Not Quite There Yet: Safety and Progress In Light of the Pulse Shooting

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I woke up to the sound of an incoming email on my cell phone. I rolled my eyes even in the drowsiness of waking — it was incredibly annoying when my boss sent out emails on the weekend. It was Sunday, for Christ’s sakes. A day of rest. On Sundays, I slept late.

But when I looked at my phone, it wasn’t an email. It was a CNN update. The app only pinged me if there was a serious emergency, so before I even read the alarming message my heart plunged to my gut. It reminded me of the day I heard the same little ping. Paris. Attacks. Terrorists. All that followed.

20 dead in gay nightclub shooting, more deaths feared. Orlando, FL. Shit. That’s my home state. I had been there the week before for an impromptu trip to Disney with Jess, my girlfriend. I clicked on the link and continued to read: 20 dead, 40 injured in a shooting that took place around 2 am in Pulse nightclub, a gay club in Orlando, FL which was hosting Latin Night. Shooter dead after police standoff. More details to be released as the story develops.

Jess had already gotten out of bed, and I hated the empty space on her side. I got up and found her reading a book on the couch. She loved to read in the mornings, and I felt genuinely sorry to disturb her peace by sharing the same story we’d come to hear over and over again.

“Jess, there’s been a shooting. Some guy killed a bunch of people at a gay nightclub.”
“Seriously? Another one?”

One of the most tragic questions of the 21st century. Yes, another shooting. Another person able to purchase military-style weapons. Another day of bloodshed. Another spot never to be removed from the hands of history — Lady Macbeth slowly losing her sanity.

We both sat on the couch and continued to investigate on our phones. The death toll continued to rise until the worst was confirmed: 50 fatalities, 53 injured. A massacre. One of the worst in the country’s history, based on numbers. But really no worse than the one just days before, when a man shot a 22-year old woman, Christina Grimmie, while she was signing autographs for fans. No worse than Sandy Hook. No worse than Aurora. No worse than San Bernardino. The impact of the loss of one human life, let alone 50, can never be measured — the ripples of grief can never be quantified.

In America, we’ve come to embrace a process of recovery from a shooting, one that seems to play on a single, nightmarish loop:

Hear about shooting. Feel shocked.

Find out everything there is to know about the shooter, create theories about motives.

Feel useless in the face of so much horror.

Call out for gun control/mental illness awareness.

Do nothing.

Jess and I were already in the early steps of this cycle, probing the media outlets for a shred of information, anything that could tell us why this happened. Before we found out the truth, we hoped he would not have a “foreign-sounding” name. Please, don’t let this be used by politicians in their crusade against all things un-American. Please don’t let them point fingers at Islam like one Muslim represents all.

When the media began to do just that, we put our phones away and just embraced in silence. We felt nothing.

It is always deeply unsettling when a tragedy occurs — the turmoil in Syria; refugee boats capsizing; the terrorist attacks in Paris, Turkey, Israel, Pakistan; the shootings in schools and movie theaters and churches and government buildings and streets and any public space in the U.S. But this time, the hurt was rooted in a singular war, one which we often forget has not yet been won: the fight for the right to live outside the normative culture.

Obviously the people whose lives were lost in Pulse and the families that mourn them are and should be our focus; we need to say their names and honor their lives. At the same time, for me this is a moment that highlights what a daunting fight we face; a fight which I only recently realized was also mine when I fell in love with Jessica and discovered I could love within my own gender. I felt the weight of those before me fall like bricks on my shoulders. We lived together in Queens, embraced in the comfort of our apartment and frequently talked about what colors we’d wear if we ever got married. We were aware of the huge privilege of this. We still let go of each other’s hands in the presence of certain men, a form of self-preservation. But living in New York City in 2016, those occasions were not enough to keep us from feeling free.


