I wish I knew how to feel after Orlando. I’ve felt so many things, from shock to horror to anger to grief to a deep, worried sadness that refuses to fade, days later. I’ve seen the people around me react with fury, with political slogans, with hate, and with resignation.
But I think I mostly just feel an aching helplessness in the face of the worst mass shooting in our country’s modern history, not just because I know there’s zero chance we’ll actually change our gun laws, but also because this one was aimed at the LGBT community.
If you’re an LGBT person, you know what a difference it makes when you step out of the straight, cisgender world and into a queer space. Maybe that space is a nightclub, maybe it’s a pride march, maybe it’s just a gathering of friends. But for me, it’s like an invisible weight drops off my shoulders. I don’t have to worry about whether people around me are going to mark me as bi and trans. It’s okay. I’m with people who are like me, who get it.
This murderer went into one of those spaces and slaughtered 49 people. So many of them were young queer people of color, and they died for being themselves.
I wonder if the news would care if not for the sheer scale of the tragedy, and because the murderer had a Muslim name. Trans women of color are murdered at a horrifying rate in this country and others, and no one ever seems to care.
Look. I’m grateful to be alive now, and to live in this country. Twenty years ago I couldn’t write this column and tell you about my sexuality and my gender identity without there being serious repercussions. Fifty years ago it would have been impossible. There are so many places in the world, like Russia, where that’s still true today.
Same-sex couples can marry all over this country now. Life is much easier for transgender people than it was even a decade ago. My wife and I can walk down a Connecticut street and, for a brief moment, hold hands or kiss. No one will say anything. At least . . . no one has yet. So, there’s progress.
But still there are plenty of people who want all that progress to be undone. There are people who feed off anti-LGBT hysteria to pass bills targeting trans people’s bathroom use and undo anti-discrimination ordinances, like what happened in North Carolina. I remember the debate here in Connecticut in 2011, when the legislature passed a law forbidding discrimination against transgender people. I remember how it felt that my state senator, John Kissel, wouldn’t support the law because of concerns about bathrooms and locker rooms (to be fair, my state representative, David Kiner, supported the bill without hesitation).
Candidates feed off that fear even now. Someone at a Trump rally in Greensboro, N.C., shouted that “gays had it coming,” in Orlando. There’s an unbelievable amount of hate out there.
Crowd member just shouted “gays had it coming”
— Jared Yates Sexton (@JYSexton) June 14, 2016
I watch my back. I do what I can to blend in, to keep quiet, to not make waves. There are monsters out there, and you never know who they might be, or when and how they’ll show themselves. I try to believe in the fundamental goodness of humanity, but this week that has been very hard.
What would I like to see happen after Orlando? Like Rep. Jim Himes, D-CT, and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-CT, I don’t want Congress to send its thoughts and prayers, or have moments of silence.
I want Congress to act. Sen. Murphy’s bold filibuster to demand new legislation to keep guns away from people on the terrorist watch list and expand background checks was a great start. But so much more is needed. No one should have a gun like an AR-15 assault rifle, for instance. No one.
I’d love to see the good, responsible gun owners stand up and say to the NRA, enough is enough. I’d love to see them call their members of Congress to demand common sense gun control.
And I would love to see Congress stand with LGBT Americans. Pass employment non-discrimination laws. Pass protections for transgender Americans.
My community has been hurting this week. I want to see our nation’s leaders stand with us. And this time, I want them to do more than just spout platitudes.
In the meantime, we’ll still exist. We’ve always existed, and we always will. And no matter what, we will always have one another.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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