COMMENTARY: As soon as I learned what happened in Orlando, I promptly began drafting emails and statements, designing social media graphics, and coordinating vigils and other demonstrations of support across the state and country. I made my heartfelt statements. I made my political statements. I made my solidarity statements. Like so many white leaders in the state-based LGBTQ equality movement, I did a good job of demonstrating EQNM’s devastation and our determination, our politics and our pride.
In other words, I took up a lot of space, and I was on the verge of taking up even more. Thanks to my comrades Myra Llerenas and Andrea Quijada — fierce queer women of color — I stopped writing and talking. I paused and focused on my breathing. I resisted the urge to insert myself and EQNM into the dialogue. And, that’s when it started to settle in.
When I stopped moving, got quiet, and let sink in not only what happened in Orlando, but what has been happening inside ourselves, our homes, our communities, this country, and around the world for generations that has created a reality in which atrocities like Orlando are possible — I couldn’t fathom how I was even supposed to leave the safety of my room. I didn’t go to a single vigil, despite helping to organize several of them. I allowed myself to cry, be angry, and take care of myself. I thought a lot about my own complicity — starting with the humbling lesson of how much space I was consuming through the privileged platform of a statewide organization.
Tragedies like Orlando have been happening for centuries against indigenous and people-of-color (POC) communities, queer and trans communities, and women around the world. We can make it about gun control all we want — another siloed-policy approach that will temporarily fill the coffers of organizations like EQNM; but, as we’ve learned so many times, policies are just Band-Aids over the cancers of white supremacy, misogyny, and ableism.
Policies don’t rid our communities of homophobia, transphobia, and racism. Policies don’t stop discrimination and abuse; rather, they create an environment in which — if you have the access and resources — your rights can be defended. Gun control policies may make it harder for people to access guns, but it won’t change the hearts and minds of people who hate queers and immigrants, and who will find a way to kill us nonetheless. Gun control policies that ignore the racist complicity of the U.S. government in the current state of war, gun violence, and survival economies are nothing but more empty promises of “safety.”
Gun control and Second Amendment legal challenges are rooted in the racist history of slavery and white people protecting their property; it’s no coincidence that white, conservative-led gun control legislation came about when the Black Panthers began carrying guns to protect themselves, their families, and their property from racist police violence. A young black man can be shot and killed by police for playing with a toy gun in a store, but a white man believes it is “his right” to openly carry a loaded assault rifle in public spaces — and does so with little attention.
Policies don’t address the centuries-long oppression of the Christian church that is the basis of anti-LGBTQ hate, as well as a justifying force for racism, misogyny, and imperialism. Orlando happened in the context of a reality in which some 200 anti-LGBT bills were introduced by Christian legislators over the past two years, and the Christian lieutenant governor of Texas actually thought it was appropriate to tweet, “a man reaps what he sows,” in response to the shooting.
Orlando happened in the context of a reality in which Donald Trump can become a “born again Christian,” espouse nazi-era politics against Muslims, brown immigrants, and anyone else that doesn’t help him get richer, and still be heralded by “Christian” leaders. Orlando happened in the context of a reality in which churches line up to host our vigils, but have yet to lead a movement of reconciliation for the hate, abuse, murders, and suicides of LGBTQ people that are the result of a long-term coordinated hate campaign against queers and women, bastardized passages from a book written by men who claim to be inspired by a god, and white Christian supremacy that has plagued the United States and the world for centuries.
Policies don’t leave room for the travesty is that is Omar Mateen’s internalized homophobia and self-hatred, the severe abuse perpetrated against him by his father, and our culture of war, racism, and misogyny that creates an environment in which events like #Orlando — sadly — are commonplace.
These are not small issues. These are not policy solutions waiting to happen. These are things that require our ability to pause and not take up space with well-crafted statements and memes. These are things that require a practice of self-reflection and willingness to be honest about the ways in which I am complicit. These are things that require humility to listen to those most affected, and to get out of the way of their voices, actions, and power. If there is one thing I’ve learned since Orlando, it’s that power isn’t something organizations like EQNM and people like me give or help others find; rather, power is what organizations like EQNM and people like me need to let go of in order to create the space for those most affected to exercise their own power.
