Sunday morning I walked down the stairs of my girlfriend's house, burnt and exhausted from Indy Pride. I sat in the living room with her and two of my best friends. All four of us are gay; and I consider them to be family. With them I feel an ease and sense of home, where who we are and love is not taboo.
We, of course, spoke about the attacks at Pulse in Orlando — a violent violation of another safe space.
Late Saturday night, a man named Omar Mateen walked into a club with a pistol and an assault riffle, opening up fire on the 300-plus people inside, killing 50 and injuring dozens more. These people were there to celebrate, to have a brief moment where dress and how you identify isn't seen as "other," where if only for a night they weren't seen as different — just as a person.
That is the value of a safe space.
The concept is hard to explain to someone who doesn't need one. If you have never been harassed for looking too masculine or too feminine, if you have never bitten your tongue in public because you don't know what unfriendly ears are near by, if you have never gotten a call from a friend after they were beaten or raped because of their sexuality, you cannot grasp how much these places mean to us. Places like Pulse are points of rejuvenation and solidarity.
Protection is needed and a safe space provides that — until it is breached.
They're invaded every time someone hateful walks in, every time a member of our community is killed somewhere in the world for who they are and every time one of the 40 pieces of anti-trans legislation in this country are heard in a committee.
We are reminded that there are miles to go before safe spaces are no longer needed — when anywhere you go can be a place of protection.
It's so easy to walk around gathering up pieces of hate after an attack like this, to light a fire against an entire group or mindset. But that's not the answer.
This was not a random act of terrorism. It was precise and calculated, and reflects the way queer and trans people of color are put at risk every day. A Latin night at the club was directly targeted on Sunday. It was a massacre based on race, gender and nationality, aimed at the most vulnerable around us.
This was an attack on America, but mostly it was an attack derived from a systematic oppression that must be addressed. It was driven by a misguided man who did not hear the parts of his faith that call for love and charity. Extremists exist in every religion, but they are and always will be a minority. There is a disposition amongst the dominant discourse for equality, and the sanctity of safe spaces is where that conversation can flourish.
I beg my colleagues in media to not diminish stories about hate crimes, and I beg everyone reading this to be aware of how you can protect people in small ways. And to the beautiful souls who were taken that night:
I don't know you, but every ounce of my being wants to fight for you, to protect you. I will never share a drink with you, but know that I love you, truly, deeply, love you. And you will not be forgotten.