Our differences do not have to become our divisions

Jessica DeBruin
June 20, 2016

Flowers and candles near the Stonewall InnLast Monday I stood at the corner of Waverly and Christopher street in Greenwich Village and looked out at a sea of people mourning the lives lost at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. The perimeters were lined with policeman, an irony not lost on me as I stood mere feet from the historic Stonewall Inn. A friend and I had come to this place, as so many of us had, to mourn, to grieve with our community, to ugly cry, and to hug each other - to be human together.

We hoped to find solace for our fear, our frustration, our sorrow, our anger. Queer women of color like us so seldom find that kind of sanctuary.

I did not find what I came seeking - not quite. But perhaps what I found was just as valuable. As politicians, celebrities, and local organizers took to the stage I couldn’t help but feel that this was not so much for us, as for the cameras, for the nation of people who would undoubtedly be watching clips of this on local news networks, YouTube, and social media.

My friend and I wandered in and out of the crowds, over and around the police barricades, through walls of people. We were looking for a friend of hers, but it felt like we were looking for so much more. We were looking for answers. We were looking for our place in this community.

As we wove through the crowds I was struck by the many voices pining to be heard. How could this ever be possible with just one podium, one mic, one stage to represent the many layers of the LGBTQIA community?

Person holding a sign that says "trans & queer latinxs against islamophobia, war, surveillance"Still, I found comfort in the Palestinian activists crying out against pink-washing, with their signs that read My grief is not your weapon,” and My grief is not a call for policing.” I found solidarity in the young Latinx person whose sign proclaimed trans & queer latinxs against islamophobia, war & surveillance,” being interviewed by a young black woman.

I found reassurance in the group of Chicanx activists near West 4 who began to deliver their own speeches when the designated speakers failed to represent their interests. I nodded my head when a brown man screamed that it was so called American values” that have been killing our community, when yet another straight white politician at the podium spoke of the importance of them.

All these voices showed up that night to exercise their right to assemble, and to be heard. And while we must continue to challenge who holds the mic, it reassured me that all these voices were present that night.

That dialogue continues a week later. We are still in the midst of mourning those who lost their lives in Orlando and we are still trying to wrap our heads around this tragedy.

Last Monday I saw acutely that the only way we can do this is by coming together, speaking with one another, listening to each other, and by holding space for our pain, grief, confusion, and pride.

It matters that this shooting took place at a queer club, in a largely Latinx community, on a night specifically billed as a Latino night, with two gender non-conforming people featured on the poster advertising the event. It is important that we recognize that queer people of color, particularly trans people of color, are more likely to be victims of hate-based violence. None of these things are coincidence, but rather vital context for understanding the Orlando massacre and its impact.

As a nation we must hold space, public and private, for these communities and their grief.

But what you may not realize is that our grief extends beyond this tragedy. Many of us have been quietly grieving on and off for much of our lives.

Signs that say "we will not forget" and "amor"As queer folk we grieve every time we hear the message that we do not have a place in our families, our birth communities, or in our government. We grieve the loss of public space that comes every time we realize again and again that it is not safe to hold our lover’s hand in public. We grieve when our love, our gender presentation and identity must be held to a different standard to be considered valid. We grieve when politicians and state and local officials remind us over and over again, through rhetoric of hate and ignorance, that they do not serve us. We grieve the laws that still allow us to be fired for existing, or that keep some of us from legally using public restrooms. We grieve the 12th transperson murdered this year. And now we grieve the 49 souls lost from this world. We grieve the sum of these oppressions.

As Latinx we also grieve. We grieve the erasure of our role in this tragedy. The loss of friends and family in our communities. The silencing of our intersections. We grieve every time an undocumented person is called an illegal” - for our brownness is also criminalized. We grieve all politicians who pander to us even while they hold us down. We grieve our stereotypes, and we grieve when we are seen as less than because we do not fit their perceptions of us, or because we fit them all too well. We grieve machismo. We grieve the exploitation of our labor. We grieve the policing of our brown and black bodies. We grieve those who would attempt to use our community’s tragedy to fuel more hate.

