Early this past Sunday, the deadliest mass shooting in United States history took place at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, FL. It took place during Pride. It took place on Latin night. Estimates so far have 50 dead and 53 wounded.
I can’t even remember what I was originally going to write about. This news consumed me on Sunday and I knew I had to write about this. This is important. Many other people have and are going to write about this. They should. They need to.
We all have different reactions to this event. Some are graceful, some make the LGBTQ community invisible, while others praise the massacre. Having collected my thoughts on this, I can conclude that one thing we certainly need a great deal more of is empathy.
People fear what they don’t understand. People don’t necessarily get exposed to people that aren’t like them, and thoughts and feelings that go against what they’ve come to believe as truth. We need more people being exposed to more ideas.
When I was going through elementary through high school, there was no learning about the LGBTQ community. There was no LGBTQ club at school. I do know that they have since started a club. I don’t know if they’ve since started teaching more about the community. During my undergrad, they did have specific courses on LGBTQ history and the like, but that attracts people already sympathetic and interested. Those aren’t all the people that need that information.
People need to learn about the Stonewall riots – not just from terrible whitewashing movies, but in the classroom. In our textbooks. They need to learn that trans women of color were pivotal to LGBTQ rights. They need to learn about Harvey Milk. They need to learn about the AIDs epidemic and a president who stood idly by and did nothing even as his good friend Rock Hudson was dying. And they need to learn about the latest transphobia and bathroom bills in the same way I and many others learned about racial segregation. Learning that it was wrong. We need more empathy and understanding, and it has to be taught.
Queer American history is certainly more than just those examples, but it’s a start. And it needs to be taught as American history. Not an elective. Not something that can be passed over. People need to be given the chance to know and understand our history. They need to learn about it when they’re young and as they’re developing thoughts and opinions on the world around them.
People need to be exposed to queer people in their lives. Family, friends, students, teachers, politicians, actors, authors, and other professionals. And not just in a heteronormative fashion demonizing non-monogamous relationships, premarital sex, and other alternatives. Different people lead different lives and we need people to understand and accept that, and the only way that will happen is by seeing people living those lives openly and being happy doing it.
If you have kids that like reading comics, make sure they’re also reading comics with queer characters. If they’re reading Batman, they could be reading about Batwoman as well. If they’re reading X-Men, some of the titles have queer characters. If they’re reading graphic novels like Watchmen or V for Vendetta, they should also be reading Fun Home and Stuck Rubber Baby. Tales with queer characters aren’t just to give queer people characters to look up to, they’re also to show other people that we are humans.
This goes for adults too. Straight cis adults need to push themselves and reach beyond their comfort zones if they haven’t already. And even if they have, they need to keep doing it. Cis queers need to push beyond into trans literature and entertainment. When’s the last time you read a book by a trans author? Seen read a comic by a trans artist? They’re out there and ready to be found. Ready to be supported.
Most important of all, exposing younger people to the queerness around them may help them understand themselves better. I know that if I had queer role models when I was in school that I would have had more confidence in myself. Maybe I’d have even come out at a younger age.
Queer people need to be respected, they need to be empathized, and they need to be given hope.
You have got to give them hope.