I never had boyfriends growing up, something that both terrified and relieved my parents. They were relieved because I could focus on school and avoid teenage pregnancy — both areas in which I succeeded—but terrified because for Hispanic parents, having a boyfriend is an accomplishment; a cause for celebration. It is confirmation that your daughter is part of the norm, will lead a happy life, have plenty of babies and of course, feel the warm protection of a man. I suspect many parents of other ethnicities and cultures, part of the older generation, feel the same way. It’s something most of us shrug off and even laugh about, as we will live our own lives regardless of what they want, but can sometimes cause real turmoil within families should you choose to live openly against their wishes.

Year after year passed and every time a family member would ask: do you have a boyfriend? Tienes novio? I would respond: nope! No time for one. You’d think they’d give up after a while, but they didn’t. And though I didn’t have boyfriends, I’d had my share of heterosexual romance — I fully embraced the hookup culture for a while — but I couldn’t tell my parents that. After being single, the worst thing you can be is promiscuous.

One day, worried that I was in college and still had not brought any guys to meet him, my father sat me down and told me he’d be disappointed if I were a lesbian. He wasn’t religious, but he was conservative, especially since he’d had more kids recently and wanted to protect them from every harmful thing that existed in the world. He said life was always harder for gays. That he wouldn’t want me going through such a depressing life, that I would always be in danger, that I would never be safe. I wasn’t aware of my own sexual fluidity at the time, so I shrugged away his comments and told him to relax, I wasn’t a lesbian; I just hadn’t found anyone to my liking.

For years he kept repeating his stance, and it became obvious that he didn’t dislike the idea of me being a lesbian solely because it was dangerous. That was part of it, yes. But mostly it was because the idea stood in the face of all the machista ideology he was fed as a child in Venezuela, and was now being fed again in America. He was a Hispanic male, with white skin, and did not even understand his own privileged perspective — as if gay people should just cease to exist because it’s hard. Please. I was a low-income young Hispanic woman with brown skin; life was already harder than it should be, filled with ignorant people making assumptions about me — dumb, speaks no English, illegal — the minute I walked into a room. What’s one more label?

When I entered into a relationship with a woman, his stance enraged me — I pictured one day standing up to him and saying, you realize being gay is hard because of people like you? But other than my parent’s disapproval of who I chose to love, I felt the dangers that came with being gay were largely a relic of decades past. I’d heard the rhetoric that was constantly being spewed by demagogues. But still I thought, as long as I didn’t go to Texas, or 40% of the United States, I was fine.

The morning after the horrific shooting, and the days that followed, I understood part of my father’s fear. Animosity towards LGBTQ people has not gone the way of black and white T.V. sets, phone booths, or travel by horse and carriage. It was and is very much alive.

We, the LGBTQ community, were reminded of that the day of the Pulse shooting. Because of lax gun regulation, a bigot was able to purchase weapons to kill dozens of innocent people and invade a sacred space for the gay community. There are multiple perspectives on his motives, but it’s undeniable that rampant homophobia, which is very much alive and well in this country, played a key role. What’s worse, people have now been given a platform from which to project and protect their hatred.

Republican leaders have heroically spoken out against the attacks and “stood with the LGTBQ community in the face of senseless hatred,” but their words are empty. When did they decide they were with us — before or after they tried to have the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage repealed? Before or after they publicly declared all trans people are pedophiles and rapists? Before or after they created an entire political party dedicated to preserving extreme right-wing ideology? Before or after they blocked any and every measure of gun regulation policy? Words have power. Their intolerant rhetoric has consequences, and they cannot rid themselves of this responsibility.

Jess and I did not leave the house on Sunday. If we had, we wouldn’t have held hands, or snuck a quick kiss, or even looked at each other with desire. We must be careful, and vigilant. We must not think that the war is over. We must love and live together, make our plans and get married if we want to, adopt some children if we think it’s best. We owe it to all those precious souls who were killed unjustly to not live in fear — while also acknowledging the very real danger that many of us face, for whom fear is reasonable, and the choices necessary for survival. Living our authentic lives in accepting spaces and communities is fine, if we’re able. But fine is not free. This is an uphill climb — I’m so sorry it took a tragedy to make me realize it in this way.

