.
And before we get too smug up here in Canada, we should note that 66 percent of homophobic/trans*phobic hate crimes reported in this country are violent attacks—two to three times the rate of violence in racist or religious hate crimes. That man coming to my house with a gun, that was in the great safe country of Canada. I’m told there was a gay-bashing in Vancouver on Sunday [June 12], on the way to the Orlando vigil at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Queers are a community in which our fundamental rite of passage, coming out, remains an act of courage.
To our queer Muslim siblings, my hope is that our communities will stand with you, and refuse to allow this hateful act to fuel further Islamophobia. As a queer pagan Jew, I promise you, we are family.
As I sit here trying to work on the Queer Arts Festival opening in just a few days, I am engulfed, and sputtering in rage and sadness and trying to carry on. But this thought helps: I am reminded again why we do what we do.
Together, our communities have carved our own spaces out of a hostile world, spaces where we can sing and dance and draw and rhyme and fuck our resistance, spaces that meld struggle with celebration, politics with sex, serious purpose with more fabulous than anyone could ever swallow. Together.
If, in the weeks ahead, you find yourself needing to be with other queers and transfolk and gender creative people, know that the Roundhouse is queer space until the end of June. We are here now setting up, then once the festival opens Tuesday [June 21], the galleries will be open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and there are shows or talks or readings or screenings every night, where on the walls and the screens and the stage and even the hallways, Queer lives are Centred and Valued and Loved.
Come for the art, come for a drink, come to help out, come just to hang out with us queers: us dykes, fags, nancy boys, bulldaggers, girlymen, mannish women, fairies, fence-sitters, and deviants. Come be with your people. Come because you are not afraid, or because you are. You are wanted here, and you are not alone.
The 2016 Queer Arts Festival is lovingly dedicated to the memory of all the beautiful queers who died in Orlando on June 12, and to all those who survived.