Even in those countries - like America and the UK - where rights, particularly for lesbian, bisexual and gay people are more advanced, there is an illusion of equality and safety which will never be fully realised until hatred motivated by a person's sexuality or gender identity disappears entirely.
I am fortunate in the UK that we have streets open to us to celebrate Pride events and bars where we feel welcome and accepted as LGBTQ+ people. We have loud, proud voices from politicians to celebrities who support LGBTQ+ communities. I say we are lucky, not because it shouldn’t be the natural order of things, because of course it should. I mean we are lucky because there are countries where falling in love is still a crime; places where being gay, bisexual, a lesbian or transgender is punishable by death. There is a privilege that comes with even being able to live openly, and part of our work has to be to strive to advocate for change on a global scale, to welcome LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers into our local communities and to seek to understand and break down barriers that exist within the communities themselves, because even in countries where things are better that does not mean that people are always safe.
There is still a bravery involved with walking through the streets carrying rainbow flags and dancing in clubs. There’s a bravery in attending candlelit vigils and standing up in public, vocal support of LGBTQ+ rights. Sadly, there’s still a bravery to walking down the street with someone of the same gender, hand in hand. There’s bravery because there is still a threat and a real one from people who can’t stand to see LGBTQ+ people simply being who they are. The fact Pride events are bigger and more celebrated than ever is simply the good fortune of our generation – a reminder of the many people who fought for our right to be out here in the open – not hidden away. At a time when people are thinking about pride and celebration, somebody saw fit to silence that joy, snuff out young lives and to attempt to curb those freedoms. Whatever else the shooter in Orlando wanted, the intent of such attacks is often to attempt to stamp out celebration, silence people being themselves and to leave collective communities cowering beneath the brute force of fear, hatred and violence.
For LGBTQ+ communities, this kind of persecution is not new. The scale of the Orlando attacks was brutal and overwhelming and my heart goes out to everyone touched by the attack. In some way, I believe every LGBTQ+ person and their friends and allies will be touched to a greater or lesser extent by those events. Everyone who has danced in a bar like Pulse and felt that moment of freedom will feel the impact of the attack keenly. This is why, as we dance and celebrate, we can’t simply forget the times when men in their thousands were left to die when governments left people to die in their thousands. We can’t forget the countless occasions when authorities allowed the deaths of LGBTQ+ people to go unpunished in the not so distant past, or the legislative battles - for transgender rights in particular - that are still being fought.
The nature and extent of the persecution faced by LGBTQ+ people may have changed, but the fight is far from over. We cannot and will not just wash our hands of the work that remains and disappear quietly off the back of recent victories. How can we, when there are still people losing their lives just for being LGBTQ+? Homophobic motivated hate crime in the UK saw a sharp rise in 2014 – 2015. There are still politicians in 2016 that display an open ignorance of – and in some cases hostility towards – LGBTQ+ people. For all the communities might have an outpouring of love and support from its members and allies, it also faces threats from those who seek to attack someone just because they are different to that individual’s view of ‘normal’. People continue to be beaten up because they fall in love with someone of the same gender or because they were born in the wrong body.
There’s a powerful resilience within LGBTQ+ communities which gives me an overwhelming sense of hope. Despite the stories which make my heart shatter, there is an overwhelming sense of pride and a powerful collective voice which rises from the ashes, people working tirelessly - often as volunteers - to raise awareness and provide safe spaces for all LGBTQ+ people, particularly those who are most vulnerable to hate crime or who experience further marginalisation due to race and/or economic circumstances. People have, in the past, turned a blind eye to the plights of LGBTQ+ people and through it all, those people have rallied and fought tenaciously for the only right answer. Freedom to be, to live and to love without censure or fear of oppression or violence.
This will be no different. Even as my heart is breaking, I know that hands will be raised high, flags will be carried, candles will be lit and people will gather in support of one another.
Just as we always have. Just as we always will.