Despite my being a journalist — or perhaps because of it — I rarely find myself actually scared by the news. Health alerts, viral outbreaks, cyclist deaths, gun crime, terrorist attacks — I’ve never really let outside events make me change my behaviour or even my general outlook on life.
I comfort myself with the knowledge that media coverage is, frankly, disproportionate to the actual danger out there, and that the statistical likelihood of me becoming a victim of violence is really close to zero.
Maybe I’m just guided by a naive sense that these things couldn’t happen to me. Maybe I’m just numb to the unrelenting churn of carnage through the media.
I woke up Sunday morning ready to head out to watch the Los Angeles Pride parade — I’ve been living in Los Angeles for three months — but a quick scan of Twitter revealed the heartbreaking news of a massacre at an Orlando gay club. There was no other news. My social media feeds and news channels were consumed with news of the slaughter. People were questioning how safe gay spaces really were in America.
Permit me a slight digression:
A week ago, a good friend of mine who lives in Kiev, Ukraine, announced on Facebook that he would be marching in Kiev Pride. It was an incredibly bold and brave decision in a city where Pride marches are routinely marked by violence from neo-Nazis and nationalists, and where hate crimes often go unpunished. At the time, I told him I wished I could be there to march with him in solidarity. Even if only for the story.
He asked me to wish him luck. I did.
As it turned out, thanks to a heavy police presence, and perhaps due to a public show of support by Eurovision winner and local pop heroine Jamala, Kiev Pride was free of violence for the first time.
Due to the time zone differences, LGBT demonstrators marched through central Kiev at around the same time Orlando police stormed Pulse Nightclub and shot and killed the alleged attacker Omar Mateen.
So the terror calculus in my head went like this: If 1,500 people could find the courage to march through one of the most dangerous places in Europe to be gay, then I couldn’t let fear keep me from a Pride march in one of the safest cities in the world for LGBT people.
My roommate disagreed, so I called an Uber and headed over on my own to meet other friends at Pride. As soon as I gave the driver my destination, he told me that police had arrested a man who was heading to LA Pride with a truck full of guns and explosives.
Again the terror calculus starts going and I figure: The man was caught. Security works. And what are the odds another person would be doing the same thing?
It’s hard to guess how many people thought the same way. The street was pretty crowded, the bars all had lineups despite adding cover charges, and the line to get into the LA Pride Music Festival seemed to go on for hours. Official figures say attendance was only “slightly down” this year.
Among the friends I was supposed to meet for the parade, more than half texted me to say they refused to go anywhere near the parade in light of the day’s events. So it was that I found myself watching the beginning of the parade alone in front of LA Buns & Co hamburger and taco stand on Santa Monica Boulevard.
First a group of trans marchers. Then the dykes on bikes. Then the police. I never thought I’d be happy to see the LAPD anywhere, but when a small group of gay and lesbian officers and their partners walked past me I felt an uncontrollable surge of emotion well up in me. Recognition. Gratitude. Security.
As the parade went on, many floats and marchers carried banners that read “We Are Pulse.”
The attack never seemed terribly far from people’s thoughts even when the march gave over to day drinking in the clubs or dancing in the music festival in West Hollywood Park. People talked about how they heard of the attack (Twitter and Facebook, obviously). They asked each other if they were scared about coming to Pride (sort of but not really). They traded outrageous memes and tweets and soundbites they’d seen and heard in the aftermath of the attack (mostly from Republican politicians claiming to stand with the victims whom they’d denounced weeks earlier). They talked about the work that still needed to be done and downed their drinks.
The attack and threat won’t change my behaviour or outlook on the future of LGBT people. While these gruesome attacks remind us of the distance we have yet to go, the march toward full equality is moving inexorably forward, in Canada, in America, and around the world. We will not be stopped.