Angelica is currently living in New York City, and works in publishing. She spends all her money on Broadway shows and is genuinely happiest when at home with her girlfriend and cat, or eating pasta.

Angelica has written 1 articles for us.

28 Comments

  1. Thank you. I’ve been struggling trying to come to grips with the fact that as a lesbian, I’m less safe. Like you, if just focused on making my home in an accepting space and not venturing too far outside of progressive “bubbles.” I wasn’t worried… My parents were/are terrified but I brushed off their fears as relics from a bygone age. I know realize that their fears are well grounded. Dad wants me to hide, not tell anyone I’m gay. I can see why he feels that way.

  2. Relating to you saying if you’d left the house you and your girlfriend wouldn’t have held hands or kissed, since I came out three years ago I’ve been trying to make myself more bold. Daring myself to hold my date’s hand as we walk down the street, daring myself to kiss her goodbye in public, daring myself to say “my girlfriend” to coworkers.
    All of these actions prompted small flutters of fear that really almost felt good, like butterflies in my stomach when I’m around someone I like. And yes, there was resistance and real fear of being yelled at or confronted in an angry manner by a stranger or aquantance. I got through these fears by telling myself they were silly, that those kinds of things didn’t really happen to people like me in this present time. Silly girl, you’re not that special anymore, nobody cares what you do with who you love.
    It’s going to be harder to tell myself that now.
    But I wonder if that knowledge will make me bolder still? If it could make us all bolder still? I don’t want my actions of affection to become internally fetishized as sexy acts of rebellion, but doesn’t everyone want to feel like their life and every small action has some greater significance?
    Since this bloody, horrible event, haven’t these actions become that for us? Every small sign to the rest of the world that we are still here, that we will do what we want no matter what they think, that they cannot stop how we love and live, is a rebellion. We have to show the world that even though we may be afraid and that even though we are very aware of the dangers that face us, we will not cower, and we will kiss who we damn well want to kiss.

  3. I am a lesbian and I have to say that the gay community is making a huge mistake by leaving Islam out of the equation. Of course, this was an act of homophobia, but the terrorist’s homophobia was not the result of “the rampant homophobia still alive and well in this country”. His Homophobia was rooted in the teachings of Islam that most aggressively forbids homosexuality, and provides clear guidelines as to how to deal with gays. Stone to death, throw of buildings, kill.

    If you thought religious conservatives, or republicans have been or still are, hard on gays, think again. There is absolutely no ideology or religion in this world that is more hateful towards gays than Islam. We need to acknowledge this terrible fact and deal with it accordingly or especially we as a community will be paying the price.

    We also have a obligation to our gay brothers and sisters in the Islamic world who suffer the most. We cannot leave them out in the cold, just because we want to be politically correct or rather want to live in denial because that’s more comfortable to us now.

    • So, I’m a polytheist, which in Islam is (I think?) the highest sin imaginable. (At the very least, it’s beyond murder.) So I have intersectional fears when I look at Islam. BUT. When I examine intolerance in religions, Islam and Christianity are both quite bad. I think the difference is that (1) we come from a culture where we’re used to Christian paggro, microaggressive, and macroaggressive things and (2) Christianity has done a lot of soul-searching for the past 400 years following the Enlightenment that has made most forms of it extremely different from the literal teachings of the Bible. And a lot of that involved fighting and bloodshed, and there are still holdouts, especially in the US. We owe so much to the Enlightenment.

      There are a lot of practicing Muslims for whom the literal meaning of the words is an anathema, but given the different histories of those two religious umbrellas, it’s probably going to be a while before the soul-searching in Islam is finished. My point here is that we shouldn’t just focus on Islam, but on the literal religious readings that inform extremist interpretations of Islam, Christianity, and any religion I might be forgetting to add to this list, plus examine OUR history as an imperialist civilization and the oppressive cultural, physical, mental, and emotional violence that proselytism is. There is no glory in religious conquest.

