How the Orlando Shooting Is a Grim Reminder of My Life as a Queer Person

SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Some time has passed since the atrocities in Orlando.

As a nation, and as a community, we’re still reeling from the savagery. The national discourse since June 13th has been everything from outrage to confusion and despair, along with the usual talking points from the left and right about gun control or how to curb radical Islam. And it’s all on par for the course of this country in regards to incidents of mass shootings.

But one of the details that makes this shooting different than some of the others we’ve seen is its target– gay individuals, and gay individuals of color. Make no mistake, this was a calculated hate crime committed by someone who may or may not have been gay as well. While the killer’s personal life does reveal motives, the most important thing to remember is that homophobia and racism caused the deaths of 49 people at Pulse nightclub that night.

Like many in our community have already said, what happened at the club could have happened to any of us. But the reality is, it already has happened to us. Maybe not in a “mass” sense as the Orlando shooting, but smaller, still awful, incidents that occur everyday to LGTBQ individuals.

As LGBTQ, most of us have struggled to come out, whether it be with ourselves, homophobic strangers and greater society, or, sometimes the worst of them all, the adversity from friends and family. All of these factors have affected our ability to feel safe and secure living the way we are. And the Pulse shooting is a horrific reminder of that.

My fear of being gay ruled most of teenage years–fear of my family, my friends, my conservative home state of North Carolina…it was terrifying. My very first date (I was 19 and really not feeling myself yet) was at the movies. My date and I were going to see Spiderman 3 (ew, LOL), and the anxiety of being seen with my date by someone I knew completely obstructed my ability to really focus (not to mention it was Spiderman 3, so the night was already traumatic enough).

When you go on a date, the main thing you should have to be worried about is whether or not there is a great connection between you and the person you’re with. In this case, that was the last thing on my mind. Even holding hands seemed like the most dangerous thing I could imagine. So, those who have scoffed about the legitimacy of the Orlando attack being motivated by homophobia, remember that the killer was enraged by gays publicly displaying affection. A projection of society and his own possible self-loathing.

Dates that I had (if you could call them that) during my tumultuous first years of being out involved sneaking off to guys’ houses whose parents weren’t home, hooking up in the backs of cars in parking garages or soccer fields at midnight. I mean, while all of these sound kind of offbeat and romantic, it wasn’t. It was always awkward and weird. If society complains of the LGBTQ community being deviant, it’s not our fault. It’s because of the discrimination and fear that forces us to hide and do things in places we wouldn’t normally have to.

Granted, for me personally, time has changed a few things. Our country has gotten a bit better than where we were in 2007 when I had my first date. I can marry, my parents seem to be generally OK with everything, friends are vocal and supportive, but there is still work to do.

If someone can’t use a bathroom because they are transgender or if businesses can terminate employees because they are queer, and someone can walk into a safe space like Pulse and open fire killing 49 of us, then our fight is far from over.

It’s not fun to admit that there are a lot of people out there that want to hurt us. They could be religious fanatics, self-hating homosexuals…it doesn’t matter.

The point is those who have hate towards the LGBTQ community will focus their attention on those who are targets–and more often than not, it’s us.

Until we aren’t the target, the main “problem with dating” in our queer world is still our ability to feel safe on a date.

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