As a Gay Woman, Orlando Shows Me That We're Far From a Post-Hate World

Last night, I went to bed after watching an episode of The L Word with my girlfriend on our couch. As usual, we'd talked about how great Shane is and how annoying Bette can be, and we went to bed laughing. When we woke up this morning, we heard the news about the Orlando shooting.

It's 2016, so I hear a lot of talk about how we're in a post-racist, post-homophobic, post-discrimination world. And that's just not true. 

I heard the words LGBTQ+ in the same sentence as violence and my heart stopped beating. Because I'm happy. Because I'm safe. Because we live in a post-violence-against-marginalized-groups world, don't we? We live in a world where millennials and Generation Z are more open-minded and socially conscious than any other generation. We live in a world where we can have Queer Straight Alliances on campus—even though the history of that very club at my own alma mater included meeting in a dormitory basement, out of sight, not spoken about for fear of threats and physical violence.

I still remember the first time I connected the word "gay" to my identity, and how terrifying that was, even in the early 2000's. I grew up gay in a middle class, LGBTQ-friendly family in the liberal state of Massachusetts, the first state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage. I thought that these demographic facts guaranteed me safety. I mean, we're in a post-discrimination, post-hate world, aren't we?

I still remember the first time I used the word "gay" out loud. I was in the fifth grade. I still remember being cornered outside the playground as kids yelled slurs in my face, and threatened to beat me and rape me to turn me straight. I was only ten years old. I ran home to my mom, whom I hadn't yet come out to, and told her I wanted to drop out of school. When she asked me why, I just shook my head. There were still major television series with anti-gay jokes playing at the time. I swallowed my words. We were living in a post-hate world, but I'd just experienced hate. I didn't even know where to begin.

I still remember the first time I was physically hurt as a result of my sexuality. After months of yelling at me and following me home from school, one of the girls from my seventh grade class hit me, twisted my arm behind my back and threatened to burn me with her cigarette. She told me that being gay was disgusting and that if I came out to my family, I'd be thrown out of my house. That just because my parents had gay friends and co-workers didn't mean they'd still love me. 

I like to think that I'm safe now. After all, it's 2016 and same-sex marriage is now legal across all 50 states. Just last year, my girlfriend and I were adopting cats at an animal shelter and I pretended we were roommates. When the shelter manager asked us, "What happens when you stop living together?" I awkwardly said, "We won't." My girlfriend stepped in and told her that we're a couple. For about five seconds, I was terrified. We live in a supposedly accepting world, but I'm still afraid to tell people I'm dating a woman in case they discriminate against me for a job, a pet adoption or an apartment rental. The shelter manager was happy to hear that we're dating and we were able to pick the cats up in two days. I tried to calm my heart. I told myself, of course she wouldn't discriminate. This is 2016, after all.

Things are getting better, and yet we have so much work to do. Sometimes I think about the queer generations growing up after me, and I think about how wonderful it must be to be raised in a country with legal same-sex marriage across all states. I think about how many more options transgender and genderqueer teens now have to express their identity on social media. I think about how some trans teens have access to hormone therapy, and how there have been shows like Faking It (although it was, unfortunately, recently canceled by MTV). 

But the truth is, we don't live in a post-hate world. We live in a world where lesbians (and other marginalized characters) are still regularly killed off on television. We live in a world where transgender people don't have access to safely use the right bathrooms. We live in a world where you can be legally fired for being LGBTQ+ in many states. We live in a world where many homeless youth are LGBTQ+. We live in a world where marginalized LGBTQ+ people, especially those who are low income, people of color, disabled, mentally ill or transgender, are constantly at a higher risk of violence. 

I almost understand where people are coming from when they want to write off our society as totally LGBTQ+ friendly, with no discrimination left to fight. To be honest, being a queer activist is completing exhausting. Being queer, period, is completely exhausting. I have had the great fortune of many privileges in my life as a queer woman, but I'm also disabled, and I have been the victim of violence due to hate crimes for both being queer and being disabled. And being hated is actually really exhausting. I spent a lot of my 'growing up' years—in elementary school, middle school and, considerably less so, high school—being hated, and hating myself for being a gay disabled woman. And I was told over and over again that we live in a post-hate world, even as people shouted slurs at me on a daily basis and threatened me with physical and sexual violence.

It's ignorant to think that we have no work left to do, that our society is suddenly beyond hatred just because people can marry the same gender in every state. While marriage equality is a marker of progress, it is not the only marker. 

It's easy to be ignorant. Sometimes, even as an intersectional, gay, disabled feminist, I want to be ignorant. I want to say, queer people can get married. Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox have been on major magazine covers. People still, for the most part, don't believe in non-binary genders, asexuality or bisexuality, but we're still doing okay because we're better off than we were before. Being ignorant is safe, and it saves us all from being exhausted by the violence and hate that still exists. It allows us to avoid doing the hard work of activism for equality and social justice issues, and lets us be okay with the status quo.

We need to be talking about these issues, though. We do still need an LGBT Pride Month. We need more representation across all entertainment and news media. We need more LGBTQ+ characters in movies, books, and television shows; more LGBTQ+ creators, producers, writers, editors, journalists, news reporters, politicians, law makers, police officers, judges. We need laws that protect our community from being fired as a result of our gender identity or sexual orientation. We need safe, legal access to bathrooms for transgender, non-binary and genderqueer people, and we need more public gender neutral bathrooms in general. We need safety. We need LGBTQ+ people to feel safe—to not constantly have to fear poverty, homelessness or violence. 

And we need solidarity. Because what happened in Orlando was a tragedy, and the attention we need to create as a result is about protecting our citizens, about protecting the LGBTQ+ community and about ending hate crimes. I assure you, every LGBTQ+ person who read or watched the news about Orlando was shaken to their core, even for a moment. Because all of us, at one time or another, have feared physical violence as a result of our identities, if we haven't also been the victim of violent hate crimes ourselves, or watched a member of our community be physically or sexually harmed. We've all been there, and we need allies, support and solidarity in this extremely sad time.