      This does bring up something that I would like to see on this site. I would like to hear more from out queer Muslim women on Autostraddle in addition to Hindu, Buddhist, and other non-Christian and non-Jewish people. I think that sticking to Christianity (which Autostraddle mostly focuses on now, except for the witchcraft posts?) is a mistake. I understand that most of the readers of this site received a Christian baptism and may hunger for Christian community, so it is low-hanging fruit, but we should also give platforms to members of our community with intersectional religious and queer identities that are less commonly heard.

      • I’m not quite comfortable with reading that Christianity has done a “lot of soul searching” while Islam hasn’t reached this point yet ? What do you base this on ? Christianity and Islam are two very complicated religions harboring many different identities and communities, and to address them this way feels reductive to me.

        Also, I think this site doesn’t focus on Christianity but on the effect of mainstream religions in the US (because this is the focus of this website), and Christianity is the number one religion for people of power likely to impact LGBT rights in the US…

        • You are right that that could have been phrased better. I meant more in the way that Christianity emerged from the Enlightenment and the protestant/Catholic wars in a very particular way. Basically, histories are very diverse and don’t always lead to the same place, much like how the Proto-Indo-European language didn’t lead to the same language everywhere it went, and the language adapted to very different and unique environments. Changes in culture happen in different ways everywhere in a parallel process, and I was trying to highlight that there are different contexts. Does this make more sense? I have had coffee since that earlier post.

    • Mateen is dead. Unless you’re operating a high-powered Ouija board, you have no standing to speak authoritatively on what his homophobia was the result of. U.S.-born and raised. Not Muslim enough to know the difference between Sunni and Shia, claiming alliance with extremist groups that are at war with one another.

      Extremists find ways to justify their beliefs. The Westboro Baptist Church believes it’s preaching the Biblical truth. Judeo-Christian texts have plenty to say about violently killing people who violate any of a number of edicts. Religious fundamentalism is not the same as religion. I don’t know what you’re even suggesting we do, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to–but what you’re seeing as “leaving Islam out of the equation” is our refusal to equate the entirety of a religion with its vilest practitioners. And we will continue to do that. We will continue to assert the fundamental goodness of our Muslim sisters and brothers, and to me that includes defending their peaceful practice of faith. All day every day.

      • Muslim “peaceful practice of faith” includes Sharia law with a death penalty for homosexuals.

        It’s not a matter of personal faith or goodness, it’s a legal issue. Like with any other law, as long as it is on the books, it will be imposed one way or another. It doesn’t matter whether an individual likes it or agrees with it or not.
        Muslims have laws that are not separated from their religion and require to kill homosexuals, to kill those who leave their religion, to kill those who insult their religion… And there are those who implement those laws.

        • You’re putting in the same basket institutionalised practices in very specific countries with millions of Muslims around the world who DON’T live under Sharia law.

          Please don’t. It’s racist and islamophobic.

        • No. There are more than 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, the vast majority of whom do not engage in or endorse in–and are horrified by, broken up over–this kind of violent perversion of their faith. Many have died protesting it.

          Chloe is exactly right. This is racist and Islamophobic. There’s not even a debate here. Enough with spreading this ignorance in a community dedicated to being a safe space.

          • Tragically we have come to a point at which we have to conclude that the vast majority of peaceful Muslims are irrelevant. It’s estimated that between 15% and 20 % of all Muslims on earth are radical practitioners’ of Islam. That means that we are dealing with at least 225 million Muslims on earth who believe that e.g. infidels and gays should be killed. Hence the series of Islam inspired terrorist attacks we unfortunately we had to witness over the years.
            I do believe in the fundamental goodness of the majority of Muslims, as we are all humans. Furthermore, I do believe defending their peaceful practice of faith. But, that is not all I believe. I believe we need to start treating islam as just another set of ideas. Meaning that we need to start examining it, criticizing it and thereby stimulating it’s reformation.
            Your apologetically attitude and approach towards Islam is surely not the right path to take. In fact, looking at the series of terrible tragedies that have taken place, it’s safe to say that it’s not working, we need something else. Islam can no longer be a privileged set of ideas that is cleared from critical examination. We need to start the debate and make sure that Islam will change for the better. So that everybody on this earth can live in peace, and not in fear of Islamic persecution.

