Identity At the End of a Gun

No matter what, the LGBTQ+ community will never waiver in the face of adversity, discrimination or violence

| June 18, 2016
A candlelight vigil at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday, June 14, 2016, honoring the slain victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

A candlelight vigil at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday, June 14, 2016, honoring the slain victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

I am gay. I’ve said it a million times before, and I will say it a million times again. I am gay. I came out at the end of eighth grade before high school, as I wanted to start that next stage of my life with a clean slate, being my truest self. In reality, at age 13, I had known for a long, long time about it and knew that at one point, it was going to have to come to light. Since then, I have had the privilege of having a very accepting life as a gay man, facing little to no backlash in my search for a more authentic life. I know for a fact that I am, hands down, one of the luckiest LGBTQ+ people in the south. Growing up in Durham, NC, the liberal majority welcomed me with open arms and led me to what I felt as true freedom in myself.

On the morning of June 12, I realized that I felt anything but free.

On June 12, at 2 a.m. in Orlando, FL, Omar Mateen opened fire in Pulse, a famous gay nightclub in downtown Orlando, killing 50 and injuring 53 others. While Mateen’s connections with ISIS were made clear, this attack is an attack against the LGBTQ+ community, the community that I felt so safe and “free” in. As in the past year, we have celebrated hard-fought victories in the fight for marriage equality, as well as setbacks, with NC’s controversial HB2 Bill. What transpired at Pulse is another beast altogether; this is not silence or repression. This is death.

Perpetrating the attack during June, the month of LGBTQ+ Pride, was a strategic attack to knock the LGBTQ+ community down during the time of year where it is encouraged to be proud and lively. What people seem to forget is that, despite the sheer ferocity of this attack, it’s always been in the nature of LGBTQ+ people to carry on during strife. From the Stonewall Riots, to the AIDS crisis, the Laramie murder, to recent attacks in the form of HB2, down to the individual incidents of our LGBTQ+ siblings being made homeless, harassed, assaulted, raped and even killed, the LGBTQ+ community refuses to waiver in the face of adversity. Do you think that some coward with a gun is going to break us? No f**king way.

And yet, it’s just that adversity that presents the most irony in this equation. That Mateen, an American citizen, was able to legally purchase the assault rifle used to kill those 50 individuals, but the gay men having survived the incident are legally unable to donate blood for those affected without a one year celibacy period first. While the gun control argument is one for another time and place, doesn’t this leave you scratching your head just a little bit?

Beyond that, the idea that transgender individuals in bathrooms are the real threat to your children is a fallacy to say the least. On the morning of June 12, a group of LGBTQ+ people, including those transgender individuals targeted in the HB2 law, were hunted and slaughtered by a man who wished to see no more of men kissing. This simple image drove a man to rain a barrage of bullets into a crowd of people gathered to have a good time and celebrate their identities that are so often told are lesser than that of heterosexual or cisgender people.

As for myself, this incident brings out a sense of shame in me that I haven’t felt in a long time. I live my life as a gay man without much pride. I try my best to make others laugh, be a good friend, a good employee and a good person, but to say that I am involved in the LGBTQ+ community would be a lie. I’ve always found “better things to do,” whether it be spending my time at this publication, studying or simply staying in my room watching Netflix, slacktivism quickly became my thing. I often would hope that my slight femininity would silently imply my identity to others so that I didn’t have to actually identify my sexual orientation out loud. The amount of shame and guilt it brings out in me that it has taken 50 deaths to make me realize how much pride I truly hold in my identity as a gay man is absolutely soul-shaking.

I can’t help but notice the silence in many of the politicians who have helped introduce anti-LGBT bills over the past year to legally discriminate against people for their sexual orientation and gender identities. They offer their “prayers” to our community just as easily as they accept NRA donations. Many of these people have chosen only to focus on the fact that Mateen was a Muslim to further even more Islamophobia, despite many family members closest to him reiterating that his faith was not strong. This was a terrorist attack against the LGBTQ+ community, to pin it off as anything else is erasing the identities of every person there who came to celebrate themselves fully.

So yes, I am gay and I am very proud to say it. In the face of tragedy, it’s imperative that the LGBTQ+ community come together to help mourn our dead, cherish our living and show those who doubt us that we cannot and will not be intimidated by some coward with a gun. The world, up until recently, has always been against us, and those who have come before us, whether it be Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Riviera, Harvey Milk, Gertrude Stein or Alan Turing, among many others have paved the way and organized a proud community that is capable of withstanding and rebuilding from anything thrown at us. We are stronger than terrorism, as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, etc. people, the world will never break us.

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Category:Opinion, Politics, Society and Identity

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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