Sunday, June 12, 2016

Why Congress is Responsible for Gun Violence and Homophobia

It's hard to put into words the feelings I've had listening to reports from Orlando and reading reactions online.  Part of me, like with every instance of mass gun violence in America, wants to quickly dole out the facts and hope that it catches on to a chorus of voices that seems immune to such things.  I want to point out that Congress takes a part in the blame for these people's deaths, because they have done nothing to stem this tide.  I want to point out that almost every Republican in the Senate and House (and yes, a few Democrats who also deserve admonishment) have voted repeatedly against banning assault weapons and expanding background checks.  Prayers and condolences are nice, but unacceptable from public figures who have power to make real change.  Change to increase background checks, close the "Charleston loophole," tighten the gun show/internet sales loophole, increase penalties for those who illegally supply guns, and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.  And I'd point out for those who feel like there's no difference between the two presidential candidates, keep in mind all of those viewpoints are from either Hillary Clinton's own website or views she's expressed in town hall interviews, while this morning Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, basically only had "I told you so" to say about the events in Orlando.

But I feel like this isn't doing any good anymore.  These same stats and realities were shared after Aurora, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Fort Hood, and countless other high-profile mass shootings, and Congress took no action.  The only way that they will hear you, truly hear you, as a citizen, is for you to vote, and in particular vote out incumbents who don't support common-sense gun control legislation.  That's it-that's the only way.  Look at how your legislator has voted on the above issues (if they're a sitting member of Congress, it should be easy to find), and if you want to stand against them, speak with your ballot-that's about all we have left at this point as calls for Congress to do something have fallen on deaf ears.  I plan on doing that this fall, voting against my Republican congressman for a state senator that has stood up for meaningful gun control legislation.  I encourage you to do the same, and make your voice heard if you feel passionately about this issue, and to find others who aren't voting or who are waffling between two sides to value not just the presidential election (though that's important too), but also those down-ballot races that gun control advocates need to win to actually make this happen.

However, I want to touch on something else here, something troubling to me in the reporting.  I saw a number of media outlets report on the race of the man who committed the heinous crimes in Orlando, but not nearly as many spoke about the fact that the most violent mass shooting in American history was perpetrated at a gay bar in the middle of Pride.  This aspect of this shooting matters, particularly as it appears (based on interviews with the man's family) that he had harbored deep-seated hatred against the gay communities of Orlando.

This is not the first time that a mass shooting in the past few years has clearly been motivated by bigotry, as we saw that in both Charleston and the attacks on Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs last November, but it's time we admit that this bigotry is being egged on by the same conservative politicians who are today offering their condolences.  In the past year we've had to endure multiple different very public, homophobic or transphobic debates around "bathroom bills" and "religious freedom bills"-these debates, particularly in a public forum, condone violence and hatred against LGBT people.  "You hate gay people?"-use religion as a cover.  A gay person is getting married and you think that's disgusting-claim it's you're first amendment right to ban them from celebrating their wedding.  A trans person wants to use the bathroom of their gender identity-just call them a pervert and claim it isn't safe for them to do it, even though you have no evidence whatsoever to support your position.  That's what these debates have amounted toward, and they have perpetuated discrimination against LGBT individuals simply because an entire political party wants to stand against what is clearly if you follow the principle that "all citizens are created equally."

As a gay-identified person, here's my truth when it comes to equality and "safe spaces"-they don't really exist.  I go on dates with men and I don't hold hands with them in a movie theater until it's dark outside.  I don't ever kiss my boyfriend in public, ever.  I am constantly on high-alert around people when I am on a date or when I'm walking through a parking ramp with another guy or leaving a gay bar and going to my car.  This is not because of shame or fear of someone finding out I'm gay.  Years ago, when I was first working my way out of the closet that was what caused it but now it's only out of fear for my personal safety.  Fear of being someone who is beat up for being gay, is threatened or attacked for being gay.  This is something that every LGBT person has to deal with in public spaces, because it's not only a reality of our childhoods (where an average high school experience from me was having to listen to two guys telling me they wanted to tie all of the f-words (and not fuck) to the back of their truck and drag them through town), but of today.  The world does not feel safe for LGBT people, which is why this is particularly demoralizing.  That lack of safety, that need for community, is what makes Pride so important and why it's particularly horrifying to see, in a place that is meant to be a celebration, violence perpetrated against our community in such a way.  But it's not just the man holding the gun who caused this sort of violence to happen-it's the people who allowed that hatred to seem rational and who allowed him such easy access to that weapon who should also feel the brunt of the blame.

What this means for me going forward-I don't know.  Part of me wants to send a message by going to Pride this year, that rainbow flag emblazoned on my favorite shirt, but there is the back of my mind that will be on constant alert.  I will be wondering "is it going to happen again, is it going to happen today?" and any enjoyment or celebration will be masked by fear.  It's a conundrum onto itself, one no one should have to make, and made all the more saddening because politicians and Congress will do nothing no matter how obvious the problem is.

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