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Even in Liberal Bubbles, Gays Have Grown Accustomed to Fear

Even in Liberal Bubbles, Gays Have Grown Accustomed to Fear

Even in Liberal Bubbles, Gays Have Grown Accustomed to Fear

Seamus Kirst built an "LGBT-friendly" life in New York, but as a gay man, he's still frightened.

When I first heard of the massacre in Orlando, I tried to settle myself by saying it wasn't something truly new, only the most horrific example of something very old. As an LGBT person, when friends and family called to offer solidarity, I tried to seem unafraid: This is a potential reality, I told them, that we live with every day.

I was lying to myself. Badly.

For an LGBT person, the Orlando massacre strikes deep. I know that I am upset when I start walking and can't stop. Late Monday night, after going to the vigil outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City, I left my friend's apartment and headed toward the subway. When I reached the station I just kept going. I turned in the direction of the Hudson and sped through the West Village. It was dark and quiet, and my mind was racing, so I made my legs race even faster. It was as if my mind were telling my body not to slow down; whatever you do, don't stop. If I paused, I would have to really process what had happened to the victims; I would have to process the reaction I was having deep inside.

When I realized I couldn't run forever, my mind surrendered to my body and got I on the subway back to Brooklyn. I started to allow myself to feel. Tears welled in my eyes. The massacre was so horrific. It shattered my illusion of safety. It made me realize that, despite my denial, I live with a fear based on my sexuality: a fear of rejection, a fear of judgment, a fear of violence.

I'm sure you would be hard-pressed to find an LGBT person who, on some level, doesn't. I'm sure most LGBT people would admit there are many situations in which they're self-conscious. Most queer people I speak to have been called a "faggot" or some other slur at some point in their lives, or they've listened in silence while people say heinous things about queer sexuality. Many people have been beaten or shunned; ridiculed and tokenized.

Many LGBT people must deal with racism, classism and sexism in addition to homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia.

For queer people, our sexuality dictates our life decisions. What college is gay-friendly? In what city will I least likely be subjected to harassment or hate crimes? In what career will I find people who are welcoming? What religion won't require me to condemn myself?

When I finished high school in Syracuse, N.Y., I went to Brown University -- a school that has a reputation for being wildly liberal and having a thriving LGBT community. I graduated and moved directly to New York, one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities. I aspire to a career in entertainment. None of this is haphazard, a coincidence.

When you look at the great American cultural landscape, you really couldn't build a life that is more "LGBT-friendly." Yet I am still frightened. How can you not be in a world, in a country, where so many people hate you for your very existence?

We love to point out how Russia violates LGBT rights, but I am afraid here in the United States.

How can you not be afraid in a United States where Marco Rubio, while running for president, threatens to find a way to reverse marriage equality should he take office? How can you not be afraid in a United States where Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal spoke at the National Religious Liberties Conference in Des Moines? That conference was headed up by Kevin Swanson, a man who advocates the execution of gay people based on his interpretation of the Bible; a man who called for mass extermination onstage; a man who has advocated for Christians to make signs that say gay and lesbian couples should be put to death and then bring said signs to queer weddings.

How can you not be afraid in a United States where trans activist Pearl Love said that she didn't realize that being assaulted by a woman on the subway simply for being trans was bad, because she is so frequently abused? How can you not be afraid by a United States where men who have sex with men are not allowed to donate their blood? Is our blood so dirty? Is it so contaminated?

How can you not be afraid in a United States where a man walks into a gay club and kills 49 people for simply being who they are?

And please, I beg of you, don't blame Islam for this attack. No, I'm hardly an advocate for Islamic extremism, but I am also in direct opposition to right-wing Christian extremism as well. Only one of those forces has played a much larger part in creating the oppressive and violent culture of homophobia, transphobia, racism, etc. that plagues our country. I'll give you a clue: It's not the former.

Forty-nine lives were taken last weekend. Let's not allow these men and women to die in vain. It is time to rise in power. We can no longer tell LGBT youth that "it gets better" or that "love always wins," because these sentiments are not promised. True? Sure, life can get better for LGBT people, and love can certainly win, but only if we fight.

So yes, let's push for gun control, and certainly let's improve and expand our mental health system. But, also let's fight for the end of homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, etc. Allies, stand up for the LGBT community whenever you can. Not just this week, while the pain of the massacre is fresh in your minds, but forever. Queer brothers and sisters, plant your feet and stand your ground. Whether it's calling someone out for saying "faggot" or using your vote to keep bigots out of office, whether it's voicing that you don't care who uses which bathroom or stepping in when you see hate crimes or harassment on public transportation, every small step will help.

The victims of these shootings are not statistics, and they are not negotiating tools for policy. They were people, with hopes and dreams. They loved and were loved.

Please. Not just this week, but forever: Say their names.

Rest in Peace:

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Seamus-kirstx100SEAMUS KIRST is a writer in New York City. He is currently working on a memoir about teenage substance abuse, and his work has recently been published by The Guardian,, Upworthy, and Vice's Broadly Channel.

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