Initially, Omar Mateen’s actions left us numb. We sat in silence as the events of that evening unravelled. What could we say when we saw the photos of the victims? What were we meant to do when we heard from the people who knew and loved them? We started to realise that there was nothing that we could do or say to detract from what he had done.
For many of us, the most pressing factor to consider in light of Mateen’s specific targeting of an LGBT+ venue in Orlando this month, is homophobia. The LGBT+ community is an international group of people who have and will continue to be united by their active pursuit of freedom, self-determination and acceptance. We are people who ask for little more than to be accepted and respected in the same way as everyone else.
Omar Mateen’s assault was another injury acquired by a community of people who have consistently dealt with a barrage of mistreatment and intolerance. Across the world, we are constantly receiving new wounds to add to our already scarred body. The more threats we receive and the more damage done, the more we realise that we cannot be deterred by destructive acts of hate. Our scars are something to be worn with pride – they are a reminder of every destructive blow, every construction reaction we responded with and every development we have yet to make.This weekend – with the Pride parade and festival in London – is the time for us to react constructively. We react by remembering all of those who lost their lives in Pulse in Orlando. In cities all over the world we gathered together at vigils to demonstrate our solidarity with the victims and their loved ones. We react by remembering all of those who died in Admiral Duncan in Soho. We react by remembering all of those who were murdered in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Of those who have lost their lives to homophobia.
There are countless documented and undocumented hate crimes toward LGBT+ people every single day. We react by looking to challenge the 77 countries in which homosexuality is illegal and the ten countries in which you can receive the death penalty for practicing homosexual acts.
Remember what happened in the Stonewall Inn on June 28th 1969 – the night that initiated a six-day riot by activists against police brutality towards the LGBT+ community in New York. We join the annual pride events that occur, around the world, to commemorate the Christopher Street March. This has been credited as the first gay pride march. It was held as a peaceful demonstration to end the riots and to call for gay visibility and rights. We react by remembering the two thousand people who joined that initial march of pride. They were the people who defiantly and proudly marched down the road, en masse, declaring “I am gay”. This utterance, in itself, a radical act.
This is still the case for far too many people in far too many corners of the world. There are environments, in every country, where coming out as a transsexual or homosexual is a reality that people will never be able to realise. They will stifle and suffocate this fundamental part of their being forever because their immediate or wider environment will not permit it.
Let’s remember all the times that the law has prohibited us from freedom of action and freedom from persecution. Let’s remember when Margaret Thatcher introduced Section 28, banning councils and schools from “promoting” homosexuality. When we reacted by creating Stonewall UK in response. When the number of people who participated in Pride that year exponentially increased. And when Section 28 was repealed in 2003.
Let’s acknowledge every legal reform that has led to a change in our status. Let’s remember the 2003 Employment Equality regulation, the 2004 Gender Recognition Act and the Civil Partnership Act of the same year. Let’s remember when in 2014 we could marry our same-sex partners and when, last year, Ireland (traditional, conservative Ireland) became the first country to legalise gay marriage through popular vote.The LGBT+ community is an international, diverse and multifaceted community of people, with different requirements and needs. We are all united by our desire to be free from oppression, fear and discrimination.
We refuse to conform to the heteronormative stereotypes of what we ought to be and how we ought to act. Homophobia is alive and well and not buried in the archives of our intolerant history – where it belongs.
We’re a community of people who, regardless of how we may be attacked, cannot and will not be removed. We cannot be converted, deterred, eradicated, supressed, persecuted or destroyed. We are who we are and obviously that is okay.
That is why, at Pride this weekend, I and thousands of other LGBT+ people (and our friends) will be marching through the streets of London, Leeds, Kampala, Barcelona, São Paulo, Ulaanbaatar and Tokyo – to name a small handful – to celebrate who we are.
Pride is an opportunity to pay homage to how far we have come, to demonstrate how important this is and to emphasise how far we, as a community, have yet to go.