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Jun 24 2016
by Catherine Cheng

A Reflection on Orlando and Being a Straight Ally

By Catherine Cheng - Jun 24 2016
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On June 12, 2016, Pulse, a nightclub in Orlando, Florida was attacked. The incident left 49 dead, 53 wounded and newspapers saturated with coverage of the tragedy. A vast majority of said articles have turned the incident into evidence for various political positions.

The reason is not surprising: the shooting involved multiple complex and controversial issues and is a chance for people to speak on Islamophobia, surveillance, terrorism, gun control and racism. Given its nature, it is not wrong for one to use Orlando as fuel for political campaigns, but if that is all you are doing, you may be missing the larger point.

The Orlando shooting, the result of Omar Mateen’s frustration after seeing two men kissing and holding hands in the streets, is a wakeup call. It is not simply another example of gun violence, but a grand display of the discrimination LGBTQIA+ individuals continue to experience in America. Perhaps before those of us who are straight point our fingers at gun laws or Islamophobia, we should point our fingers at ourselves. We may not have been the one who pulled the trigger on June 12, 2016, but our normalization of being attracted to those of the opposite gender certainly contributed to Mateen’s intolerance. Yes, there is a chance stronger gun laws would have lowered the chance of this event occurring, but would they have addressed the fear LGBTQIA+ individuals lived and live under?

I am "normal."

I am not afraid to hold my lover’s hand when I am on a date. I am not afraid to tell my parents I am dating or who I am dating. I do not have to tolerate the eyes of strangers glaring down my back. I do not have to worry about whether or not I will be able to marry the person I love. I do not wake up every day wondering whether it will be easier to hide my preferences. I am not told that, “I made the wrong choice,” or that, “God disapproves.” I do not have to worry about whether my daily life and socioeconomic status will be affected by my sexual preferences. I will never worry about whether or not people see me as the gender I identify as.

It is so easy to dismiss these simple pleasures as insignificant or unimportant because we take them for granted. It is even easier to dismiss the Orlando shooting as an isolated incident because the conversation is a hard one to have. But it is difficult to stop pretending that the sea of violence drowning the LGBTQIA+ community is nonexistent and it is time for us to take this challenging step.

The following list, put together with the help of various LGBTQIA+ individuals, may be useful to you as you consider what it means to be an ally. If nothing else, perhaps it will serve as a useful framework for reflecting on Orlando.

Being an ally means:

1. Acknowledging the discrimination against the community and the privileges of being straight.

Realizing discrimination is a systematic issue is vital to addressing it. Though micro-level aggressions are insidious, they are magnified and exacerbated by structures. Understanding the distinction makes you realize that the LGBTQIA+ movement does not hate straight people, they hate the structure that props up straight people at the expense of LGBTQIA+ people. This movement is not a personal attack on you, but a desperate call for acceptance.

2. Speaking with the movement, not for the movement.

I think the most important thing is probably to show solidarity but not speak over actual LGBTQIA+ people! A lot of times I see people who mean well but actually just repackage the things that we've already said or done and then are lauded as revolutionaries...it's frustrating. – Jacob Lundquist

Aligning yourself with the politics of the movement does not meaning claiming to understand how LGBTQIA+ individuals feel or what they go through. The best we will ever be able to do is empathize as we cannot experience their lives. When given the choice, choose to let the community speak instead of raising your own voice.

Supply platforms for enhanced visibly – it's important to emphasize that allies should let those closest to queer identity speak, rather than speaking for them. An ally cares about the movement, but doesn't – can't – know how it feels to be LGBTQIA+ on a day to day basis.  Peter LaBerge

3. Refusing to participate in Oppression Olympics.

There are many marginalized groups in the U.S., but being part of one does not give you liability to diminish another. We are not in a race to prove who is more victimized and participating in that race only fractures the fight for equality. There is no reason why participation in one social movement should sap your ability to participate in another.

A true ally must take steps to know when their brand of activism, regardless of good intents, may be damaging to others. Without this consciousness, we see things like the whitewashing of our histories at Stonewall, and the general privileging of some queer subjects above others. – Neil Haran

That being said, most social groups are tangled and connected. A LGBTQIA+ individual who is also a person of color will have a different experience than a LGBTQIA+ individual who is white, just like how a LGBTQIA+ individual will have different experiences depending on where they reside. Fight for the entire community, not just certain sectors of it.

4. Take actual action to improve the condition of LGBTQIA+ individuals.

While it is important to show your solidarity and increase the visibility of the movement through social media platforms, the fight does not end there, nor did the legalization of gay marriage eradicate discrimination. There is still more to be done and a true ally must have more than just intent.

What I consider an ally is not merely someone who believes I have a right to occupy spaces without fear of violence in the same way that cisgender or heterosexual counterparts do. For me, an ally is someone who holds that belief and takes actions to make that vision a reality. – Neil Haran

Things you can do range from participating in political rallies to donating blood after tragedies. A bit of research reveals there are still lots of areas to be worked for. For example, there are groups invested in helping homeless LGBTQIA+ youth, and organizations such as the Sylvia Rivera Law Project help LGBTQIA+ individuals navigate the legal system. That doesn’t mean you have to do something grand to be an ally, though. Steps as simple as putting up posters to spread awareness can help materialize your good intents.

5. Realizing that LGBTQIA+ individuals are more than just LGBTQIA+.

I think just being aware, not tokenizing LGBTQIA+ people, and being vocal in their support of LGBTQIA+ rights is mainly what makes up a good ally. – Brynne Rebele-Henry

Regardless of their LGBTQIA+ identity, they are people. Never forget that the people who died in Orlando are not tools of a political campaign, but people. They are not numbers or statistics. They had families and loved ones and they are mourned. Never assume that one label can define an entire group of people.

In the end, be willing to educate others. You reduce the toxicity in the climate each time you convince someone to stop discriminating against the LGBTQIA+ community. Always be willing to listen and change your own behaviors. This is our world and we will fight.

Lead Image Credit: Benson Kua via Flickr Creative Commons

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Catherine Cheng - The University of Texas at Austin

Catherine Cheng is a freshman at the University of Texas – Austin majoring in Business and hopefully picking up a certificate in Computer Science. She enjoys casually binge watching TV shows, drinking iced tea, and overusing Sriracha. In her free time, she can be found writing prose and musing about contemporary poetry books.

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