The events that occurred in Orlando almost a week ago were so tragic on so many levels. It is horrible that 49 people were murdered. It’s even worse that 49 LGBT+ people were murdered in their place of refuge. It’s worse still that 49 LGBT+ people, many of whom were Black, Indigenous Persons of Colour (BIPOC), were murdered on a Latin night in their place of refuge.
And the hardest pill to swallow is that 49 BIPOC (especially Latinx) LGBT+ folks were murdered by a person of colour who may have had internalized homophobia and racism, on a Latin night in their place of refuge.
That is the definition of a tragedy brought on by a system that was well crafted to oppress non-white, non-cis, non-straight non-male folk.
Of course after a tragedy like this happens, the “prayers” and “thoughts” start to flow on social media. The social media photo filters (which are really from media companies fighting to capitalize on people’s emotions by being “the one” chosen by the masses) show up on everyone’s profiles. The “We are [insert location]”s show up in statuses. And the vigils happen. Like clockwork. Every. Single. Time.
Now I’m not saying that people should not express grief when these things happen. They should. Empathy is one of the best qualities in humanity. But they sometimes lose traction if they happen so frequently that the people who’s prayers are with the deceased, go about their day without actually sending said prayers.
In any case, this tragedy affected many communities. Queer folk, Black Folk, Trans folk, straight folk, but most of all Queer and Trans Latinx and Black folk. Those with the intersectional identities were most affected.
So in my little city in Ontario, Canada, a couple nights ago, a vigil was held. A well intentioned and thoughtful event was developed rather quickly, involving queer folk, straight folk, cis men and women, Muslims and white folk. A good mix of people, with various lived experiences and perspectives. But who was missing? BIPOC, Latinx folk, Trans folk. None of those voices were present (unless you want to count my voice in the sea of voices of choristers who were asked to sing “To My Old Brown Earth” by Pete Seeger). And there was another oversight by the organizers. The names of the victims were not read. The closest thing to acknowledging who the victims were was a poem by Christopher Soto that rightly pointed out that while we may stand in solidarity with Orlando, we are NOT all Orlando, read by the final speaker.
Following the vigil, as you can imagine, a number of BIPOCs, Queer and Trans expressed outrage online at the organizers of the event and as these things usually go, there began a back and forth between some people defending the organizers and people criticizing them. Sitting in my little basement room, I was trying to study but couldn’t after reading all the comments. It bothered me that people weren’t listening to valid concerns being brought forward. But what bothered me even more was that the conversation about the need to centre the victims at vigils like this seemed to be doing the opposite by focusing on the error of the organizers. One poster rightly said that while call out culture can be toxic, it was necessary to say something, and they proceeded to list the names (which I was grateful for). The goal of calling people out on their errors is rarely achieved when nobody is pausing to process what they hear/read before reacting.
So in an attempt to move things in the right direction, this was my response:
“Well said everyone who has expressed their outrage, disappointment and upset at the grave error made by not fully centering the victims at the vigil and not reading their names. I want to validate your experience and closeness to this tragedy; those experiences are mine as well. I too was surprised that the names were not read as that is common practice at vigils. It is extremely important not to lose sight of the identities of the people who were murdered and the implications for those of us whose share the same intersectional identities.
However as one of you rightly said, call out culture can be toxic, especially if what we are really trying to do is educate the person/people who are at fault. The system we live in is a failed system that was built on racism, xenophobia patriarchy and by extension, homophobia and transphobia. It was literally built on the backs of Black, Indegenous Persons of Colour (BIPOC). These are not just buzzwords that are thrown around by those of us with lived experiences.They are current realities that reverberate through the very thread of the system. They are the education system. One that has not only failed to open so many eyes to the truth but has also failed to educate them on how to view the world through a critical lens so they can find the truth for themselves. Those of us who the system was built to oppress (and continues to oppress) are forced to look through that critical lens and as such, the shortcomings of others are very quickly apparent.
So yes, the event had a MASSIVE oversight. I don’t believe it was intentional at all. In fact, some effort was made the the organizers after it was mentioned to them. But as was pointed out, if the organizers were truly not able to find members of the community who were most affected and were able to speak (BIPOC Queer and Trans; especially Latinx folk), then we aren’t truly united in solidarity. And that is the real issue here. The system has succeeded in dividing us even though we may have something in common. Something that was supposed to be a unifying experience is dividing us even more. That being said, we need to remember that the goal of social justice is much too large for one group or a few individuals to take on. If we truly want equity in the distribution of opportunity, wealth, and privilege, it’s going to take all of us. In a UNITED front.
For us to be united, those of us who are more aware of the dangers of the system we live in need to balance our calling out with Calling In. We can’t solely call people out on their mistakes and leave them out there. That’s akin to aversion therapy. It may cause them to stop, but are we really creating allies? Let’s truly reflect on this. The system has failed all of us and that is why people make these mistakes without understanding the implications. So we also have to try to communicate with people and not just the character they represent based on our experiences. Broad strokes rarely get at the details. And it’s a holistic approach to tackling those details that will move us forward.
And those who are called out, you REALLY have to stop yourself from a knee-jerk reaction to defend yourself. Take your blinders off for a second so you can see the experiences of those who are in your community. You are not being called out just for the sake of it; we aren’t just being jerks. There are genuine experiences behind the words of BIPOC folks. Take a moment to pause and listen to them before you react. That takes little to no effort in comparison to the complex emotions that BIPOC folk have to wade through to get to a point where they can speak up about injustices. But you can’t stay silent after you’ve listened. You need to validate the experiences as theirs and learn from them. That builds bridges that work to unify us.
All that being said, I’m grateful the names of the victims have been posted. Let us remember that the vast majority of them were Black, Brown, Latinx Queer and Trans folk. Let us centre them. But also, let us remember that at the end of the day, many of the organizers do share an aspect of the intersectionality of the victims. Devaluing their experiences while seeking validation of our own is hardly the way to go if we are TRULY seeking social justice and equity. We are all fighting against injustice but we have to remember that the fight is so much harder and longer for some of us than others. And it is that fight that needs to be centred especially when we are the victims. So white queer folk, I believe your lived experiences were very much centred last night. It’s time for you to stand with us as we centre the Black, Brown, Latinx, Immigrant, Queer and Trans victims. Shout out to the speaker who started us in that process last night with the poem by Christopher Soto.
As it was not done last night, let’s work together down the list of the victims and acknowledge them. I’ll start at the top
And start at the top we did. Shortly after, people did research and started to share the stories of the victims along with their pictures. And I was content.
The moral of the story is that peace can never be built out of dissent. We need to work through our emotions and tackle the real issues in a holistic and balanced manner, validating the voices of everyone around the table.
Read about the victims and their stories. #SayTheirNames