My experience one year ago was similar to many of the speakers at Huizenga Park on Sunday, June 11 who recalled that fateful day. Waking up to many of my friends in Orlando checking in as “safe” on Facebook was a heart wrenching thing to live through. Gradually, more and more information broke through about Pulse, a gay nightclub in the area. My heart sank knowing that I had queer friends in the area and I held my breath waiting for them to respond with a “safe” check-in. The idea of “safe” in these spaces I hold onto dearly for a sense of community was attacked that day.
(Source: Jon Daniel on Facebook)
In a recent report by Newsweek, a study has shown that saying “it gets better” to queer youth without giving them any guidance to make it better, actually has less beneficial, if not harmful effect. To what extent the world has gotten better since the horrific attack at Pulse Nightclub is, I cannot attest to.
The Equality Rally for Pride and Unity began with a light association of people that gradually gathered into hundreds in this park in Downtown Ft. Lauderdale. A mostly unassuming stage with an American flag center-stage flanked by rainbow bars in an open air bandshell served as the hub to which vendors, 97.3 FM, and the ACLU alongside other human rights organizations made their claim. One speaker lamented that even though the organizers had reached out to the local Black Lives Matter chapter, they could not send a representative to appear.
Amongst the bevy of rainbow flags and material were representatives from important local organizations like SunServe and Stonewall Museum strewn across the lawn. Yet, with the presence of FLPD, corporate sponsorship, and a few leftover Uterus hats in the crowd, it would be apparent what kind of event this was. Serving as the emcee for the speakers was Ft. Lauderdale District 2 Commissioner Dean J. Trantalis who would command the stage with the poise and casual ease of a politician well aware of his audience being key campaign demographics.
While performances were a bit on the softer side with a former The Voice contestant flail through a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”, a track that has become a snake losing its venom in recent years as an obvious choice for the pageantry and overbearing corporate presence of modern Gay Pride rallies. As well as, The South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus’ immense harmonies and talents being relegated to performing the anthem to a nation that once refused to acknowledge the personhood of queer people.
A Performer at The Equality Rally
The South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus
Moments such as Latinos Salud bringing friends and family of the victims of Pulse to the stage, in white shirts holding up images of their lost loved ones evoked a visceral reaction. These 49 people were dehumanized in life in a senseless massacre, and in their passing and seeing their faces along with their names confronts the audience with the reality of the situation. The shooter targeted the club on Latin Night. 94% of the victims were Latinx. Latino Salud drove home the importance of intersectionality within their community and the necessity of empowerment.
In a scene that could not have even been written on the best episode of Veep or House of Cards, disgraced former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz showed her face to a crowd of LGBT people on the main stage and told them how we need to unite. Wasserman-Schultz’ tenure as DNC chair came to a halt when it was revealed that she had actively undermined the presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders revealed through WikiLeaks and she resigned. She drove this sense of “unity” that was reiterated well along the campaign trail as voters were now forced to decide between two harsh realities for president- A Republican, and Donald T*ump.
Following her, a representative for a homeless advocacy group “Food Not Bombs” took the stage. Announced simply as Elijah (they/them) by Commissioner Trantalis, they walked on adorned with face glitter, a black tank top, and a truly sickening rose petal skirt. If you hadn’t known any better you’d swear they were at Coachella. Elijah’s speech was slow burning and as they had revealed to me, they were apprehensive at first to speak. The quiver in their voice and the occasional cracks in their presence through giggling showed not a lack of preparedness but instead a resilience to make a statement in a place where it may not entirely be convenient. Their speech explicitly called out the City of Ft. Lauderdale’s “Homeless Hate” laws as well as, anti-LGBT violence that Elijah had witnessed firsthand at the hands of the FLPD. The fact is a 40% of homeless youth in shelters nationwide identify as LGBT, many shunned from homes that could not accept them for living their true, authentic lives. From the crowd, Trantalis could be seen nervously pacing back and forth, having to prepare for a potential PR nightmare on his hands and ready a speech. As the “Wrap It Up” music attempted to usher Elijah off the stage and audience members yelling “this is a UNITY rally!” I knew that was the radical statement I had been waiting for.
So can I say that it truly “gets better”? I don’t know. But I do know that empty sentiments like encouraging people to register to vote only go so far. Change cannot come from within a system that is already corrupted. Only one year removed from the Pulse Massacre, the rise of white nationalists has gripped sections of LGBT people into supporting a movement that throws the originators of the gay rights movement under the bus. Weak liberalism and corporate democracy has lead to one of the most openly racist, sexist, anti-Gay presidents in decades holding political office (and yes I am counting Ronald Regan). In nations like Chechnya, ethnic cleansing and less explicit forms of queer oppression are taking place and all deemed perfectly legal.
The movement “Gender Is Over! (If You Want It)” has always been the ideological group I align myself with in queer politics. Their bold typography stated in black and white clothing makes the imperative that the ideas and roles of gender have become outdated and change must come from within a community as well as, individuals. I wore the same mesh “Gender Is Over!” tank top that day the same reason I wore it one year ago on the day of the massacre. Toxic masculinity and queer bashing go hand in hand. The only way violence against LGBT people and the recognition of personhood can ever come to be, is destroying old patriarchal views of society, sexuality, and especially gender. I remember being angry that day. I remember my heart in the pit of my stomach. I remember finally being ready to no longer feel the need to hide anymore. Maybe this is what it means to “get better.”
The ethos of gay pride is built on queer liberation, not pinkwashing or rainbow capitalism. I could care less for the “All Lives Matter” sentimentality in Trantalis’ speech, or pride flags made by Abercrombie and Fitch, queer resistance is existence. Corporations heralded by CEOs who fund Super-PACs for anti-LGBT legislators (i.e Coachella founder , Urban Outfitters) will willingly throw queer people under the bus until they no longer become a viable demographic to shell out $300 rainbow colored jeans to. The Stonewall Riots, were started (unlike how a certain filmmaker would like to acknowledge) by Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman and other queer, mostly POC retaliating against police to send a message to the world, and that message will not be bought or sold by any corporation or CEO. Queer liberation is not a party everyone will feel invited to, but if you want it, it will be a battle well fought.