How Can We Say 'It Gets Better' After Orlando?

What happened this weekend is the grim consequence of politics as usual for LGBT people

by Anthony Easton

With all due respect to Dan Savage, it does not get better.

Late Saturday night, 50 people were killed and more than 100 people were shot at a gay nightclub in Orlando. This morning, a man was arrested bringing arms to shoot up the Pride parade in Los Angeles. In June 1973, in New Orleans, 32 people were burned alive in a nightclub during Pride Weekend because of an arson attack. In 2013, during New Year’s Eve festivities in Seattle, a person attempted to set fire to a gay nightclub. That fire was extinguished without any casualties.

Queer people are murdered on the street, in American cities that are supposed to be progressive. In 2015, Taja Gabrielle de Jesus, a 36-year-old Latina trans woman, was murdered in the Bayview area of San Francisco. In 2013, Mark Carson, a 32-year-old gay man, was shot point-blank on the streets of Greenwich Village by a man who had been taunting him with anti-gay slurs.

It is not just the violence of the streets. Our own government keeps legislating against us. The rhetoric of the infamous bathroom bill passed in North Carolina, and the ones in other state legislatures — proposed in Arizona, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming — is not that different from the Briggs Initiative, the failed 1978 legislative drive in California that attempted to prevent publicly queer folks from teaching children. Reagan would end up with blood on his hands from his negligence during the plague years, but even he sought to defeat Briggs.

Imagine a prominent conservative politician now doing anything but supporting the bathroom bills, working on anything but a toxic abyss of anti-queer violence. I grew up out west. I came out in suburban high schools. I had death threats. I was beaten. I was exiled from religious communities. I knew I was unsafe. I was aware. We are still unsafe. Young queer folks in my life, sometimes religious but not always, think that marriage can protect them. They seem surprised when the violence spikes. They think they are protected by location, by the mechanics of the state.

Pride is supposed to be an overwhelming takeover of the streets that do not welcome us. Now, even our bars, even Pride, is not safe. (Not that it ever was – most every queer person has memories of homophobic violence at Pride, of the asshole cishets, of the sidewalk preachers damning us.) The violence in Orlando was a continuation of politics as usual. It is the grotesque consequence of the status quo. We should not be surprised.

Maybe if you are able-bodied and handsome and cis and white and upper-middle-class and married and have babies and can do what you want to do in the safety of property you own — maybe then it gets better. But for those of us on the streets, fewer and fewer safe spaces are present. This is why what happened this weekend in Orlando is such a violation. This was our citadel. This was our house. This was one of the few places where we should not have had to be worried, where we could hold the hands of our lovers. Where we could kiss. Where we could dance. Where we could find some reprieve. The violation of that space is an unspeakable, blasphemous desecration.

This is not things getting better.