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It's Still 'Us Versus Them,' But Who Are They?

 John Duran
West Hollywood Councilman John Duran

A false rumor after L.A. Pride, which said federal officials had asked organizers to shut it down, highlights how the foes of the LGBT community have changed since Stonewall.


Most news coverage of last week's Los Angeles vigil for Orlando centered on Lady Gaga, who made a surprise appearance to mourn and read the names of the 49 people who died in the mass shooting at the Pulse gay bar.

However, with all due respect to the bisexual "Born This Way" singer, the event's most electrifying speech by far came earlier in the evening from a West Hollywood councilman.

In his remarks, John Duran, clad in the red T-shirt of the Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus, referenced the many national tragedies LGBT Americans have endured -- from the assassination of Harvey Milk, to the AIDS crisis, to passage of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy -- as evidence of our strength in the face of terror.

"We've been terrorized from the school ground playground from the very beginning of our lives," Duran proclaimed to thunderous cheers and applause, concluding that the country should "look to us as an example of what to do in the face of fear."

As an illustration of this strength, Duran cited this year's Los Angeles Pride, which went on as scheduled the same day as the shooting despite fear created by the news. Even closer to home, a man had been arrested in nearby Santa Monica earlier that morning for the unlawful possession of assault rifles, ammunition, and materials that could be used to build bombs. Police said the man was on his way to the festivities. Suddenly it felt like a larger plot could be in the making. Despite these red flags, Pride went on, becoming a symbol of LGBT strength in response to fear.

"Federal government officials suggested that maybe it was best that we cancel the parade and the festival this year," Duran told the crowd of thousands in front of city hall. "We sent a message back from West Hollywood: Maybe you don't understand who we are!"

To hear Duran say Pride's LGBT organizers had actually been advised by the feds to cancel got your attention. Many people in that audience had also been at Pride, and they'd already started thinking of it as an act of rebellion against whoever is trying to silence us -- whether the forces of terrorism, or of hatred, or both. Now Duran's comments made it feel we'd rebelled against a broad misunderstanding or our community and its insistence on being proud of who we are in the face of our oppressors.

For what seems like time immemorial, the federal government and police enforcement have been enemies of the LGBT community. The Advocate was founded in 1967 by organizers responding to a police raid at the Black Cat in Los Angeles. Stonewall is a symbol of our movement's birth and is too a reaction to police. They've raided our bars, denied our rights, and ignored cries for help as we died during the AIDS crisis. Duran tapped this narrative in his speech. In all of the instances he cited, our foe was the system.

But it turns out Duran got carried away by the "us-versus-them" storyline we're so trained to hear. In a follow-up interview with The Advocate, Duran clarified the authorities mentioned in his speech were not federal; on Sunday morning, he was only aware that local "law enforcement was very concerned about the possibility of a terrorist attack that morning at the parade." The mayor of West Hollywood, Lauren Meister, confirmed and said she had no knowledge of federal officials advising L.A. Pride to cancel. That's just not how it happened, and the distinction is worth noting, because it highlights an extraordinary fact: in this fight against terror, the federal government is not playing its usual role as our enemy or obstructionist.

That could still change as the movement's leading lobbying groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, focus now on solutions for gun control. We're going to discover a new set of opponents and supporters.

But in reaction to Orlando, officials are being supportive of the LGBT community, so much so that they've extended resources and protection to help ensure that Pride goes in the face of terror and no more LGBT lives are lost.

This year, it was not an LGBT group that led the march down Santa Monica Boulevard, but rather members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Border Patrol, and the mayor of Los Angeles. Helicopters and police guarded the Pride fairgrounds and the surrounding streets, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of its participants.

On a national level, President Obama condemned the attacks and declared all flags on public grounds be flown at half-mast. Afterward, he and Vice President Biden travelled to Orlando to comfort the survivors. This is in keeping with a pro-LGBT track record, including the denouncement of bathroom bills and the end of the discriminatory military policy, "don't ask, don't tell." Easily, Obama is the greatest ally U.S. president to date.

This is a far cry from Stonewall, or President Reagan, who did not say "AIDS" as thousands died, or even the fight for marriage equality, to which LGBT people encountered bureaucratic opposition at every turn.

Yes, issues of police brutality and systemic injustice still plague historically marginalized communities and communities of color, and the fight to address them is far from over. But the cast of characters in our "us-versus-them" narrative needs to evolve.

Police and the federal government are not the villains in the Orlando shooting, as a recent video showing an emotional reunion between an injured Pulse patron and the police officer who saved him shows. And on Monday the Orlando Police chief made sure to repeat for reporters a timeline he says shows his officers rushed into the club to defend the people there, firing back at the shooter, and putting their own lives at risk to save them.

The national narrative regarding LGBT rights has changed so quickly that this singularity has been taken for granted, but it is worth mentioning: LGBT people have died, and the nation and its president are mourning.

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.
Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.