Political Director, Nico Aldape’s take on the Orlando shooting
There are no adequate words to describe Orlando. Even the phrase “there are no words” doesn’t even come close. This and every other mass shooting shake us to our very core as humans, making it all the more dumbfounding that we do nothing about them. The cycle of empty platitudes and promises for action immediately dismissed because NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre has senators follow him like ducklings follow their mother is something this country has tired of long ago. In the wake of the tragedy, I remembered the homo-/trans-/biphobic culture I was surrounded with growing up in Texas – the culture found across the nation and globe which was capitalized upon to fatal consequence. While one would expect Houston to be a bit more cosmopolitan and accepting, it was anything but. Additionally, my recent realization that I myself am bisexual made for a very, very rude awakening.
Growing up liberal in Texas – not a “southern Democrat,” but a progressive with a heart that bleeds as red as most of Texas – was its own experience. It was the worst of times in that I felt politically and racially alienated, and it was the best of times in that I learned (often not out of choice, but out of the aforementioned alienation) how the other side of the aisle thinks. The exchange went both ways. By no means did we change our political ideals, we merely learned to understand and respect another. However, in the pervasively -phobic culture I grew up with, there were no silver linings. My middle school exemplified this to a staggering extent. I remember being called “faggot” about as much, if not more, than my name. If someone committed a social faux pas, they were called “gay.” If we got too much homework in a class, the teacher and the homework were often just called “gay.” I identified as straight at the time, but the pervasiveness of the hatred thrown at me deeply disturbed me. It hurt just as much to know that these words were thrown at those who may be in closets or who were out. Leaving that middle school, a microcosm of the homo-/trans-/biphobia which permeates the south and society overall, felt like absolute bliss.
In ninth grade came my first thoughts about experimenting with men, but nothing ever came of them. It took the growing acceptance in the environments I was in and the knowledge that I did not have to be “queer enough” – that if I had sexual and romantic thoughts about people of other genders, I am queer – to realize that. It was a liberation I did not know I needed to experience. When I came out to friends and family and publicly over Facebook in May, I never felt so loved and accepted. Orlando, however, was a reminder that not all spaces are safe everywhere. The acceptance I received and give who others come out as queer or nonbinary is the exception, not the rule. After feeling so much love post-outing, Orlando was a rude awakening that safety is not the norm for most people. That hatred is palpable and real and drives people to kill. That even our safe spaces aren’t safe. The expectation that anything would be done in response to this was minimal, if not nonexistent. The current political discourse, if it even qualifies as such because it is so often merely hatred, dismissal, or deafening silence, does not help. If the killing of over 20 elementary schoolchildren, a racist attack on a South Carolina church, the worst terrorist attack since 9/11, and all the gun violence outside the parameters of a mass shooting didn’t convince us to do anything, why would one of the worst hate crimes to hit this nation change anything? I desperately hope Orlando will turn the tide on both expanding the legal discrimination allowed toward LGBTQ+ citizens and gun control, and am optimistic about the political pressure exerted by the Senate Democrats’ recent filibuster, but precedent has been disappointing.
The culture I grew up with drove me into years-long depression and inflicted damage to my psyche I am still recovering from. Bullying along those lines or any other line is not a “rite of passage” or “just a part of growing up.” It is part of the widespread oppression that continues to this day. Despite what others may say, “disagreement with a lifestyle choice” is not a legitimate political opinion. It is not a choice. You don’t get to disagree with how people exist. Genes play more of a role in determining sexuality than they do with what hand one writes. These social phobias are as wrong as they are tragically pervasive as they are legitimized in the public eye when nationally-elected politicians espouse them and delegitimize the fact that Orlando was a hate crime meant to instill fear. To allow this culture to exist is a travesty. To put the rights of a small number of law-abiding citizens above proven statistics that gun possession increases likelihoods of crimes turning violent and which allows those with hateful ideologies to act on them is a travesty.
As a queer person, as someone who is tired of bloodbath after bloodbath after bloodbath, as an American, and as someone with a semblance of common sense, to those with the power to do something – do your jobs.