I woke up June 12 to learn a hateful man slaughtered 49 people and injured more than 50 others at a gay nightclub in Orlando. I was beyond shocked, filled with sadness, anger and an aching emptiness as a queer woman. But in the following days, it became clear many others saw the attack differently. As I was mourning and learning to cope with a once-repressed sense of vulnerability, I watched people erase the identities of the dead and injured.
It matters that the shooter picked the gay nightclub Pulse on its Latin night, taking many Latinx and black queer and ally lives. Those who died were not "just Americans," not when this country has repeatedly refused rights and refused to see non-white, non-straight, non-cisgender people as Americans. You don't get to forget who these people were and who the survivors are. Justice and equality don't come from ignoring the fact that these innocent people were targeted because of their identities. That's a failure to confront the decades of passive and violent discrimination that got us to this point.
The actions of politicians matter. If you've spent a career demeaning the LGBTQ community and blocking equal rights — aggressively failing your citizens — and then give just thoughts and prayers, that is not solidarity. Saying "we're all Americans" after this massacre but not in everyday life is not solidarity. It is using human lives as a thinly veiled attempt for political gain. It is refusing to see us when we are alive. It is saying queerness is okay only when it's not a threat, which is when we're dead. When you don't have to face us. When it's easier to believe we were just a minuscule theory and not vast human beings.
But we exist. We will always exist. We will never go away.
Our humanity is not up for debate. Opposing our existence isn't a rational opinion; there aren't two equal sides to this. Any form of hate is a threat. Thinking "my opinion and discomfort matter more than your right to a safe, long life" creates a society that believes we are better off dead. Disgust, hatred and refusal of rights combine to lead many LGBTQ people off the cliff, whether by their own hand or someone else's.
Some say "don't politicize this" because 49 people have just died and many more were injured and left with a void. But this country has politicized our very existence from sodomy laws to marriage and adoption bans to bathroom bills and refusing to accept gender identities to vile jokes to saying "it makes me uncomfortable."
Actively discriminating against the LGBTQ community — especially against queer people of color — is a crusade as American as apple pie.
I first started coming out a little over a decade ago. My fears were mostly of those vile looks that cut the soul and of loved ones' rejection. History showed me there were people who acted on their deep hatred by taking lives and irreversibly damaging so many: Stonewall, the UpStairs Lounge, Brandon Teena, Matthew Shepard, India Clarke, Goddess Diamond. Data from the FBI shows LGBTQ people are the most likely targets of hate crimes.
But I needed to believe violence was on a decline as the country became more accepting. In my worst moments, it was easier to think the victim was somewhere else, someone else. But the attacks add up. The murders of trans women of color is an epidemic, with 21 murders making last year the deadliest on record, according to the Human Rights Campaign. And now, we have another large-scale attack in Orlando, so close to my new home.
"Heartbreaking" and "disgusting" are not strong enough to convey what it's like to realize that after so many decades, so many court cases, so many marches, so many struggles, it wasn't enough. This country has robbed us of a large, healthy population of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender elders. Are we truly a society that says they died in vain?
There's an aching void replacing my hope that today's queer youth would never see this and would never be victims.
I appreciate people who do more than say "love is love." I see every single person who has reached out and affirmed their support in making this a country where there is not a constant target on our heads. I am consoled by the thousands around the world who have donated blood, time and money to help the slain victims' families and the survivors.
But even more, I see and feel the deafening silence of so many. To them: I hope you never feel what it's like to never know where you are safe, to have few spaces in which you can truly exist. But I hope you one day understand how hurtful, dangerous and cowardly your lack of support is. I hope the overwhelming shame and guilt forces you to change.
Believe us when we speak our fears of discrimination. Believe our pain. Believe how simply existing is the bravest act we're forced to do. We are not exaggerating. America has a long, bloody history that confirms our worst fears. This is homegrown hate.
This is our reality. The gay agenda is simply: Survive.
So if you truly care, support the LGBTQ friends, loved ones and acquaintances in your life. Tell them.
They may not be there tomorrow.
Ashley Dye is a copy editor and designer for tbt*. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or @ashleycdye on Twitter.