To my fellow white leaders in the state-based movement for LGBTQ equality:
- We must pause, reflect, and move out of the way, rather than rushing to release a statement or email blast — our tendency to move quickly and be a “leading” voice is hurting and stifling the voices of the most marginalized in our community. Not pausing is a reflection of our white privilege and disconnects us from the experience of queer and trans people of color who are impacted by violence in different and, most often, more severe and deadly ways.
- Let’s not get stuck in another siloed policy battle that leaves so many in our community out of the discussion. We must make sure we are doing the education and outreach to shift culture. In New Mexico, we have the Justice Advocates Academy that works to educate community members about systemic oppression and implicit bias. We need more than just a vote or petition signature — we need critical and engaged thinkers who are empowered with knowledge and the ability to deconstruct and decipher the world around us.
- As my comrade Andrea Quijada said, stop with the “hyper-masculinity” language. It’s misogyny, it’s patriarchy, it’s anti-woman/woman-identified hate. We don’t need a new phrase to make men more comfortable.
- Get out of the way. Social justice is about the people and the most oppressed, and that is who should be at the center of our work, our media statements, and our organizations. White leaders: If you’re talking, ask yourself why.
To the white LGBTQ community at-large:
- Let’s dry our white tears and get to work. Listen and learn. Read any of the countless blogs and articles by brilliant queer people of color who are literally spelling out how white people can be better allies. Two two in the context of Orlando are here and here.
- While Orlando was horrific, characterization of it as the largest mass shooting in U.S. history is inaccurate and ignores the experience of indigenous communities. Colonialism has effectively erased events like the massacre of Lakota peoples on Dec. 29, 1890, which resulted in 300-500 mostly Native deaths at the hands of the U.S. Cavalry. Thank you, Joaquin Sanchez, for reminding me of that.
- Please, enough with the All/Blue/Other Racist Co-Opting Lives Matter. Yes, all lives are important, but that’s not what this is about. White people and cops are not being profiled, detained, abused, harassed, pulled over, murdered, etc., by the state. #BlackLivesMatter is about calling attention to a crisis — not saying one life is more valuable than another. Educate yourself here.
- As has been proven many times, marriage equality didn’t end anti-LGBTQ hate. All of us white, cis, LGB folks are pretty comfortable right now in our rights, but the truth is we need the power and resources of our community now more than ever.
To the HRC and other national mainstream LGBTQ organizations, and all the mainstream “progressive” organizations now advancing their agendas on the backs of queer and trans, brown and black lives:
- You do not speak for us. Please remember that. We are in this for real justice, real reparations, and real liberation — not for a single victory in gun control or nondiscrimination or marriage equality. If you want to know what that looks like, then I know a community of fierce queer and trans people of color here in New Mexico who can help lead the way.
- Consider why you do what you do. We want to work ourselves out of a job — not hop from one “policy priority” to the other through which to build our list or raise money or keep our doors open. The way you have commoditized the murders of brown and black people is ableist and shameful.
- Consider making some space. For anyone other than you.
To people of Christian faith and Christian churches:
- Regardless of whether or not you are “that kind of Christian,” you are responsible and complicit. I am responsible and complicit. I grew up in an evangelical Christian home in which racism, homophobia, and misogyny were common, and I participated in those things. You want to demonstrate your solidarity with LGBTQ people? Work for reconciliation. Hold your brethren accountable. Speak up.
- Stop hosting our vigils unless you are going to preach justice in your sermons. We need more than ceremony — we need action.
Prayers and policies won’t fix this mess. Until we acknowledge and dismantle the historic and intersecting systems of oppression that have created this reality — imperialism, colonialism, white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy — systems in which I am complicit and from which I benefit — communities will not be safe or free. As the brilliant, black, lesbian activist Audre Lorde said: “The master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.” That means people like me and organizations like EQNM need to relinquish space and uplift the leadership and voices of those most marginalized among us — queer and trans people, people of color, people with disabilities, women, and especially those living at the intersections of these identities.
Do I believe we are up for it? Some days I think so, and that’s the best I can muster right now. I believe in my comrades at EQNM and partner POC and trans-led organizations here in Burque and in New Mexico, and those among the movements for true liberation. I am humbled by how many people continue to give their time, energy, and resources to support Orlando. Imagine if we showed up like that every day for justice.
To our community in Orlando, and to the movements for indigenous, black, brown, queer, trans, disabled, and women’s lives and liberation, we will continue to actively work in solidarity with you.