Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

The lasting effects of the Orlando mass shooting

BANGOR, MAINE -- 06/13?2016 -- Several hundred people attended a vigil at Bangor City Hall on Monday night for the victims of the attack at an Orlando nightclub on Sunday that left 49 people dead. Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
BANGOR, MAINE -- 06/13?2016 -- Several hundred people attended a vigil at Bangor City Hall on Monday night for the victims of the attack at an Orlando nightclub on Sunday that left 49 people dead. Gabor Degre | BDN

Posted on August 11, 2016 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

By Sunni Baudelaire

In light of the devastating events in the Orlando Mass Shootings and in light of Pride Portland, we are all searching for community. There is fear for personal safety, but there is also a solidarity that exists within this loneliness and grief. We can achieve justice by letting our voices be heard to create a positive change.

I am a self identified queer person working at Studio 55 post Orlando. My transgender partner and I attended the candlelight vigil that occurred on June 21 in support of the victims of this terrible tragedy. As the first speaker from Equality Maine reached the podium, one of my openly gay friends, Maggie Zall, turned to us with tears pouring down her face and stated, “You know what I keep thinking? I hope I didn’t ask all my friends to come here and get shot.”

My queer feminist roommate performs weekly as a drag king in the same bar that I do. We never used to worry about our safety in the bar, beyond an over zealous drunk or two on occasion, who would quickly be led outside. Now, we both watch the door during rehearsals and our cigarette breaks are tense and silent. Neither of us are willing to quit performing, neither of us are willing to go back in the closet – but we are fearful of the notion that our safety is at risk.

The Monday night vigil following the Orlando tragedy was well attended by both the queer community and our straight allies. During this time of loss and grieving many cis gendered, straight people are asking how to be better allies to the queer community. Well, here is my advice: Do your homework. Educate yourself on how to be an advocate. You can’t help anyone if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Listen. Remember that first and foremost this was a hate crime. This was an attack on the Latino and LGBTQ community.

Pride season is past us and many members of the LGBTQ community decided to stay home this year. The Portland Pride Buddy Network was ready to help make everyone’s Pride as safe as possible, but there was still fear in the air.

Many of my friends are also openly part of the LGBTQ community and declined to comment on the tragedy. I understand that being queer has always been dangerous and now it’s potentially deadly. Even more disturbing is the amount of  violence individuals experience in regards to their sexual identity.

“Security as opposed to guns”, said Kenneth Berard, a bartender at Styxx in response to a question regarding potential changes that may take place in the bar. “Pride isn’t about a party…Pride is a remembrance of the struggles of Stonewall…Pride should be proud,” he continued.

Gigi Gabor, a popular drag performer at Styxx, spent the Thursday evening leading up to Pride chasing spilled bingo balls across the crowded nightclub floor, as players hoped for a chance at the Grand Prize of a week long resort vacation to Hawaii.

Kyle Trofatter aka Lady Ginger was in attendance and expressed while nervous as a known drag queen who performs weekly in at both Studio 55 and Styxx, he will not alter his lifestyle. “I love being a drag queen”, he said, the pride in his work obvious in the way his eyes glistened. “I’m not going to let this impact how I perform.”

Marcus Verrill, the owner of Studio 55 and previous owner of Styxx, had similar thoughts about the relationship between Stonewall and the recent Orlando shooting. While he admits that he is still scared, Studio 55 is working hard to make it’s patrons more aware of emergency exit awareness and plans to add more security to the nightclub.

Studio 55 is home to the first and only weekly drag cabaret show in Maine, and while Marcus is vigilant about ensuring his patrons’ safety, he is equally as concerned about the well being of the talented performers that grace the stage every Thursday night. Drag is an art form that is gaining rapid popularity in the Portland area and many performers such as Dehlia Rose and Cherry Lemonade also made an appearance at the Pride parade.

The glitter has been swept off Congress St, the confetti is becoming soggy in Deering Oaks Park, but ensuring LGBTQ safety is even more vital than ever. With Pride behind us and it’s revelers quietly nursing hangovers and sunburns, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down with a local business woman and discuss her thoughts on Orlando, post Pride.

As a transgender woman of color with an advanced degree and a lucrative managing position, my interviewee has defeated staggering odds. According to data collected by the  National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) in 2013,  the majority of victims of hate violence homicides were transgender women.

For multiple reasons I was respectfully asked to protect my interviewee’s identity. According to the NCAVP, transgender people of color are more likely to experience police violence. So, in light of her trepidation, I understand the legitimate fear she has for her safety.

While enjoying brunch I inquired about her Pride weekend and was told that due to safety concerns she had a quiet Pride at home this year. Though she did attend the candlelight vigil held at city hall, my interviewee expressed concerns that the mass violence against the LGBTQ community in Orlando will ultimately be forgotten until a similar tragedy occurs. Violence against members of LGBTQ community happen daily and many people wonder if it is safe to come out of the closet.

She confessed her confusion on how to react to Orlando, referring to the shooting as a “quicksand moment.” She firmly believes that we are not ready to assign blame for allowing this to occur and encourages taking space to mourn before making any quick decisions on how this will impact ourselves and our country.

I was shocked to learn that the Orlando shooting was not mentioned in my interviewee’s place of work, though she did ask that her company remove her website presence in an effort to protect her safety. Moments of human tragedy, especially tragedies that happen on a world stage, have a tendency to bring people together. As an issue pertaining directly to the LGBTQ community, the terror that struck Orlando can be difficult to discuss without outing yourself or someone close to you.

In the end, I can only hope that others will see that our fears will live on. Some people will forget about the Orlando tragedies, push it on the back burner like any other violent news that is broadcasted in the United States, and move on – But that doesn’t mean our community forgets, nor does it mean anyone should forget. From the ashes of this tragedy, we will continue to fight for our rights, our freedoms of expression, our lives as human beings. We must educate and inform the public, regardless of sexual identity, because no matter who we want to be – who we choose to be – we should all be loved and accepted. We should all stand up and fight for what is right.

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