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We’re Guilty: Orlando’s Blood Runs Fresh through America’s Stripes

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By Josh Inocéncio 

Can I grasp his hand as we stroll through the zoo? Can I rest my head on his shoulder as we drag along Austin’s streets in our Uber? Can I lean in on the sidewalk, press his hips to mine, and taste the spice on his tongue after dinner? 

Flash. Gay couple’s faces smashed in Philadelphia, blood stains the city streets that allegedly gave us our freedom. Thirty mugged or beaten in Oak Lawn, police slide the case files to the bottom of the stack. Forty-nine—49—slaughtered in Orlando, phones ringing and vibrating as their bodies waste on the club floor.

Dreams for public affection dissolve into dust.

Quotidian hopelessness as I brush away sleep from my eyes and read in the news that queer people and their friends are dead after dancing, connecting, kissing, embracing, laughing, fighting, nestling, breathing like any other night at a gay Orlando nightclub. Immediately recalling President Obama, just days before at a PBS town hall, pleading for Congress to halt people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns. Unfortunately, his words were prescient. Again.

I was a Floridian. That’s my second home. That’s where I came out as gay. That’s where I loved for the first time.

Now, resurrected fear to walk down the street. Rolling thoughts.

  1. Reconsider Houston Pride plans.
  2. Take down that rainbow dog tag in my car.
  3. Hide that LGBT history book in my bag.
  4. Repeat.

The worn nationalism ruins dialogue on social media. Everyone scrambles to needle blame into sacrificial surrogates while mothers weep on CNN for missing children. Suddenly, people who I’ve witnessed bash gays with their words are now propping them up as allies for their own ignorant causes. The regular “us vs. them” floods the far right. They capitalize on dividing communities. Muslims vs. LGBT, Republicans vs. Muslims, Americans vs. Terrorists. Again.

I’m not going to preach against Islamaphobia. I’m not going to lobby for gun control. I’m not going to lament the CDC’s ban on gay male blood. The best of us already know what to do. The worst, they already elected not to listen.

The factors of this new carnage replay in my head:

Hate crime. Terrorist attack. It’s against LGBT people. Mass shooting, deadliest in history. Can’t be the deadliest, can it? Right-wingers claim it’s Islamic extremism, eschew past hatred. The double standard that Islam is violent against homosexuality but evangelical Christianity isn’t. Nurses and doctors need blood, but gay men can’t give to their own. We can’t even help out our own. But there are Muslims crowding to donate blood, during Ramadan, when their bodies are already weak from fasting.

We achieved marriage equality a year ago. We thought things were changing. We roared at Pride parades, we felt safe. We believed the Stonewall days were over.

Hours later, I scroll through the names. Latina/o names. So. Many. Latina/o. Names. Not a coincidence, he shot them on Latin night. Add another layer to the massacre. LGBT people and Latinas/os, the most hotly demonized demographics in this year’s presidential campaigns.

The mass shootings in this country are never a crude “us vs. them,” but this round is different from Paris, Charleston, San Bernardino. Multiple minoritarian communities are targeted. While major media outlets and prominent politicians shadow over the “gay issue” while reporting or offering condolences, the LGBT community refuses to stew in silence. This wasn’t a generic attack on Americans, but on queer people across the gender and sexuality spectrum. This wasn’t a generic attack on Americans, but Latinas/os.

Don’t let the right tell you otherwise. Don’t let them soil our grief.

They get us in our safe spaces. In nightclubs. In abortion clinics. In black churches. Where we find solace, they find refuse.

More names appear. I replay Obama’s PBS response to the gun owner. I donate $20 to Equality Florida’s GoFundMe page. I sign up to volunteer for Everytown for Gun Safety. Their page suggests I write my local politicians. I heave. Ted Poe, Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick—their commitment to expunging the roots of this problem is empty. They offer moments of silence, condolences for victims’ families. Their wordless response Sunday and they’re hateful rhetoric every other day are the greatest violence.

They’re culpable in Orlando’s events. Omar Mateen is the perpetrator in this, but he didn’t operate alone. Maybe he was motivated by a twisted interpretation of Islam, but he grew up in America; he didn’t identify as a Muslim. Hate doesn’t appear from nowhere.

To the House and Senate Republicans who refuse to pass sensible legislation prohibiting suspected terrorists from buying guns or protecting LGBT employees in the workplace, Orlando’s blood is on your hands.

To Mr. Trump gargling hatred and churning violence on the campaign trail toward gays and Latinas/os, Orlando’s blood is on your hands.

To Gov. Pat McCrory and his coalition undermining transgender rights across the United States, Orlando’s blood is on your hands.

To evangelical pastors who spend their Sundays condemning gays to hell, frightening closeted children, and radicalizing their parents, Orlando’s blood is on your hands.

I read the victims’ names aloud. But everyone is responsible, too. The hateful rhetoric must end. The need for compassion and respect is urgent, as we edify yet another queer memorial.

Today, my brothers and sisters, we remain angry, hurt, dejected. And that’s okay. Let’s use our rage to represent and fight back for healing, solidarity, progress. Let’s continue to love in a time of hate.

To the lips I’ll never kiss, to the bodies I’ll never embrace, to the hair I’ll never smell, to the hands I’ll never hold, we won’t forget you. Remembering you is our survival.

Submit your own personal experiences surrounding the tragedy in Orlando by emailing [email protected]artmagazine.com.

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Josh Inocéncio

Josh Inocéncio is a frequent contributor to OutSmart Magazine, a playwright, and a freelance writer. A Houston-area native, he earned a master’s degree in theatre studies at Florida State University and produced his first play, Purple Eyes, before returning to Texas last May.
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