If we are to come together as a family within our community, many an uncomfortable truth needs to be faced up to, writes Sami Hillyer
I’VE had a number of unexpected moments of the past fortnight. Unexpected because of how I’ve been sitting as a queer person living in London.
I don’t manage to turn heads through my somewhat flamboyant presentation. I can wear make-up to work at the hospital.
And I enjoy a fantastic group of supportive friends from diverse cultural backgrounds. Life has felt very comfortable in those respects.
Then Orlando happened. And it shook me and all the LGBTQ+ people I know around me.
It shook us because it was a homophobic attack. And not only was it a homophobic attack, but it was an attack on the Latinx LGBTQ+ community in a space they thought was safe for them.
I didn’t expect it to change me, but it has. Perhaps over the years I had just shut it out, but I’m noticing the stares of disgust or pity again, hearing the abuse shouted, feeling nervous on the streets once more.
It had always been there, homophobia, I’d just got good at ignoring it. It took the tragic loss of 49 lives and the 53 others shot to show me this again.
It took this unimaginable violence to bring us as LGBTQ+ people together again.
From the outside, we are seen as one group, one community, grouped together by our difference and as the recipients sometimes of a shared hate, sometimes pity and sometimes solidarity.
However from the inside we know we’re a fractured family, with all the letters of the alphabet soup split up from the rest.
Even within one of those letters alone, we have divides created by self-made “tribes” or the experiences of people of colour in mainstream gay spaces.
On the Monday night following the attack, a vigil was held in Soho and every colour in the spectrum of our queer rainbow turned out.
It was a vision of Soho I had never seen before, and it showed that, when affronted by such tragedy, by the challenge and threat of hate in this world, LGBTQ+ people can and will pull together.
We as a family recognise the homophobia that led Omar Mateen to gun down our siblings in Orlando.
We know, whether we’re out or not, what hate directed towards difference in how we express our gender or our attraction for others looks and feels like.
This major loss of our family has put to rest the opinion held by some that the fight for LGBTQ+ liberation is over now and has shown the spark for how we can regroup to take on the problems that not only affect the whole family, but the challenges that affront specific branches of our tree.
Although we have equal marriage, homophobic hate crimes have been on the rise in Britain.
One in 20 gay men in the UK, and one in 10 in London, have HIV and although not a death sentence any more and treatable with anti-retroviral drugs, HIV is still associated with complications to physical, mental and sexual health.
An HIV prevention drug with known efficacy is available, but the NHS has been delaying on making it easily available, allowing for the 2,500 new diagnoses of HIV in men who have sex with men to continue each year.
Tied to this disregard of LGBTQ+ people is the loss of spaces where we as a community can come together and feel safe.
An estimated 25 per cent of venues, bars, clubs have been lost since the recession.
Like the escalating loss of social housing, the social value of LGBTQ+ spaces is being ignored in favour of property developers looking to squeeze our cities more.
Our queer spaces are important, they break the isolation we can experience as queer people.
We know that 48 per cent of young trans people have attempted suicide and 34 per cent of young LGB people.
Young LGBT people are disproportionately hurt by the loss of spaces, whether it be bars, venues or housing. Twenty four per cent of the UK’s street homeless youth are LGBT.
Our community, if we are one family, needs to look at its own role in the isolation it creates.
Misogyny, transphobia and racism all exist within the gay scene, with many who aren’t gay white men feeling excluded from the main circuits of bars and clubs in places like Soho.
Prejudice is visible on dating apps like Grindr too, with the common taglines that body shame, attack feminity or reject people of colour (no fats, no femmes, no blacks, no Asians) or discriminate against people living with HIV or mental health problems (neg4neg, clean, sane and sorted looking for the same).
If we are to come together as a family within our community, these uncomfortable truths need to be faced up to and that the experiences of cisgendered gay white men who perhaps are in the position to marry, don’t represent the experiences of this diverse community. For example, LGBTQ+ asylum-seekers still face detention centres and deportations back to countries with the choice of living in hiding and fear or dying. Since Orlando, and our shared loss, we have potential as a family to fight for LGBTQ+ liberation for all our family, not just those best placed to receive it, and that means standing together in one another’s fights.
Sami Hillyer (UNISON) - SERTUC Observer to TUC LGBT Conference 2016