The following is an extension of a two part interview series I did with activist and creator Allison Santos for Ms. In The Biz. Click HERE for PART 1 of the interview, and HERE for PART 2. (tba)
Please read the full interview for proper context for the content below.
The truly devastating attack that took 49 young lives in Orlando’s Pulse LGBT+ nightclub has left the community (and country) truly shaken up. America is no stranger to gun violence, but this was the worst mass shooting in US history.
What were your initial reactions to the news of the massacre, and how did you witness those you know in the community respond?
With the Orlando tragedy, we all got news of it at LA Pride with a bus full of Seniors. We’re setting up, in work mode, and suddenly the news breaks. Being on that bus full of seniors, it was amazing how calm they were. They told me how they’ve gone through this before, and it won’t be the last time. Of course they were devastated, but their perspective was much different than those who were my age. But none of them wanted to leave, they stood their ground, and that was really moving.
There was a lot of discussion about the shooter’s religious upbringing & sexual identity in the media. Do you think this is relevant & helpful to the conversation, or problematic (if so, where should we shift the focus to?)
Mainstream media is problematic already. It’s typically one perspective, not always true, and always skewed. The media jumped to conclusions, as it does, and I think it encourages a black-and-white type of thinking and looks to place the blame on one thing. It’s a way of people trying to make sense of what happened, but it’s going to vary greatly depending on each person’s perspective. At the end of the day, these are people hurting other people. We can’t regain those lives or change the past. We could spend a lot of time in the “what-ifs” and “whys”, but it needs to shift into taking action. There’s always a grieving period when it hits too close to home, but after that we can’t let it fade. We can’t stop at “thoughts and prayers”, we have to take action and follow up. That is where a lot of people get stuck, but we have to stand up and keep going. Pride did not originate from happy times, it came from our constant fight for human rights and acceptance. The devastating circumstances of Orlando reminded a lot of people that our work is not done yet. It’s important that we have people willing to take action, whatever that looks like for each person.
Is there a way that straight allies can be more helpful to the cause without accidentally making things worse?
Straight allies have privilege that LGBT people don’t. Use that privilege to help. You don’t have to go to every rally or post every article about the cause, but take stock of what you are able to give of yourself, and be proactive about it. There’s a fine line between that, and making it about you or subconsciously (or consciously) using it to look good; know that line. Pretending you know what it’s like to be LGBT when you’re not, or speaking on behalf of our community can be problematic.
At the end of the day it’s people helping people. Change takes time. The ruling on same sex marriage was a long battle, and required a lot of effort from many communities of people. Be prepared to run a marathon, not a sprint. People’s attention spans are short nowadays, and they tend to lose steam. It’s important to be reminded of our history so you can really understand the amount of effort and time that change takes, and why it’s rewarding. Use your voice, in whatever form it comes in.