It’s Time for Us to Take off the Rose Colored Glasses
I remember participating in my first Gay Pride celebration. It was June 1987, and I was fresh out of both college and the closet, and trying to find my way in Washington, DC. When I say participated, what I really mean is watching the parade and then going to JR’s to drink away the rest of the day with hundreds of other thirsty fellas. Yes, I had a good time and even got drunk that day, but it was just as much on life and a feeling that I’d found a safe space in that bar and with those men as it was on beer.
The cold reality, however, is that no gay space is a safe space. Not then, not now. And while the scale of the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando is horrendous and unprecedented, it isn’t the first time some nut has lashed out like that. And it won’t be the last. In fact, until the Pulse massacre, the most infamous act of violence against a gay bar occurred in late June of 1973, when an unknown arsonist set fire to the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans. Thirty-two people were killed.
Most gay folks, I’d wager, have never heard of this. I hadn’t until a few months ago while on a trip to New Orleans where I picked up the book Let the Faggots Burn: The Upstairs Lounge Fire. The incident was mostly ignored by the media. Some of those that did cover it mocked the victims by printing quotes from local citizens such as a cab driver who said he hoped the fire burned their dresses off. One radio host even recommended disposing of the bodies by burying them in fruit jars.
I write this not to be sensational, but to remind myself during this month of Pride that the purpose of Pride—commemorating the 1969 Stonewall bar raid and subsequent riots—is built upon overcoming such prejudice and violence and upon affirming equal rights. It’s all too easy to forget this amidst all the Pride brunches, dances, concerts, and parades. And when the President made history mentioning the gay rights struggle in his inauguration speech, and the Supreme Court affirmed gay marriage, and more than 100 companies called for a repeal of a twisted discriminatory law in North Carolina, why, I’m almost ready to believe we’re in a new era. It’s easy to think that way when you live in progressive places like Washington and Rehoboth.
Then Orlando happens, and a possible tragedy in Los Angeles is narrowly averted, and the hatemongers like Pat Robertson and Donald Trump take to the air to twist the tragedy to fit their personal and political aims. Republicans can’t even bring themselves to utter the word “gay” when expressing their condolences for the victims.
Are things better now than in 1969 or in 1973? Of course they are. Do I believe things will get better? Yes. Do I know what my personal response to this tragedy is going to be? Not yet. But one thing is for certain; I’m taking off my rose colored glasses. The path forward is still dangerous and full of sinkholes and snakes. It will require clear vision to navigate.