Orlando – Our Tragedy

This weekend’s terrible, terrible attack in Orlando has elicited the response of outrage, of horror, of distress and of anger from the LGBT community worldwide, as well as its extended family of allies and supporters. At a time when a lot of LGBT focus is on reform in Russia, in India and in the Middle East and Africa, it is a sobering reminder that  – as with any act of violence – it only takes one person not to like you, or what you represent, to wreak havoc.

It is also a reminder that, as a community, we can never be complacent.  Given the great advances in legislation that we have seen, it can sometimes be presumed that everyone has been converted to the cause. This is far from the case. Any drive for equality will bring the potential for a backlash from those who feel threatened, or uncomfortable at our increasing visibility. Consider the London nail bombs in 1999, by a single man, targeting the black, Asian and LGBT communities in three separate attacks. To him, we were all a threat and our emancipation was threatening him even more. We may never know, but some of the great strides in marriage equality last year in the US may also have been a factor in this weekend’s actions.

Any LGBT bar or club can be fun. But it can also be a place of refuge, where you can blend in. It can be a sanctuary for those who are not out at home or work. The terrible irony is that in any attack on a gay bar, often not all of those injured or killed are LGBT. One of the fatalities at the Admiral Duncan bombing in 1999 was a pregnant straight woman there with her husband and friends. And the terrible tragedy is that not all of those injured or killed are out to their families. According to a news feed yesterday, one of the terrible realities of mobile phones is that those helping and rescuing inside the Pulse nightclub did so to a background of phones ringing in the pockets of the injured and dead, as friends and family tried to see if they were safe.

And yet we do sometimes feel caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, we are a stand out target for extremists. On the other hand, we can still struggle for visibility. It was infuriating watching the Sky News press review with gay journalist Owen Jones, when the host Mark Longhurst simply refused to allow him to acknowledge that this was an LGBT-targeted attack. This was not an attack on a bar at random but an attack based on the sexuality of the people that were in there.

Visibility and acceptance come at a cost. Whether it is a terror attack in a crowded gay venue, whether it is a drunk guy across the road mouthing off at you and your friends, or even whether it is just that innate caution you have of showing affection in public. At this time of year, it is a sobering reminder of why we still have Pride season. However far we think we have come, there will always be people who disagree with our mere existence. And for every great legal stride we make, there will always be an Omar Mateen. 

We must continue to work to educate those around us, not so that in the end everyone will truly believe in us, but so that even where they don’t, tolerance and acceptable are non-negotiable facets of how we function as a civilised society.

This Pride season, it is a reminder to take care when out in crowds and to remember that our struggle is far from over. At a time when we rightly celebrate the great strides we have made, and the giants who made them happen, it is important to enjoy the company of friends, family and the community. I used to own a little lapel badge from Pride in the 90s that just said ‘Out and Proud’. May we be both, even in the face of such adversity.

But this week is about Orlando. The Emerald team will be at the vigil on Old Compton Street in Soho this evening, and we hope to see many of the community and its supporters standing together and refusing to be afraid.


Steve Wardlaw