Early in the morning of Sunday, June 12th, at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, FL at least 49 people were killed and another 53 were injured in the worst mass shooting in US history. This attack may be geographically distant but it hits close to home. Let’s not mince words: the shooting in Orlando was an attack on a gay nightclub, on queer people of color, on all LGBTQ Americans, and on the entire country’s ability to live and to love freely and openly. This was an act of terror, yes, but it was undeniably a crime of hate.
In the words of Michael Walzer, “It is who you are, not what you are doing, that makes you vulnerable; identity is liability. And that’s a connection that we are morally bound to resist.”
I pause here because I have been reminded of this quote far too many times in recent years, but I’m not sure if I fully grasped it until now. When I was struggling with coming out my biggest fear was being reduced, that this one new detail would become the only thing the world would see. There’s a certain level of privilege in that; I wasn’t growing up in existential fear of HIV/AIDS, physical violence, or being left homeless – all of which remain sobering realities for a disproportionate number of LGBTQ people in this country and around the world. I wasn’t facing these obstacles directly, but I see a clearer connection now. I was still living in a world where these were the singular narratives of gay identity. We saw them in popular culture, in media, in conversations, and in comedy. The consistency of these portrayals painted one narrow caricature of what it meant to be gay.
While in some ways the images of gay life have evolved and grown and deepened, this reductionism is still the root of many of the policies we see today. In this fear of being reduced, I see a fear of being legally fired in 28 states for my sexual orientation or gender identity – but that doesn’t warrant protection. I see a fear that LGBTQ people are the most likely minority group to be victims of hate crimes, yet 33 states do not have hate crime laws that cover both sexual orientation and gender identity – but that doesn’t warrant protection. I see a fear that 84% of LGBT youth report verbal abuse on the basis of sexual or gender identity, yet 24 states do not have laws prohibiting this harassment – but that does not warrant protection. I see a fear that over 55% of transgender youth have experienced physical attacks due to their gender identity or expression – but that doesn’t warrant protection. I see a fear that in 45 states, it’s legal for parents to force their kids to attend “conversation” therapy – but that doesn’t warrant protection. I see a fear that 72% of victims of hate violence homicide in 2013 were transgender women – but that doesn’t warrant protection. I see a fear that in 41 states, it’s legal to discriminate against LGBT parents in the foster care/adoption system – but that doesn’t warrant protection.
This mismatch between policy and reality is only possible with such consistency when our society sees LGBTQ people as less than full citizens, as less than fully human, as justifiably and righteously deserving of the qualifier “less than.” This mismatch is only possible when we reduce someone to one facet of their identity alone, rather than seeing them for the dazzling fullness of their humanity. When your understanding of ‘who I am’ is consumed by a myopic and unrelenting focus on ‘who I love’ it becomes easier to devalue a practice than a person.
I need you to listen. I need you to understand that while discrimination and mass murder are substantively different acts, they both have roots in the same attitudes. It feels easier to blame religious extremism and terrorism because then it is “their” hate, not ours, that bears the blame. Yet we live in a society that not only gives permission to views that circumscribe the humanity of LGBTQ people, but also gives them the legitimacy of being codified in law. We live in a society that does not yet believe that LGBTQ people deserve full human dignity and respect, and then feigns shock when we are victimized and treated as if our lives are worth less, are worthless. We live in a society that treats LGBTQ people as less than, and then acts surprised when someone takes us at our word. We see this same pattern with nearly every marginalized group – race, ethnicity, gender, etc. It happens again and again and again and again and yet so many continue to deny that these things matter, that they even exist. If we share in grief, it’s time we recognize our shared responsibility.
It is who we are, not what we are doing, that makes us vulnerable; identity is liability. And that’s a connection that we are morally bound to resist.
Why must we choose between our identity and our humanity? Policy should preserve and restore our humanity, not tear it apart. Policy should treat us all equally, not divide us further. Policy should provide opportunity, not condemnation. After this week, I can no longer stomach the dispassionate debate and discourse.
Our humanity is not a question. We are equal. We are equal. We are equal.