          • Listen this website is a safe space and quite a few of the members for whom it is so are queer Muslim women, or queer women who live in Muslim countries.

            If and when they chose to speak about this issue, what it means to them how it is shaping their experiences as queer women (most of whom QWOC), I will look forward to listening/reading them.

            It is however certainly not your place to claim that these people are “irrelevant”, especially in this very safe space. It’s also not your place to “change Islam for the better” unless you belong to this faith.

            Also your claim that Islam has so far been a “privileged set of ideas clear of critical examination” is ludicrous.

          • I was stopping by to refute some stuff point by point, but honestly, I don’t have the emotional capital for this noise today.

            Hate is hate. People are radicalized every day by Christianity, by Islam, by toxic masculinity, by institutional racism, by institutional homophobia and transmisogyny, by their personal experiences and interactions, by growing up in emotionally unhealthy environments, whatever. (And terrorists who grew up outside of the US are often radicalized in part by the US’s own callous and terrible foreign policy history.)

            Focusing solely on Islam now, when this man was probably influenced by at least three or four of the things I mentioned, is not only pointless, it’s cruel and xenophobic and it conveniently allows us to avoid looking at the things we need to change in our OWN society before we try to reform someone else’s

            (and while we’re at it, since when did reformation of a religion from the OUTSIDE ever work in any way?)

            I have a thing hanging in my office that says “if enough of us are peaceful in our own minds, peace in the world will happen on it’s own.” I know it’s not always 100% true – I’m not a moron – I realize that there are bad forces in the world. But in this case, Amy, I urge you to look inward, to widen your perspective and challenge your assumptions, because thoughts like yours are the beginning of radicalism.

          • Wow I am being labeled a racist, xenophobe and radical only because I point at the power of critical thinking. This must be a perfect example of what they call ‘the regressive left’. Good luck with that, I am pulling the trump card in November that’s for sure.

          • Beautifully said, queer girl. Thank you, your comment helped me examine some of my own prejudices and I appreciate the emotional energy you put into it.

        • That may be, but some Muslim countries had a substantial population of boy-lovers, and some Muslim authors were well known to have same-gender romantic commitments in the past. Many laws were ignored if the person in power didn’t care to enforce them.
          The Israelis aren’t shooting people who have pepperoni on their mozzarella pizza, a decidedly forbidden food item in the official Orthodox version of Judaism that dominates in Israel.

    • I don’t think the LGBT community is making a mistake… unless that mistake is to participate in Islamophobia. This shooter was not part of the “Islamic world” either. He was an American. He was not very religious. He was infected with the toxic culture of hate HERE.

    • Uganda is mostly conservative Protestant evangelical Christian (that’s Museveni’s religion, so politicians follow this) and they were all for enacting a law that would give the death penalty to gays. Their inspiration came from Americans such as Scott Lively who traveled to Uganda to promote harsher penalties than the previous penalty of ten years in jail. Russia is mostly Christian and they have been ramping up the anti-LGBT sentiment, though they haven’t hit the death penalty mark yet.

      I think that there are THREE things that need to be present in order to get from a religious Text of Terror (pertinent sections from Torah, NT Pauline letters, or Quran) to hatred driving violence. First, an authoritarian personality, likely in an authoritarian subculture. Second, a literalistic approach to interpretation of Scripture. Third, a willingness to follow authoritarian interpretation given by a religious leader.

      Christianity and Judaism have benefited by being religions of losers at the secular power game, at least for a while. Christ was crucified, the Temple was burned to the ground by the Romans. Islam had the misfortune to be wildly successful and powerful in the first centuries of its existence, and to have its Prophet be a civil and military ruler, albeit of a small group.

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