Last Saturday night, I asked my bisexual friend if she wanted to go to the NYC Pride march with me. The possibility was exhilarating — all of those masses of people clad in rainbow colors and shirts emblazoned with puns, whooping and hollering, celebrating progress and self-love. Pride felt like the culmination of my 18-year-long journey toward accepting myself, a chance to say to the world, "I'm not going away."
A little over a year ago, I came out to my parents. Months later, in October, I told the same to my friends at school through a Facebook profile picture. The response was so positive that at times during my senior year of high school, I forgot that I was different from everyone else — a strange reality given that only years earlier, as an elementary school student, I had thought being queer was essentially criminal, the worst fate for a kid.
Of course, I wasn't naïve: I knew that much of the United States still equated my identity with sin, and that living in a white male body in Connecticut protected me from the vilest strands of homophobia America has to offer. But I came to believe I was safe from hate. I watched my friends react to violence against people like them in the news — my female friends to high-profile rape cases, my trans friends to discriminatory bathroom legislation, my friends of color to police brutality — and I realized just how deep my privilege runs. But I deluded myself into thinking it runs all the way to "security."
Later on Saturday night, my friend texted me back: She wanted to go to Pride, but she was nervous. I asked her why, but I understood. I was also worried — about sexual assault, about my anxiety flaring, about missing my train home and being stranded in the city. I expected that my friend would be concerned about the same.
But when she replied that she was "dreadfully worried about violence and terrorism" because "a lot of people are pissed off" about queer rights, I frowned. Though I pretended to sympathize, I truthfully thought her fear was ludicrous. I knew many Americans didn't like us, but I figured they also didn't care enough to target us in our safe spaces. In the minds of those perpetuating hate, I thought, we are not a threat — an annoyance, perhaps, but little more.
The next morning, I woke up to the news out of Orlando. Over 100 people, most of them queer and Latinx, had been murdered or wounded at a gay nightclub during Pride month, and the father of the killer acknowledged the attack was likely motivated by homophobia.
I couldn’t stop thinking about how quickly I’d shrugged off my friend’s fear of terrorism. Somehow, I'd convinced myself I was impervious to harm. I’d looked into the eyes of a society that doesn’t want me and thought, They’ll make an exception. I thought this because I’m used to comfort — because my school is accepting, because I’ve grown up watching gay Americans achieve political victories, because I’ve only rarely seen violence against cis, LGB people in the news. I thought, naïvely, that the most brutal forms of homophobia had waned.
Reading the reactions of older queer Americans who are used to this violence, even numbed by it, feels odd. Time and time again, they have seen this happen. They have lost community members. They have felt fear.
Meanwhile, the Orlando shooting is a first for me. The privilege that once sheltered me has been stripped away. The comfort I once felt is still there, but it is precarious, uncertain. I still can’t shake the fact that though the Orlando shooting victims didn’t look like me, they were targeted, then slaughtered, for an identity that I share.
Less than two weeks from now, on the one-year anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, I will be at NYC Pride. I will be one in the collage of rainbow shirts; I will be part of those masses of people. I will be whooping and hollering, celebrating self-love. But I will also be mourning our dead. I will know that I am still marginal in this society, a life so easily taken away.
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