I’m sorry this is going to be rambling. Two years ago tomorrow I came out widely and publicly as bisexual, at work, online, and in other sectors of my life where I had been partially closeted for more than 20 years. As she has always been, Mary Benard was by my side through that process and the decisions leading up to it. I’ve been one of the lucky ones: I’ve received love and support from family and friends. I’ve become active with groups like the Bisexual Resource Center and, especially, SpeakOUT Boston. I’ve deepened my sense of connection to the larger LGBTQIA community. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made it my life; I’m only sorry I waited so long, but fear is a powerful, powerful thing.
This weekend, I celebrated my 47th birthday and Boston Pride on the same day, spending it with Mary and a dear friend and spending some time at the SpeakOUT booth at the festival. We’d marched in the parade each of the last two years so this was our year to be spectators and get a larger sense of it; I’m glad we did. Over the course of the long day, we went to four different queer-friendly establishments. We laughed, danced, hugged, waved our flags, and came together with the diverse greater Boston queer community. It was wonderful.
And then we awoke Sunday to the news about the shooting at a queer nightclub, Pulse, in Orlando. Like every other decent human being, we were sickened at the loss of life, outraged once again at living in a country where the laws and culture around guns and gun control make such things so common, and dismayed to once again learn about the radicalization of someone into something so broken, so inhuman, as to be able to distort Islam and commit atrocities in its name.
And, of course, there was also the cold sweat realization: that could have been us. The night before. Any number of nights.
Please understand this: queer-friendly spaces are sanctuaries. If you’ve never been called faggot or dyke or queer-as-a-slur or any number of other insults because of who you are, I’m genuinely happy for you. If you’ve never been physically threatened because of your identity or how you present it in public, great. But many of us have, and those scars run deep. Safe spaces like Pulse in Orlando are where we can go and be ourselves in the expectation of reasonable safety. This killing spree was as much about striking at that idea as it was about taking individual lives.
I’ve never been to Orlando, so I’ve never been to Pulse. But I know who was in there Saturday night. Gay men, lesbians, bisexual men and women, transgender people, gender-queer or gender-fluid folks, people of many different ethnicities, and lots of others with lots of other labels of choice. I’m sure that many straight friends and allies were there as well, as is often wonderfully and increasingly the case in such spaces. Some people were there with their partners, whether married or not, whether monogamous or not. Some were single and alone. Some were there with friends. Some were there to talk, to flirt, to dance, to make friends, to hook up, to celebrate something, to drink, to eat, to simply be, like people at bars and nightclubs of all kinds are, everywhere. Some were out. Some were closeted in other parts of their lives.
All of them, the dead, the wounded, the survivors, were beautiful, flawed, wonderful, imperfect, full-of-potential human beings. Yes, this is a human tragedy. And, YES, it matters that this act of violence was aimed at the queer community, in particular, queer people of color. If I can borrow a style from Lin Manuel Miranda’s wonderful Tony acceptance sonnet: it matters it matters it matters it matters it matters it matters.
I don’t know how we move on from this as a queer community, or as a country. I do know that Pride will never feel the same. And neither will safe spaces. Just….love each other. It’s ultimately all we can do.
George Grattan, SpeakOUT’s board president, has lived in the Boston area for more than 20 years and helps run a “Bi Guys Social Night” through the Bisexual Resource Center. He’s been active with SpeakOUT since 2014. In his spare time he works in higher education marketing and communications, goes kayaking, and sits on his back porch.