It Happened During Pride Month: Art, Leadership, and Orlando, FL

2016-06-12T131614Z_1126202213_S1AETJMGOKAA_RTRMADP_3_FLORIDA-SHOOTING
Image from Boston Globe (https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2016/06/12/multiple-injuries-reported-orlando-nightclub-shooting/GrgxD0yu5ZzB3hJRQmiRUN/story.html) that has, ironically, since changed the cover image on the article to be that of a white male crying into the shoulder of a white male police officer…

Last night, I attended Rock the Block’s afterparty featuring Dead PrezBedrock: The FoundationMarch Forth Productions, The Great Ones,  Dayz, and Spoken Word Artist Azizi Jasper at Linc. While the event was amazing, unfortunately my attention was focused on something I saw earlier on social media.

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This public post came from an artist in the local Grand Rapids community.

This artist is a leader in the community.

This artist is someone whose first impression gave off no indication of bias or violence.

This artist is hosts a weekly event for some of the youngest and most vulnerable poets in our community, and yet the above post does more than negate an emoji.

It appears to dehumanize those who might identify with the emojis most proximate to the sign for “wrong”.

At first, I was simply confused, reading the post over and over to make sure I was not misreading. But then, confusion diffused into conviction, and conviction evolved into anger. Anger, not only at the post itself, but the knowledge that this post would go unchecked, because in Grand Rapids, artists do not check other artists.

We do not call our friends “out”, we call them “in”.

In that spirit, I contacted other poets in the scene to see if they shared my outrage. I figured if they did, then I would have a green light of support to move forward in calling out and speaking on the microagressive homophobia in the post, which I saw as a duty to my community. I spoke to a few people, and found out that this was something already known by established members of the community — this individual “does not support homosexuality”.

What do you do when you’ve stepped into a community that is so accepting, it does not challenge social violence in all its forms?

Is it more important to produce more art, and keep the peace?

Should we not be outraged that someone, somewhere saw that post and cast a light on our community, waiting for a response from community members showing that we do not tolerate homophobia among artists?

We are supposed to be the boundary pushers, the revolutionaries, the conscious humanists, the sensitive, the empathetic.

In my contemplation, I remembered every time our community’s justice focus, accessibility, and openness were touted to newcomers, and felt the hypocrisy settle on my skin. How could we say we had an open community if one of our leaders “does not support” a integral part of the identity of many of those around him?


 

In the chatter that inevitably came from myself and other community members voicing concerns, the artist himself would later explain that his post was not homophobic in a snapchat rant that consisted of the following phrases:

The rant also contained language suggesting that if this individual had a son, and something on the TV with two guys kissing came on, he would turn it off so his son wouldn’t be “tempted”.

Later in a Facebook conversation, he also said the following:

“I have a preference and that’s a male and female…I don’t have to switch up what I think about [homosexuality] just because it exist and it’s been here”

“I told you it’s not natural. It’s counterproductive”

“Ain’t nothing pro black about being gay”

At this point, I had to put my phone away and concentrate back into the show.

I spoke to another artist regarding the original snapchat post that night. To my dismay, he agreed with the poet. Two men. Two leaders in our community. Both holding views that were making my stomach turn in anger and hurt, making my soul bruise.

I left the Linc event early to begin the healing process. I felt betrayed and ashamed to call myself a member of a community in which we do not truly stand for all members, unapologetic and uncompromising. I wondered how I contributed to a culture that allowed us to erase eachother.

This was the night of June 11, 2016. The night before the events in Orlando, FL.


 

I wake up to a New York Times alert:

“Breaking News: A shooting at an Orlando nightclub has left ‘mass casualties,’ the police said”

49 dead. 50+ wounded. Articles about a Mother who was texting her son as he feared for his life,

and then stopped responding.

Even as I’m writing this, there are stones throwing their weight around my chest cavity.

  1. Artists hold homophobic views
  2. 49 Black and Latinx queer people murdered at gunpoint in the largest mass shooting in American history.

These two things are not separate events.

These two things are very closely related.

Casual homophobia that’s boiled down to a difference in opinion is violent and cannot be tolerated by community members.

There seems to be a particular problem in the American Black community. In their conversations with me, a Black woman, both men cited the threat of homosexuality facing the Black community. Both men claimed a traditionalist view towards homosexuality, while simultaneously claiming that they had “love” for all people. Both were quite frazzled when I compared queer oppression and racial oppression. Both spoke about homosexuality’s contradiction with Black family values. Both attempted to salve their homophobia, citing their many “gay friends”, and even the fact that the queer poets in the community knew about their views and tolerated them.

Both claim to be conscious poets.
Both claim to be community builders.
Both excused their views as a “difference in opinion” and expected me to be OK with that, ending each conversation with “no hard feelings”.

49 dead. 50+ wounded.
Articles about Mother’s who lost sons.


 

The club targeted displayed the following flyer for the events that night:

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The models featured appear to be Black and Latinx.

49 dead. 50+ wounded.

Because someone else decided they had a “difference in opinion” about homosexual, queer and trans people of color.

 


 

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I am Black and Queer.
I also like to party.
I could’ve very well been at that party.

I’ll say this for the people in the back:

If you do not share the identity of Queer and Trans People of Color, you do not get to have an “opinion” on an integral part of our humanity.

I’ll say this for the so-called “woke” artist guild:

YOU DO NOT GET TO DECIDE WHAT PARTS OF MY IDENTITY ARE “GOOD” FOR MY BLACKNESS. YOU DO NOT GET TO ERASE MY SEXUALITY FOR YOUR CULTURAL OR COMMUNAL COMFORT. YOU DO NOT GET TO DEGRADE AN ASPECT OF MY SOUL TO A “PREFERENCE” OR A “LIFESTYLE”

Studies in intersectionality present us with the fact that Queer and Trans people of color are the most vulnerable demographic to violence. Therefore,

You are not Pro-Black if you are Anti-Gay.
You are not Pro-Black if you are Anti-Gay.
You are not Pro-Black if you are Anti-Gay.

But more importantly….

You can neither build nor claim to have an equitable community with homophobic individuals at the helm.

As I mourn the mass murder of the Queer and Trans people at the Pulse.
As my heart grieves for them, and also  those who could’ve also been targets,
Like me,
I take the time to write this in love.
To write this in the name of unity.

It’s time for community leaders to take a stand. This cannot be another instance in which we brush someone’s bigotry under the rug in favor of some forced peace. I will not open myself and my art to violent ideology, and I know that I am not alone.

Regardless of how you feel about “the gays”, every single time we allow bigotry in our community to go unchecked, we alienate those of us who need community the most.

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