I’ll never forget my first time in a gay club. I was eighteen years old and in my first year of college. I’d been clubbing before but had never felt comfortable. The hyper-heteronormativity made me nervous – I could never picture myself dancing as carelessly as the other college kids, all flirting and grinding and at ease with themselves. I could never identify with the people around me and most nights consisted of me standing in a corner, feeling intimidated, looking out of place and humouring the drunken flirting of men who could barely even see me rather than actively engaging in the night out.
Chambers was so much different to that; to an eighteen year old who’d led a rather sheltered life, it was a phenomenon. The bouncers were friendly, the music was light and fluffy and the clientele were miles away from anything I’d experienced before. Queer people comfortably expressing their sexuality surrounded me. There was no dress code, no sense of aggression between customers and, most importantly, it felt like a place that I belonged to. Three years on, I’m twenty-one years old and I’m openly and comfortably queer and Chambers is still the only sweaty nightclub in Cork that I feel safe in. Sure, it has its issues but at the end of the day, it’s the only public place where I’d feel fully comfortable kissing my girlfriend and just being myself.
That’s one of the reasons why the Pulse Nightclub shootings are so terrifying and have an impact far beyond the people who were in the club on Saturday night. Queer people are at our most vulnerable when we express ourselves. The simple act of kissing a partner can result in violence and hatred and, due to that, a gay club isn’t simply a place for entertainment or good craic. It serves a role as one of the only truly safe spaces for LGBT people; it’s the only place where, for a few hours, we are the norm. This isn’t just a terror attack, it isn’t just a hate crime; it’s an attack on LGBT people at our most exposed – at the one place we can take down our guard for once and allow ourselves to be who we are.
People who wish to dismiss homophobia as being the main factor in the shootings are not only wrong, they’re doing a massive disservice to the people who have lost their lives in the place where they could feel the safest. By saying this is just a generic terror attack, by running news pieces that omit the fact that it was a gay club, by acting as Sky News has and by shouting down LGBT voices that are literally yelling that this atrocity, as horrific and awful as it is, isn’t that shocking considering the discrimination we face on a daily basis, you are contributing to the sort of ignorance and hatred which culminates in individuals thinking its their duty to kill LGBT people because we’re somehow less worthy of life than heterosexual people. If you’re using these shootings as an excuse to exclude and discriminate against Muslim people, you’re, once again, missing the point. These attacks are the result of a worldwide society in which, no matter how progressive your nation may consider itself, LGBT people are isolated and treated as other by people regardless of their religious beliefs – I’ve encountered just as much homophobia at the hands of the faithless as those with religious ideology and there are so many wonderful religious people worldwide who welcome LGBT people with open arms. Do you really think that there’s any respect or any merit at all in using the deaths of LGBT people who were attending an intersectional LGBT Latino themed night as an excuse to discriminate against another minority group who suffer at the hands of the same society as we do?
Every queer person in the world is the queer people in Pulse Nightclub on Saturday night. It’s so terrifying because there is not a single country in the world where there aren’t people who have the capacity to hate and hurt LGBT people in the way that Omar Mateen has. An attack like this serves as a reminder that there are people in the world who would happily kill my friends or me by the virtue of who we love. No generic statement from a politician will fix that feeling. Until the mainstream stops whitewashing what’s happened and realizes that the society that politicians and the media has established is one which nurtures the otherisation of LGBT people and starts to rectify that, attacks like this and discrimination will continue.
There’s nothing more queer people can do. We’ve pleaded our cases to the masses throughout referenda and national debates. We’ve repeated the generic mantra of ‘all love is love’ over and over and over again. We’ve watered down queer culture and thrown ourselves into respectability politics. We’ve gotten to a certain point of careful acceptance but the ball is no longer in our court. The era where the very act of being LGBT is inherently political needs to come to an end and the burden must be pushed on to the media and political forces that control societal perceptions. Don’t even bother broadcasting about the shootings if you run a channel that exclusively runs shows that stereotype or exclude queer people. I don’t care about your condolences if you’re not a politician who regularly addresses hate crime and LGBT homelessness and all of the awful experiences queer people have to face. Queer people don’t need empty statements about support and allies and rainbow coloured food packets if it isn’t backed up with real change. Too many years we’ve patted people on the back for being charitable enough to not hate us and we still live in fear. It’s just not good enough because on Saturday night we were shown that even the one place we can completely be ourselves isn’t safe and condolences and empty statements aren’t going to make that better. Kelly Doherty