It's mid-June. Tomorrow is Flag Day 🇺🇸 where we commemorate the adoption of the flag of the United States. June is also Pride month 🌈 where LGBTQ+ communities commemorate the ongoing struggle for equality within our society. One of the reasons that Pride month happens in June is that this is the month when the Stonewall riots occurred in New York City in 1969. In those riots, the police were the problem. They attacked a gay nightclub and sparked days of rioting.
This year, the police came to the rescue and managed to save many people. I want to acknowledge their efforts. I also want to acknowledge the lives of the 49 victims killed and the 53 injured in the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando yesterday. I only know a couple of people who live in Orlando (my first boyfriend and my best 'man from my wedding). Neither was at the club and neither was injured. Still, the attack felt very personal. In my life, I've heard too often about LGBTQ+ people who were physically harmed for living their lives. Most of the time, these attacks happen to people who are doing nothing to harm anyone. They are simply living their lives with an integrity and authenticity that should be admired, not reviled.
It has been 23 years since I first told someone that I am a gay man. In that time, I've grown more comfortable with myself and more open about letting people know who I am. I was never a club-goer. I also never really frequented bars. It's just not in my personality. Still, I've lived for decades with a sense of "looking over my shoulder". I've never comfortably held my husband's hand in public. I won't even contemplate kissing my husband in public (I've done so once that I'm aware of: my wedding). These acts feel too dangerous. There is no way to know when someone will witness a simple gesture of love between me and my husband and decide to physically attack us.
Things have undoubtedly gotten better since 1998 when Matthew Shepard was attacked but it is clear that living "out loud" as a member of the LGBTQ+ community is still a courageous act. I have chosen to live my life in the open by telling people about my husband when they ask about my family and by supporting the LGBTQ+ community within the LIS field and at Virginia Tech. Working on diversity and inclusion issues and LGBTQ+ issues in particular makes me a target. I've always known this was the case. Still, I choose to do so because the only way to make the world safer is to address these issues. I know I won't solve the problem of bias motivated violence. I simply have to do my best to educate those around me about the realities of living as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in this society.
Even with the right to marry each other, LGBTQ+ people are not equal in this country. We are the targets of bias related incidents of both verbal and physical abuse. Members of the community are more likely to attempt or commit suicide (I did and I am far from alone in that) and are more likely to be murdered for being themselves. The important thing to realize is that an LGBTQ+ person can be minding their own business and still provoke violence against themselves simply by existing as an authentic version of themselves. That is what happened in Orlando. The people at the club were living their own lives and were attacked from the outside. They were not targeting their attacker. They were not trying to force their views on him. They did not even know he existed. Yet, their simple existence was so offensive to him that he chose to attack one of the safest places our society offers to members of the LGBTQ+ community. When even our safe places are targets of violence, it is hard to feel fully equal in society.
Following this event, I wish I was attending ALA Annual in Orlando in a couple of weeks. I hope that my fellow librarians take time away from the conference to support the local LGBTQ+ community in their time of grief and pride. Thank you.
I'm the Community Collections Archivist, Community and Cultural Centers Librarian & Resident Librarian at Virginia Tech.