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We Need LGBTQ+ Safe Spaces & Gun Control Now More Than Ever

By Aviva Doery
In my high school, it was okay to be gay if you were a guy and performed in the musicals. In my case, as a girl who never took to the stage, the idea of anyone finding out about my sexuality terrified me. There was no ‘safe space’ at school, no Gay-Straight Alliance nor any mention of LGBTQ+ inclusiveness at all. And let’s be real, health class didn’t pertain to me at all! 
During the fall of my senior year, I fell for a curious girl who sang alto with me in the choir. When we walked down the hallways to class, I never dared to hold her hand or link my arm in hers. In one stroke of insane bravery, I pulled her into an empty stairwell to steal a kiss and immediately ran away out of fear of being seen. It wasn’t until I went away to college that I discovered what safe-spaces for the LGBTQ+ community were, and their importance. Developing my own identity within these spaces, some of which already existed and some of which I created, helped me to come to terms with my sexuality and to overcome depression. Without those safe spaces, I doubt I would be the strong, self-assured woman that I am today.
As I grew into my sexuality over the past four years I came out to my family, my close friends and eventually became comfortable slipping my sexuality into casual conversation. Today, I have grown into a woman who is confident in her sexuality and is even writing a thesis on lesbian women in Berlin in 1933-45. 
When I woke up yesterday morning, June 12, I turned on CNN as usual to catch up on the news from home during my stay in Berlin. I was making my morning cup of coffee when breaking news of a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando came on. I felt the familiar chill tickle my spine and the churn of my stomach tighten as I listened. Another mass shooting.  My mind raced back to the auxiliary gym of my old high school, to green and white ribbons on the trees by my childhood house and the cry of a mother who has had a child taken violently from our world. To understand my initial reaction to this news, I have to take you back to the winter of my senior year.
On Friday, December 16, 2012, a man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and massacred 20 children and six adults. I was volunteering at the annual blood drive in the auxiliary gym of Masuk High School in Monroe, Connecticut, when the principal came over the loud speaker and announced that the school was in lock down and, no, this wasn’t a drill. Everyones eyes were glued to their phones and ears to the radio to find out what was happening. A shooter, in Newtown, at the high school, no the elementary school… 5 dead, 12 dead… 26 dead.
In the following weeks, I attended memorials in my community, hung ribbons on trees around town and sat Shiva (the Jewish mourning ritual) with my hebrew school classmates, one of whom had lost his little brother that day. It took me several months to come to terms with the reality that such horror could happen in my community. It is a reality that still haunts me. Loud popping sounds in public spaces make me jump more than others around me. For six months following the shooting, I could not be around groups of small children without crying. I have never returned to a blood drive.
And now my worst nightmare has been realized within the same safe spaces that enabled me to become who I am. The introduction of gun violence into safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community is devastating. In this way, the shooter took not only the lives of 50 innocent people but also destroyed the very essence of safety created by LGBTQ+ meeting places. I feel sick to my stomach, realizing that those who survived may never again feel safe in an LGBTQ+ bar or club. It feels like every other day another individual, race, religion and many other groups of people are affected by gun violence. But yesterday, I was again victim to the mindset of “It could never happen to me.” Those were my family members in that club. Individuals who, like me, understand the importance of safe spaces for self-expression and they too, like me, now are victims of gun violence.
As a young woman who is an active member of the LBGTQ+ community and has experienced the devastation of gun violence, I felt compelled to share my point of view.
I believe that this massacre only further emphasizes the need for an increase in safe spaces and for education to fight bigotry. Homophobia did not end when same-sex marriage was legalized. Anti-discrimination laws are needed to protect members if the LGBTQ+ community, not exclude them from living true to themselves. Changes need to be made and not only for civil equality but also for public safety. While I understand that there are seemingly limitless boundaries against increased gun control, there are steps that need to be taken and enforced to ensure safety. I am not claiming to hold the resolution to gun violence, but to me it seems wrong that we are pretty much the only country in the world where being able to own an assault rifle (which is not practical for hunting or for close-range self-protection) is more valuable to some than the lives of 49 innocent human beings.
While my community, be it geographical or sexual, has been victim to gun violence yet again, I will continue to choose love. I will not let an event like this stop me from entering and creating safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. I am coming out against hate. I am coming out against gun culture. I am coming out in support of the families and friends who lost loved ones. I am coming out in support of the Orlando community and my fellow LGBTQ+ members worldwide. I am coming out to say that I am proud of my sexuality and I will not be intimidated by bigotry. I am coming out to show that I will always choose love!
Alaina Leary is an award-winning editor and journalist. She is currently the communications manager of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books and the senior editor of Equally Wed Magazine. Her work has been published in New York Times, Washington Post, Healthline, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Boston Globe Magazine, and more. In 2017, she was awarded a Bookbuilders of Boston scholarship for her dedication to amplifying marginalized voices and advocating for an equitable publishing and media industry. Alaina lives in Boston with her wife and their two cats.