Sunday morning I woke up and 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 it’s a vacuum of protection, an ease and sense of home, where who we are and who we 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 in their week where how you dress and how you identify isn't seen as “other.” They were there to find a place where there was no world outside, 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 who knows what unfriendly ears are nearby, 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 they are 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 hearing.
But those spaces are made a little stronger with each blow. 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 because your family is right around you.
It’s so easy to walk around gathering up pieces of hate after an attack like this, to try and light a fire against an entire group or mindset. But that is not the answer.
This was not a random act of terrorism. It was precise and calculated, and is a reflection of the way that queer and trans people of color are put at risk every day. Saturday night was direct violence targeting a Latin night at the club. It was a massacre based on race, gender, sexuality and nationality, aimed at the most vulnerable around us.
This was an attack on America, but mostly it was an attack that was 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. His own father was heartbroken to hear what had happened.
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 those around you and how you can protect them 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.