Editor’s Note: Clay Cane is a television commentator and the author of the forthcoming book “Live Through This: Surviving the Intersections of Sexuality, God and Race.” Follow him on Twitter: @claycane. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Clay Cane: Atrocity in Orlando a reminder that no safe spaces exist for LGBT community
Apart from ISIS or radical Islam, this community is always under threat, he says
“They lost a feeling of safety,” Florida State Sen. Geraldine Thompson said about the mass shooting at Pulse, an LGBT nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning. As of now, a reported 49 people (50, including the shooter, killed after engaging Orlando police in gunfire) are dead and over 50 more are injured in the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.
While Thompson’s words are understandable in context and she clearly meant well in her statement, it’s important that the world know this: That feeling of safety hasn’t been lost; it never truly existed in the first place. There is no safe place for LGBT people in this country or around the world.
As a black gay man, my eyes are always open to the next threat. I am consistently alert and hyperaware of my surroundings, even living in supposedly progressive New York. I am terrified to hold a man’s hand on the street. I am afraid of the possible repercussions of giving a simple, loving peck on the cheek or lips, and, despite the public encouragement to be “out and proud,” I empathize with people who are petrified to live an open life. In reality, when you are LGBT, you can never let down your guard. Sunday night’s brutal shooting is a prime example of why.
It’s LGBT Pride Month, a particularly horrific time for this shooting to occur. While one might dismiss a nightclub superficially as a place where people go to drink and dance, clubs like Pulse are a crucial part of LGBT history. Co-owner Barbara Poma created the club in honor of her brother, who died of HIV/AIDS. For decades LGBT clubs were illegal, vulnerable to massive police raids or invasion by angry heteros looking to flex their delicate masculine egos.
Even in the Big Apple, it wasn’t until the Stonewall uprising in June 1969, when the LGBT community fought against violent police, that LGBT clubs become legal. It wasn’t until 1980 when New York abolished laws against private, consenting homosexual “acts.” Up until the Supreme Court decided Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, same-sex relations were illegal in 14 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. military.
And while many praise the successful legalization of same-sex marriage a year ago this month, I still have friends who have been attacked and beaten bloody because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Far too little is being done to combat toxic homophobia, as well as theological and spiritual violence, whether Islamic or Christian.
The LGBT community is still fighting for its right to exist. For example, CeCe McDonald, a trans woman, who served 41 months in prison for defending herself from a transphobic attack. Trans people are especially subject to murderous attack: like Islan Nettles, who was brutalized to death in August 2013 on a Harlem sidewalk. Her killer received a sentence of just 12 years. In May 2013, Mark Carson was shot and killed in New York’s West Village, as the words “faggot” and “queer” were hurled at him.
Attacks on LGBT clubs are also nothing new. Until recently, most LGBT clubs were in unmarked buildings to protect the occupants from harassment from outsiders. Where you live, where you work, where you travel, and where you attend clubs, there is always a question of safety. After the horrific attack on Pulse, and the breaking news on Sunday afternoon that a man was apprehended just blocks away from the L.A. Pride parade with a car full of loaded weapons, I have not lost a feeling safety: For me and others like me, safety never truly existed.
Similar to the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, what happened in Orlando was a targeted attack toward a specific community (note: the victims at Pulse were white, black, Latino, Asian and of various backgrounds). The violence at this diverse nightclub will be politicized with hot-button words like “ISIS” and “Islam.” And of course, I do not know the extent of the shooter’s religious affiliation. But his father claimed the shooting had “nothing to do with religion” and his son was allegedly triggered after seeing two men kissing.
Given what we know now, the Orlando terrorist shooting appears to be a hate crime deeply rooted in homophobia, unflinching patriarchy, ISIS-inspired hate and the asinine access to an AR-15 military-style assault rifle that can hold up to 30 rounds. Even more ridiculous, the shooter obtained a license for a firearm when he was allegedly a “known quantity” to federal law enforcement.
Therefore, I pause when I see politicians like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who once said same-sex marriage posed a “danger” to Christianity and called Obama’s advocacy for sensible gun control a “war on the Constitution,” claim on television that we are “all” Americans. Clearly not in Rubio’s world, when he and many others consistently advocate for legalized bigotry.
I stand at the intersection of blackness and gayness. For me and other LGBT people, this event is a reminder that our lives and rights (take note of anti-LGBT laws in North Carolina, Mississippi and Georgia) are at risk regardless of ISIS or Islam. The structural underpinnings of homophobia, racism and misogyny are among the many poisons ripping this country to shreds, coupled with ridiculous access to military-style firearms.
Sadly, I fear little or nothing will change. When innocent children were slain in Sandy Hook by a terrorist (yes, I consider that shooter a terrorist) and nothing progressed as it relates to sensible gun control, I have serious doubts about seeing change after the LGBT community is attacked at a nightclub during Pride Month. We watch the headlines, we hear the eyewitness accounts, we mourn, we hashtag, and repeat the same cycle after the next mass shooting.
For the LGBT community and those standing with the LGBT community, Pride events around the country will continue. The LGBT community, especially those of color, understands the nuanced fight for safe spaces. We won’t give up that freedom. We fought too hard.
My condolences to everyone affected by the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, Florida.
Clay Cane is a television commentator and the author of the forthcoming book “Live Through This: Surviving the Intersections of Sexuality, God and Race.” Follow him on Twitter: @claycane. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.