Yesterday morning I checked the news groggy-eyed and learned of the massacre in Orlando at ‘Latin Night’ at the Pulse gay club. The grief is overwhelming. I find myself unexpectedly in and out of tears.
Queer space is sacred. We owe the fact that there is space for us to go seek community, joy, pleasure, desire, family and justice to generations of freedom fighters. To the ACT UP warriors and the dyke caretakers who fought for queer safety and survival while most of the world did not care as a generation died of AIDS. To people like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and other unsung transgender women of color who fought the police at Stonewall and continued fighting for the right to live with dignity, power and safety. To James Baldwin and Audre Lorde and Bayard Rustin. To the queer and trans leaders of Black Lives Matter and many other movements carrying the torch today. To so many whose names we will never know because they have been intentionally erased from our history.
This year, 16 states were subjected to a right-wing Christian push for some of the most vitriolic anti-LGBTQ legislation this country has ever seen. Last year 21 transgender women, most of them Black, were murdered. We live in a society where queer and trans people, especially people of color, are forced into poverty, prison, criminalized work, and isolation–and the impact of all of this is often premature death. Orlando is an outrage, and it happened in the middle of an epidemic.
I’m writing to you all today because I am sad and scared and furious. Because despite the fact politicized, right-wing Christianity is daily making it less and less safe to be queer and trans in the U.S, all the news will be talking about is Islam and ISIS (also known as Daesh, the Islamic State, and ISIL).
None of them will say that U.S. imperialism in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Libya, Palestine, Lebanon, and Somalia has caused massive trauma, displacement, destabilization and poverty in a region we have desecrated with war. They won’t acknowledge that the wars we launched paved the way for the rise of Al Qaeda and then the Islamic State. None of them will say that our own culture’s virulent racism and patriarchy and queer/transphobia kill people every day. None of them will say that what we actually need is a militant anti-racist movement for queer and trans liberation and against U.S. empire.
And that is why we have to. We have to engage when they ask “Why do the terrorists hate us?” We have to engage when they say that Islam is more homophobic than Christianity. We have to engage when people want to use our communities’ grief as a justification for further hate and policing and war.
In the days ahead it will be important to look to the leadership of radical queer and trans people of color, of queer Muslims, of people who are doing the work day in day out to free us all.
As a part of that, we want to ask you to join us in donating to Southerners on New Ground (SONG). “SONG is a regional Queer Liberation organization made up of people of color, immigrants, undocumented people, people with disabilities, working class and rural and small town, LGBTQ people in the South. SONG envisions a sustainable South that embodies the best of its freedom traditions and works towards the transformation of our economic, social, spiritual, and political relationships.” May their work light our path forward.
Fifty people lost their lives yesterday and many more lives are forever changed. As we head into Pride month, whole communities will be grieving and scared about accessing the very spaces that could provide a collective sense of comfort. At this moment, those of us who are queer and trans people could imagine that our fear and grief is exceptional. But the experience of feeling unsafe in the very places we go to heal is one that has been shared by too many people, including Black churchgoers, undocumented people seeking refuge, and Muslims attending mosques and schools and hospitals in warzones.
Last night many of us were at a vigil, coming together in our collective grief. When one of the speakers said that it is “time to stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters” a beautiful cheer erupted from the crowd. This is our moment to show the world that we will fight for the safety and freedom of people everywhere.
With love to the families and friends and survivors in Orlando, and to those who have known their pain.
Keep loving. Keep fighting.
Isaac Lev Szmonko
on behalf of Catalyst Project