Hundreds gathered in Glasgow tonight, in Solidarity with the victims of homophobic and transphobic violence in Orlando and around the world.
The vigil, organised by members of the LGBTQIA community, was held in the wake of the Orlando shootings, in which 49 people were killed and 53 injured, many still fighting for their lives. The attack on the Pulse nightclub is the largest mass shooting in modern US history and the most deadly attack on LGBT people in the West in the post-war era.
Those gathering in the Square lit candles and laid flowers in tribute but the overwhelming sense of the event was just being there, together, as a community. The politicians were about, trying to spoil it obviously, but tonight was not about them, it was an evening for contemplation, remembrance and resistance.
Glasgow City Council flew the rainbow flag at half mast, while the Lord Provost, Sadie Docherty, flanked by Council Leader Frank McAveety, laid a wreath (and gave a speech…despite being asked not to speak).
The speaker invited by Free Pride, who organised the vigil, was Joanna Branch, a trans woman from South Carolina. Joanna spoke movingly of the need to refuse to allow this massacre to be rewritten for the benefit of a violent and deeply homophobic and transphobic society.
She also talked about the need to remind ourselves that this violence was directed at members of the latinx community, the victims were predominantly people of colour – a fact reinforced when Joanna read the names of the casualties which have been released so far. Most crucially, she highlighted the need to continue to resist racism, Islamophobia and division and to keep those on the sharp end at the forefronts of our minds, like Queer Muslims, “whose religion is scapegoated and their identities erased.”
What also stood out for me in what Joanna said was that “violence exists on a spectrum.” When you recognise this, trying to understand Orlando as an isolated incident makes no sense.
Normally, reports on gatherings in the Square are short affairs, so at this point, I‘m going to stop reporting, I‘m too angry to pretend to report anymore and I’m not apologising for that either. It was incredibly important that an event like tonight happened and I’m proud of members of my community for giving people the opportunity to stand together. It meant a lot to be amongst friends tonight, it really did…
…but we also need to talk about what’s happened in Orlando and what the media and the political class are up to – because they can’t be allowed to get away with this in our name.
There’s a palpable sense of anger in the air, at the erasure of LGBT voices. It’s not just Owen Jones, restoring himself to hero status for FINALLY standing up for himself before storming off the Sky News set, when he was “corrected” by the presenter, for pointing out this was an attack on LGBT people – it’s also that we’re expected to listen to homophobe after homophobe, from Marco Rubio to the Dalai fucking Lama, pretending to care, now people are dead. We see Theresa May feigning interest, when the Home Office continues to deport LGBT people back to countries where they aren’t safe. If violence exists on a spectrum and your behaviour is on that spectrum, I don’t need to listen to your hairbrain shite about ISIS today, sorry.
This massacre wasn’t contextless; in the last 5 years, hundreds of anti-LGBT laws have been proposed by politicians in the US, a country which sells guns which can fire 45 bullets a minute. As people queued round the block in Florida to give blood, the people missing were…the gay men, since their society refuses to value their blood, even before it’s shed. That’s the first time I cried, thinking those most keen to help their community were the very people being turned away. If there’s a “cultural war” to be fought against homophobia and transphobia, excuse me for looking West and not East, for looking towards those who’re today dressed as sheep, not just at the numerous, yet still somehow “lone” wolves.
The “lone wolf” narrative, still being peddled by many liberals, doesn’t even stand the test of last weekend in the US. Another such “lone” wolf was arrested in LA, believed to be heading to a Pride parade, with guns and explosives – he wasn‘t a Muslim, so he‘ll not be mentioned much again. There may not have been co-ordination between these two men but saying they aren’t “connected” is saying you cannot see what connects them, hatred of LGBT people.
I’m not worried this might “come here”, this has already happened in the UK. In 1999, David Copeland killed 3 people when he detonated a nail bomb inside the Duncan Admiral, a gay club in Soho. Copeland was a member of the BNP, with his previous attacks aimed at Black and Bangladeshi people; his actions only reinforced the sense that those on the margins have a common interest in resisting together. Racist, homophobic and transphobic violence and even murder are still a reality on our streets and in our communities. Those acting like this is something entirely alien are merely highlighting how little they care when it actually happens.
Many people were in the Square tonight asserting the right to spaces free from violence. That’s been one of the most basic demands of the LGBT movement since its inception – yet it’s a demand still constantly sniped at and sneered upon in activist circles, still constantly undermined by our alleged “allies.” So when you’re next attacking safe spaces, maybe consider why recognising the safety of LGBT people matters, and that this safety is frequently endangered by acts of violence, violence which exists on a spectrum.
We must resist the rewriting of our history to suit a narrative of relentless bloodshed and murder – and make no mistake, all the media and the politicians want is to use this event to justify yet more wars. I remember what we were told before Iraq, before Afghanistan: that bombs would bring peace and pride to the world, that killing loads of people would mean more gender and sexual freedom, that we could blow people up without consequence – but it was all lies and there were consequences, just not for those who’ve led us there. The harrowing accounts of LGBT Iraqis being entrapped and murdered by pro-occupation militias, in full view of the US military, cannot be forgotten. Their lives, just like the lives of those in Orlando, cannot have been for nothing. Queer people have never, will never, benefit from siding with those firing bullets at the marginalised, whether those bullets kill LGBT people in a nightclub or kids in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
Our only hope is to keep resisting, to stand together, to continue to make queer solidarity a concrete reality which actively challenges the violence facing LGBT people throughout the world. And we have to speak out, not just against the “wolves,” because they aren’t acting alone – but against those who’ll dawn their wooly rainbow attire for a few days, then go back to promoting this same cycle of violence.
Standing with Orlando mattered today, but a world where the marginalised aren’t continuously punished for the actions of the most powerful is something we need to stand for every day.
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