It is vital that we also recognize the impact this will have on Muslim communities, as they will bear the undue brunt of American anger, vitriol, and confusion in the weeks to come. Muslims are also Americans, Muslims are also queer, Muslims were also dancing in Pulse that night. They, who need to feel loved and protected as much as any other queer person, will now be forced to confront not only the homophobia that has rocked their community, but also the racism of those who will attempt to warp this tragedy to suit their own agendas.

Pulse, Orlando is not an isolated act of violence. Pulse, Orlando is the extension of decades, centuries of violence that continues today - yes, even post marriage-equality. Micro-aggressions become macro-aggressions become mass violence. They are inextricably linked.

What to do with all this?

It may be near impossible for all of us, even allies, even queer folk, to comprehend how we have internalized and acted out these violences on a daily basis - but it is essential that we begin to do so. When good people witness hate speech and say nothing, we have participated in that hate. By failing to challenge hateful narratives we become complicit to them. When we cling to compartmentalized notions of identity, we erase the experiences of people who live at the intersection of multiple group identities.

We will slip up. We will do all these things on occasion because these concepts have been with us most of our lives. Our progress will be imperfect, but we must continue to push ourselves to do better.    

Where do we begin this process?

We begin with acknowledgement. We must acknowledge that on some level, great or small, we have all internalized homophobia. We acknowledge that the gender roles which some of us find comfort in, do not necessarily apply to or benefit us all. We acknowledge that institutional racism and colorism hold us all back, and rob us of the opportunity to better connect with one another.

Next we hand the mic to affected communities.

We uplift and magnify the voices of the marginalized, those who have been on the receiving end of violence.

We listen.

We listen to them, we listen to each other. We cannot feign deafness to avoid inconvenience or discomfort. If you consider yourself an ally to the queer, or any marginalized community, it is past time that you recognize that yielding the mic is one of the most powerful things you can do to support us.

Of course even within these communities, there are myriad factions, and perspectives and experiences. This touches upon a fundamental need for the creation of civic culture where people from all walks of life can come together in respect to share our experiences, to hear other people's lived realities, and to find a way to work together.

We must find a place where we can acknowledge and uplift these differences. We must recognize that our differences do not have to become our divisions. A democracy that is alive and thriving should facilitate this kind of communal meeting of minds. This is what American core values should be.

In 1970 the grassroots implementation of this kind of dialogue between radically different queer communities produced the first Pride Marches. In cities across the nation, LGBTQIA folk came together to stand and be counted. They took tragedy and oppression and turned it into a celebration of being.

We are faced with a similar opportunity to continue this difficult work today. May we not shy away from it. May we instead use it to fuel action and positive change. May we instead practice the democracy of earnest and inclusive civic dialogue, so that on the other side of it we can emerge stronger than the sum of hatred and indifference.

May we dedicate this work to the memories of:

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 años
Amanda Alvear, 25 años
Óscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 años
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 años
Antonio Davon Brown, 29 años
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 años
Ángel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 años
Juan Chávez-Martínez, 25 años
Luis Daniel Conde, 39 años
Cory James Connell, 21 años
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 años
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 años
Simón Adrián Carrillo Fernández, 31 años
Leroy Valentín Fernández, 25 años
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 años
Peter O. González-Cruz, 22 años
Juan Ramón Guerrero, 22 años
Paul Terrell Henry, 41 años
Frank Hernández, 27 años
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 años
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 años
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 años
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 años
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 años
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 años
Alejandro Barrios Martínez, 21 años
Brenda Lee Márquez McCool, 49 años
Gilberto Ramón Silva Menéndez, 25 años
Kimberly Morris, 37 años
Akyra Monet Murray, 18 años
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 años
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jiménez, 25 años
Eric Iván Ortiz-Rivera, 36 años
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 años
Jean Carlos Méndez Pérez, 35 años
Enrique L. Ríos, Jr., 25 años
Jean C. Nives Rodríguez, 27 años
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 años
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 años
Yilmary Rodríguez Sulivan, 24 años
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 años
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 años
Martín Benítez Torres, 33 años
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 años
Juan P. Rivera Velázquez, 37 años
Luis S. Vielma, 22 años
Franky Jimmy Dejesús Velázquez, 50 años
Luis Daniel Wilson-León, 37 años
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 años


Author Jessica DeBruinJessica DeBruin is a writer and actress living in New York City, dedicated to creating feminist, queer-inclusive art and media.



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