I Have Never Been Afraid, But I Know People Who Are
I feel for you. I have compassion for the struggle you endure.
I have never been afraid to hold someone’s hand in public. I have, mostly, never had to justify my being to another person OR I haven’t acknowledged attempts to have me do so.
My life experience has not been one of fear, but I know people who have.
Friends, acqiuentences, family, and even people whose personalities clash with mine. I know people, and you do too. Everyone does. Everyone knows someone who is apart of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Over the course of the past week, I have more and more noticed the importance in promoting the individual struggles, stories, and triumphs of people who in their individual ways are dealing and commenting on the shooting in Pulse Nightclub.
The following stories are of individuals who were not in Orlando, but feel the shock and pain of this tragedy. Their content is moving and deserves recognition for their words.
An Article from Complex.com:
In the aftermath of the tragic mass shooting at LGBTQ nightclub Pulse in Orlando this weekend, one of the first requests from aid workers was for blood donations. With 50 dead and even more wounded, many feared that Orlando-area blood banks would run dry. After passionate requests from people as diverse as soccer star Alex Morgan, trans activist and actress Laverne Cox, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, heartwarming articles about the outpouring of support from donors proliferated on the internet. Orlando-area blood donation charity OneBlood even had to turn people away after it could no longer handle the influx of donations.
Yet, while much was made of this feel-good story, one sobering barrier remained for many people closest to the victims: the FDA’s ban on blood donations from gay men. Although 2015 saw the regulations reduced from a lifetime ban, any man who has had sex with another man (referred to as MSM) in the last year remains banned from donating blood. This effectively bars any gay man from donating unless he is completely abstinent for a year.
The FDA’s gay blood ban is a painful reminder of the stigma that the LGBTQ community—and gay men in particular—continue to face as unhealthy carriers of disease. The ban was first put in place in 1986 as a necessary public health measure during the height of the AIDS epidemic. People began contracting HIV from blood transfusions at a time when the disease was still poorly understood, and medical professionals took emergency steps to control the spread of the virus. Although HIV is far from eradicated, the fear and uncertainty of the AIDS epidemic is long gone. All blood is now screened rigorously for the virus, and the government’s own website AIDS.gov insists that it is no longer possible to contract HIV from a blood transfusion in America. Yet the ban remains.
Yes, gay men are still a “high risk” group, more likely to be HIV positive than the population as a whole, but this risk varies greatly. A man having unprotected anal sex with multiple partners would be at high risk, but two gay men who practice safe sex in a long-term, monogamous relationship stand essentially zero chance of contracting HIV. And while it would be very easy for blood banks to identify risky sexual behaviors during the screening process, gay men are instead automatically lumped into the banned category, alongside IV drug users and straight people who have unprotected sex with many partners.
So what does it demonstrate about our country that members of the very community that is suffering and bleeding are legally barred from giving their perfectly healthy blood to help? Institutional homophobia affects and manifests in modern medicine: the view that gay people are promiscuous disease-carriers is still pervasive, as evidenced by this very law.
WHAT DOES IT DEMONSTRATE ABOUT OUR COUNTRY THAT MEMBERS OF THE VERY COMMUNITY THAT IS SUFFERING AND BLEEDING ARE LEGALLY BARRED FROM GIVING THEIR PERFECTLY HEALTHY BLOOD TO HELP?
Since its inception, HIV has been intrinsically linked to homosexuality in the minds of Americans. Early medical diagnoses even referred to the disease as GRID, or gay-related immunodeficiency disease. Over the years, many politicians and religious leaders have claimed that AIDS is a punishment for being gay, a belief that a 2014 Huffington Post poll found that 14 percent of Americans still hold.
Even controversial Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson recently implied that AIDS and other STIs were God’s punishment for immoral behavior. “Now to me either it’s the wildest coincidence ever that horrible diseases follow immoral conduct,” he said in 2014, “or it’s God saying, ‘There’s a penalty for that kind of conduct.’ I’m leaning toward there’s a penalty for it.” What’s most amazing is that sentiments like this still exist despite HIV never being a gay disease. It’s shown up more prominently in MSM due to its easy transmission from anal sex, but it has always—and will always—affect people of all sexual orientations.
Working towards ending this stigma is one of the many fights that the LGBTQ community has left to face. The murderous rampage at Pulse nightclub, and the community’s painful inability to help due to outdated and homophobic government policy, is just another reminder of how far we have to go. To channel Lin-Manuel Miranda, blood is blood is blood is blood, and your ability to donate it shouldn’t be determined by who you love.
–Chris Mench , 23, New Jersey
Today I left work after 2 hours of being there because I was sobbing uncontrollably and could not handle my own grief. I have not been able to make it through a single day without crying exactly like this. Yesterday it was on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall as Lady Gaga read off some of the names of the victims of the Orlando shooting, today it was in the middle of replying to emails. I tried to take a nap today, my body exhausted from the aforementioned mourning and I thought a respite of rest would calm the storm. In my dream I was in an office, a normal day, but then there was an alarm, the sound of gunshots and screaming, only to quickly be revealed as “just a joke” by the people around me. I wondered if this was my own body telling me that the nightmare of normalized homophobia is all too real or if I had just been consuming too much media in the past 72 hours. In either case, when I woke up, I cried again. There are not many ways to accurately put a name to the unrelenting feeling that I am harboring – that it is not safe to be LGBTQIA+ in America today, that it has never been safe to be a queer person of color, that I am always at risk in this body, in this broken heart, in a gay club, in the streets, and even now – as melodramatic as it may seem – in my own dreams.
