Pride Month Blogathon: Day 14 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon
by Weezie Wood
I woke up the morning of June 12, 2016, to a text from my cousin asking me if I had seen the news. I was already running late for brunch with my dad and I typed out a quick “No, what’s up?” before heading out the door.
I should have heard the news in the car. By that point in the day, there wasn’t a news or radio station that wasn’t blasting what had happened around 2 am that morning in Orlando, but I wouldn’t learn about the Pulse nightclub shooting until I was standing in my dad’s living room, CNN announcing the climbing death toll as tears streamed down my face.
“I’m so sorry,” my dad kept repeating. “I’m so sorry.”
Later that day, as stories poured from survivors and names and pictures were released of the ones who didn’t survive, I came out to my family. I was only out to my dad, two cousins, and a handful of close friends. I hadn’t even planned on coming out that day but after posting dozens of things on Facebook about the Pulse shooting, queer rights, and the community, one of my cousins messaged me and said “You are dangerously close to outing yourself.” So, I did.
The very next weekend, I went to my first Pride parade. I wore a SOME PEOPLE ARE GAY, GET OVER IT shirt, carried the big rainbow flag, and plastered a smile on my face in order to hide my absolute terror. There was a crackle of fear everywhere I turned, that unnerving thought that what happened in Orlando could easily happen in a small town in Alabama. Added to my already raw nerves from suddenly being the topic of family conversation (I had transformed from the tattooed cousin to the tattooed and gay cousin overnight) and the fact that I didn’t feel like I belonged with any group at Pride, I was a literal mess waiting to happen.
And of course, it happened. His name was Vincent Rutherford (although I wouldn’t know that until a week later when he popped up on my Facebook feed) and he was unremarkable. That’s an important thing to know about Vincent. He wasn’t flashy, he wasn’t over the top… he was a normal middle-aged white guy in a white t-shirt, black shorts, and a blue baseball cap. He passed by me once, flashed a quick smile, and then backtracked to where I was sitting.
“Are you having a good time? You doing ok?”
I started crying. Was I having a good time? Yes. I was outside in the sunshine, I was alive and surrounded by people who were like me in the sense that we all belonged to the same community. Was I ok? Absolutely not. I was still a baby queer who was terrified at being so publicly out and queer when there were cameras around, when my family would see me on the news and make fun of my sexuality, when my dad’s congregation would see me on the same news and say an extra pray for their poor preacher cursed with a homosexual child.
I didn’t say any of that. Between the tears and the anxiety, I couldn’t. But Vincent must have known because he wrapped his arms around me and said, “You don’t have to be scared. You don’t. We’re here.”
That was my first and last time meeting Vincent. On April 3, 2017, Vincent passed away after a short, hard battle with cancer. Even though I only knew him for that one single moment in time, Vincent became the face of the LGBTQAI+ community to me. He was everything I wanted the community to be—brave, selfless, cheery, and always ready to push forward to ensure a better tomorrow.
Now that he’s gone, the person I saw as the embodiment of the community, I’m worried about what’s going to happen to us.
As the older generation of the Queer community dies out, I see our bonds getting looser. Every day on Twitter, Tumblr, and other social media sites, I see Queer people trying to define what “Queer” actually means for other people. The younger community seems more interested in labels and gatekeeping than the community itself. We are rapidly losing what it means to be a cohesive, caring group and that’s terrifying when we step back and look at what’s happening around us.
The United States is under an administration that is set on stripping Queer people of their rights. Across the globe we’re hearing reports of Queer people being rounded up and put in jails, in concentration camps for simply being Queer. In 2016, 27 trans people were murdered in the US. Those were just the reported ones. How many more were killed and not reported or were misgendered so their deaths wouldn’t be considered a hate crime? How many were killed worldwide? How many were brutalized?
My generation seems so caught up in trying to label what is Queer and what isn’t that we’ve lost sight of the larger picture of the community. I see this at every LGBTQAIP+ event I go to. Lesbians in one group, cis white gay men in another, and the rest of us struggling to feel like we belong in a community that is supposed to be our safe space.
The first LGBTQAI+ event I went to after Pride was a Queer women’s group called We Are One. The organizers are two older lesbian women who worked tirelessly to make sure everyone felt included and told me more than once that everyone was welcome into their group—women and femme nonbinaries alike. I was unsure of my presence there since it seemed to actually be a lesbian event and I’m neither a lesbian nor do I identify as a woman. My friend, who is also nonbinary, went with me and while they use they pronouns and identify as femme, they are not comfortable dressing as such in public. While the older women there were welcoming and open to both of us, the women our age actively shunned us. We both tried to engage them in conversation and without any kind of lead in, several of them asked us, “So what are you?” We were made to feel like we were invading their space when this was supposed to be a space for all of us. Because my friend didn’t fit their label of ‘femme’ and because I identify as bisexual, we were pushed to the outskirts of their group. That same night, a trans woman was honored for her work in the community and I overheard that same group of young lesbians both misgender her and question why she was being honored “at a women’s meeting”.
At some point, that will tear the community apart. Safe spaces for Queer people should include all Queer people without policing identities. We have to move past thinking that Queer spaces are only available, only need for cis gays and lesbians. It was trans women and bisexual women who led the initial marches for our freedom.
It feels like cis gays and lesbians had one thing on their minds and that was “gay marriage” and when the US granted those rights, they felt the fight was over. It’s not. I’m not even talking about the fact that we have an administration set on dismantling those rights. The fight has never been over for those of us with different gender IDs and sexualities. I shouldn’t have to fight my own community for a space to exist as a Two-Spirit bisexual ace. There is more than enough room at the table for all us, so why are we still fighting each other for crumbs?
We have an entire generation of Queer kids coming up after us that deserve the same hard work and fight from us that we were blessed to have received from the generations before us. That hard work is going to include creating spaces that are teen friendly and alcohol-free. I have yet to attend a Queer event outside of Pride that wasn’t at a bar or a club. Not only does that exclude people who don’t drink (whether they abstain or are recovering) but it also excludes teens.
Pride should not be the only place where the older generation interacts with the younger. I believe strongly in having Queer teen only meetings and spaces but I also believe that there needs to be a place where we have more face to face interaction with each other. Not only so that we get to know each other and build that sense of community, but also because Queer teens need to know that we’re here for them. That we survived coming out, that we’re thriving and leading full lives, and the same can and will happen for them. It’s important for them to have access to adults who have had the same questions and fears that they are having now—adults who can assure them that things actually do get better.
This isn’t something that will happen overnight. I feel it will be a slow process in waking people enough for them to see that labels and gatekeeping is not important. The next generation should be our focus and we should put aside everything else and keep marching the march other generations started for us. We should all strive to be Vincent Rutherford for someone—a compassionate embrace and caring words when they need it the most.