Reflections on the Orlando Massacre

In less than a month, the Calgary Men’s Chorus is sending a contingent to the GALA Choruses Festival in Denver, which is in the same country where 49 people were killed last night in a gay club by one man armed with an assault rifle that he got without a background check, despite being on FBI watch lists.

Up until this morning, my main worry was being able to remember all the insane dance moves we were roped in to learn in a couple of weeks.

But now, I’m scared of travelling to the country to the south of us. I don’t think I’m alone.

I’m more scared now than I was growing up in South Africa during the end of Apartheid, where being queer was illegal, where the first Pride march had participants marching with paper bags over their heads for fear of being recognised, arrested, assaulted, perhaps killed.

I was on the Pride 2001 committee with stalwarts from the first march, with a route through a very shady part of Johannesburg. In later years, rocks were thrown at the paraders and blood was spilled. It was dangerous then and it’s dangerous now.

Pride isn’t about washboard abs and tight brightly-coloured underwear and feather boas and high-energy dance music. We just happen to have good taste.

We’re not parading for you, we’re marching for our right to exist without being threatened. The fact that it looks like we’re having fun all the time is because we choose to celebrate the fact that we’re still alive, despite everything.

But that burden gets heavy.

And just think: I’m white and (mostly) male. I’m on the lowest difficulty setting. I’ve had a good life in comparison to my queer family of colour. My only stories about queer friends dying are a result of suicide and AIDS. Not government oppression and chemical castration, and not murder with an assault rifle in a “free” country.

If you think I chose this, if you think that the wonderful men, women and everything in between, who went before me, who fought and died to be recognised as equal, chose this, if you think we choose to be targeted, you’re mad. Absolutely and utterly mad.

At the end of the film The Imitation Game, there’s a piece in the credits about how nearly 50,000 men and women in the UK were criminalised and persecuted for being gay. Only Alan Turing was pardoned. Posthumously, after he committed suicide. For being gay. He helped bring an early end to the Second World War, and saved the lives of millions of people, but hey, he’s a sexual deviant so he must be put down.

Now 49 more people are dead. I’m pretty sure not all of them were gay. A lot of straight people enjoy going to gay clubs to have a good time. Last night there was a show at the Pulse night club in Orlando. I’d have invited my straight friends.

The police had to tune out the sound of 49 ringing phones in the carnage of the club this morning, of people phoning their loved ones to see if they’d made it out alive.

As my friend Kristian said, people are targeting us. People are targeting black lives too. It’s not that all lives don’t matter, but realise that we do matter.

You know what’s funny about this? When I went to sleep early this morning, I was still mourning the death of Christina Grimmie.