Friday, June 17, 2016

May they rest in peace

This past Sunday, as I have been discussing here all week, 49 lives were taken at a gay club in Orlando. Funerals have begun, with more scheduled for today and over the weekend. Families and friends are sharing memories of the deceased. In the midst of all the sadness, happy stories are being told. It isn't always that way though when gay people are murdered.

Back in 1973, The UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans was the scene of an arson fire that claimed 33 lives. Never heard of it? Well that is largely because gay people didn't get much press back then. A lot of what was written, was pretty disgusting (“I hope the fire burned their dresses off,” someone said. “What will they bury the ashes of queers in? Fruit jars.” This is only some of the bad taste remarks). Back then some churches refused to hold services. Back then, some families even refused to claim bodies.

Have things gotten better? It depends on how you look at it. I have heard numerous disgusting "jokes" and I have heard people, even clergy and people in positions of power, say it was good that gays were targeted. Some families are more loving these days, and so are some churches, but many are worse. Do mass murders of gay people still happen? Sadly, the answer is yes. LGBT people are the targets of violence more than any other group, especially transgender women. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said last year that the average life expectancy of trans people in the Western Hemisphere is between 30-35 years. Violence against the lgbt community last year was the highest since 2012, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, and in fact it was up 20% from 2014.

We can blame Sunday's violence on guns or on religion or on an anti-American sentiment, and perhaps all of those play into it, but that doesn't erase that gay people were the target. This week gays continue to be targeted, both in hate speech relating to the Orlando attack, and in constant preaching that gays have no right to exist. While some of the shooting victims still fight for their lives, and thankfully many are recovering nicely, there are people planning the next attack. A tip to police, resulting in an arrest, saved violence from happening at Gay Pride in West Hollywood last weekend, just hours after the Florida massacre.

As a reporter, I saw the results of violent attacks against both gay men and women in the past. I have had personal friends who were attacked too. All of this because of who someone is, not because of anything they have done. As the dead from Orlando are remembered at their funerals and at memorial services all across the country, I keep hoping that the hate will someday be gone. I keep hoping these men and women can rest in peace.

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