3 min

How close Orlando now seems to Vancouver

Anger, grief, resilience and love in the wake of a deadly attack on a gay club

A flag and a name are carefully placed on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery for a vigil on June 12, 2016. Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera was one of 49 people killed at a gay club in Orlando, Florida early Sunday morning.  Credit: Zdravko Oliveros Cimbaljevic

I woke up Sunday morning expecting the usual.

My sheets were still a little crusty from my little Greek guy that I’d banged the night before. I was groggy but determined to be productive. Then I looked at my Facebook notifications and noticed something unusual — three of my friends had checked in as “safe.”

I started to get the picture as I scrolled through my newsfeed.

At first I thought it was hyperbole. But it wasn’t. We’d been massacred. In Orlando.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster, constantly cycling through anger, sadness and love.

Usually when a tragedy hits a far-away place, I’m not so strongly affected. But it’s different for me when that tragedy hits the queer community. We’re connected from afar in so many ways. I meet up with other gay men throughout the year at a variety of events, from Prides in different cities, to leather conferences, to gay cruises and more. I have gay friends and lovers strewn across this continent and some even farther away. And yes, quite a few in Florida.

As queer folk, we tend to span geographical distance — a necessity for a community based not on ethnicity or nationality or even municipality, but on shared sexuality. This resonated even more deeply for me as I realized that I personally know people who knew some of the victims.

Resonating even more deeply for me is the fact that we were targeted at all.

Because we all know what it’s like to be targeted for being queer. The attack in Orlando was but an extreme example of the hatred all queer folk have experienced in our lives. Who among us have not been attacked for being queer? I know I’ve faced violence, taunts from both peers and people in power.

The attack in Orlando made crystal clear a stark reality: our persecution spans millennia and cultures. I wish I could say that times have or will change, but they won’t. The same night that hundreds of us gathered for a vigil here in Vancouver, a Burnaby man was attacked while carrying a Pride flag on his way to the vigil.

We are a minority. We always have been and always will be. And as a minority, we are always subject to the whims of the majority, whether they’ll accept our existence or try to stomp us down. 

Yes, this may have been a lone wolf. But he is just the manifestation of the unalterable system that will forever regard us with suspicion, and occasionally use violence to keep us under control. Muslims in Saudi Arabia, Christians in Texas, atheists in the Soviet Union — it makes no difference. It is the burden we shall always carry. We have been burned at the stake, thrown off buildings, stoned, beheaded, subjected to electroshock therapy and had our anuses glued shut. Half of us died of a plague while society turned its back on us. Our bars have been set ablaze with patrons inside and blasted apart by a nail bomb. The Orlando mass shooting is the latest deadly tally to add to the chronology.

I can’t be all rosy about this and say it will get better. We will always be a target.

My anger turns to tears when I look at the list of people assassinated. Luis. Juan. Cruz. Rivera. Most of the victims were Latino. That really hits hard. A huge proportion of my American friends are gay Latino men. I can’t stop thinking of being out partying with them. I can’t stop thinking of hiding with them as I hear the bullets. I can’t stop thinking of what it would be like to hold one of them as he dies, or as I die.

I wonder how the victims’ family and friends must feel at this moment.

Anger. Sadness. And yes, love. Community. Is the gay community dead? Fuck no, it isn’t. I shared so many kisses and hugs with my amazing community at the Vancouver Art Gallery vigil on June 12. Sometimes you give someone a quick peck when you see them at the bar, but this was different. The connection between us felt stronger than ever. I saw people there that I’d only ever seen in very different contexts: a guy who was at a sex party with me only a month ago, and that guy who comes over to film my homemade porn.

Yet despite our previous contact only ever being in totally debaucherous situations, there we were — in public, as a community, carrying our rainbow flags.

I’ve always identified as a faggot. I like that word. It distinguishes me from a mere gay man by marking me off as someone who wholeheartedly rejects heteronormativity. But at that vigil, that word took on a new significance. A stick is easy to break. But when you bundle them together, as a faggot, those sticks become strong.

And the unity I saw in the community on Sunday shows me just how strong we are.

I may not subscribe to the mantra that “it gets better” or “love conquers all” but I know that no matter who targets us next, we queer folk will have each other, united as a community — and we are a force to be reckoned with.