When we talk about homophobia, queerphobia and transphobia, let’s talk about more than just Orlando. Let’s talk about the myriad ways we normalize the dehumanization of queer people. Let’s talk about how queer people are pushed to the margins every other day of the year but today we care about homophobia because we can’t ignore the loss of humanity. Let’s talk about the close friend I had in high school who once joked to me about “killing fags” for “sport.” Let’s talk about the friends I lost when I came out in college who told me this was “selfish” of me and a “phase.” Let’s talk about how normal it is to hear people still say “that’s so gay” and not even blink. Let’s talk about the two men, at two separate bars, who harassed me and my date for kissing just last Thursday when we were together. Let’s talk about how my co-worker just a few months ago made an egregiously homophobic comment right in front of me, but only apologized after I physically left the office out of disgust. Let’s talk about over 100 anti-LGBT bills and pieces of legislation (related to bathroom bills, same-sex marriage, rights to deny business services and resources) that are currently active this year. Let’s talk about how my mom called me on Sunday and told me not to go to any Pride events in LA out of fear for my safety. Let’s talk about how lucky I feel to be grieving because it means I am still alive and how small verbalizing those words makes me feel. Let’s talk about how the past few days have been cyclic states of crying, wanting to cry, being surrounded by fellow queer people to avoid crying, crying anyways, rinse, recycle, repeat.
Let’s talk about every time you have uttered a slur, used queerphobic language, glared at and ridiculed someone whose identity “confused” or “upset” you so much that you reached for the tools of mockery, disgust, and malice instead of ordinary compassion. Let’s talk about how it took mass murder for you to acknowledge the humanity of queer people, and that homophobia is alive and well in this country, that it has always been homegrown and able to flourish in this country, regardless of how “progressive” or “liberal” the city. Let’s talk about how Jeramey Kraatz perfectly put it, “if you can’t wrap your head around a bar or club being a sanctuary, you’ve probably never been afraid to hold someone’s hand in public.” Let’s talk about how people come to our gay bars and clubs, drink, party and revel in our pride parades and relish when queerness is fun, but are nowhere to be seen when we are murdered in cold blood. Let’s talk about every single time you’ve let a best friend, sister, brother, mother, father, cousin, co-worker, acquaintance, love interest, professor, boss, or stranger say something malicious, offensive, or hurtful about a queer person.
Let’s talk about your silence.
Let’s talk about what that silence does to people who identify as LGBTQIA+, as the thing you willfully do not defend but gladly change your profile picture for. Let’s talk about how while this might have been an attack on “humanity,” it was an attack on queer people who possess that humanity first. As the beautiful Tyler Ford put it best, “if you are only able to humanize people by erasing the marginalized identities they were attacked for embodying, you’re part of the problem.” Once you want to talk about those things, then maybe I will feel safer in your “thoughts and prayers,” maybe I will feel that “love is love,” or be able to sleep peacefully, maybe I will remember exuberant and unbridled joy is a feeling I am capable of possessing, not a fleeting memory of a former self.
I am not done talking about the #PulseShooting because I am not done being queer. I am not done being mindful of holding a girl’s hand in public when I am walking down the streets out of the fear – a fear so engrained and routine in my body’s ritualized function that I hardly notice it anymore – that I could be harassed, assaulted or far worse. I am not done crying, screaming, and mourning the loss of these 49 luminous souls and the 53 injured because their loss is still a black hole in our queer constellations, just as their families and loved ones cannot stitch back together the holes they have now left in their lives. “Apathy produces a climate in which queers are killed.” When you avoid confronting discussion about queerphobia and transphobia, your silence speaks volumes and is, in itself, an action and a choice too.
I cannot pretend that I am not having a hard time this week. Too often, social media posts feel like a race to the seventh stage of grief, accepting what’s happened as done and packaging the trauma in a digestible and understandable wrapping paper for all to marvel at. But I am not over what has happened, and I am having a really hard time. So many friends and family members have told me how grateful they are that I have a strong voice and am vocalizing this pain, but each time I open my mouth, a ghost speaks for me. I have tried to allow love, warmth, softness, and the strength of my own vulnerability dominate my internal conversations, but I am feeling so quiet inside. The pain and trauma that I share with fellow queer people has not subsided, it has only dove deeper into the recesses of my mind because I am thinking about every act of violence – physical, verbal, psychological and otherwise – that queer people have experienced long before Orlando, and who are bound to experience long after as well.
As I sit in my bed and write this, I think about what it means to be proud. How so much of Pride month is about carving out a space where we can exist freely, complicatedly, beautifully, and unabashedly. I think about how before we are proud, we are unsafe, we are self-doubting, we are heartbroken, we are lost and seeking community. How we seek communion in gay clubs, in the arms of our lovers, friends and family members, how we fight just to remember our own heartbeat, how we give birth to a culture forged out of love, loss and resistance, how we are still so far from home. I have nothing left to say to my queer family and community except I love you, I love you, I love you. I am still here. We are still here.
– Jenevieve Ting, 22, California
EDIT: Jenevieve is actually 22 and not 23. The original post said 23.