By Rod Hensel
The Gayging Advocate
For a week I tried to put together my thoughts on the Pulse massacre in Orlando that left 49 dead and an equal number wounded. I watched the TV and social media coverage for three days straight. I listened to interviews with experts, read opinion pieces and heard what our political leaders had to say. I talked with my LGBT senior friends, with younger LGBT friends and just plain old friends. But I kept returning to those same words in my thoughts: Silence = Death.
If you are too young to recall, that was the rallying cry of a group called ACT UP. As the AIDS epidemic grew and the medical establishment and government tried to ignore it as that “gay disease,” ACT UP staged demonstrations across America that were rude and crude and broke all the rules, making noise that couldn’t be ignored. But even with hundreds, then thousands dead, the establishment just tried to stay silent, refusing to put resources into a vaccine or cure.
Over the last few years, it has been the LGBT community that has been pretty silent. We have AIDS under control more or less, we have opened the door to military service, and we have achieved equality in marriage. No wonder groups like Empire State Pride Agenda found nothing left to do and closed shop.
We –and our supposed allies — let ourselves forget how much we were hated. We ignored that since 2014, the FBI reports that LGBT people are the chief victims of hate crimes, in fact twice as likely as African Americans and Women and Jews and Muslims and four times more likely than Latinos.
No one seemed to say much when major Republican presidential candidates appeared on stage with extremist Christian radicals calling for LGBT people to be exterminated. When over 200 proposed anti-LGBT laws were introduced in state legislatures across America, our lobby groups were caught off guard and then suckered into letting the haters label the debate as being about “bathroom rights” not human rights.
The shots in Orlando broke the silence with death we could not have imagined. Suddenly the younger generations knew what we seniors have always known — that LGBT people are a minority that faced decades, even centuries, of hatred and discrimination that does not end with an Executive Order, the passage of a law, or the decision of a court. They started to see that the assimilation they sought, the closing of gay bars in favor of hook-up apps, the breaking up of gay urban neighborhoods for a house in the suburbs, the disbanding of gay groups of all types, that all these things were maybe not such a good idea.
We are all still in danger. We all ought to be scared, and very scared.
As sad as I was over the loss of life, I was sadder still when politicians and the media tried to downplay, sometimes even refuse to acknowledge, that this was first and foremost a hate crime directed at LGBT people.
The Republicans said it was about the war on terror, radical Islam and anyone of Middle Eastern origin. The Democrats said no, this was about the need for common sense tightening of restrictions on guns. No said others, this was an attack on the Latino community, while others said it was just a lone gunman with a mental health problem.
The major LGBT organizations, suckered as usual, quickly ran to the progressives saying they would put all their resources into passing gun legislation, just like they successfully did with gay marriage (er, yeah, but that was a court decision). Others called for greater solidarity with other minority groups, more education on mental health, and greater support for gay members of the Islamic community.
Sign me up, I’m all for it. But trust me when I tell you these folks won’t be there at the next gay massacre. Make no mistake, this was first and foremost an attack against LGBT people and no matter what new facts emerge, nothing — absolutely nothing — changes where it was done and who was killed. Nothing.
We ought to be telling everyone that we are the most hated minority in America, the most in danger, and that includes your son, daughter, niece, nephew and grandkids who are LGBT. We ought to be working to show people that while our brothers and sisters were dying and blood was in short supply, gay men right outside the door couldn’t even donate blood. We need to shout that health privacy regulations are still so stacked against LGBT people that the White House had to issue a special waiver so the Orlando hospital could talk to the loved ones of the victims and report their status or even say if they were still alive.
If we would finally tell the story of our LGBT seniors who face old age with families that have abandoned them, churches that have denounced them, friends who died all too soon, and a lack of savings due to job discrimination, then we might start to get the point across. And it’s even more important to tell our stories as our uncertain politics can take us to a strong arm leader willing to trample individual rights with the snap of his tiny fingers.
Young or old, we can’t afford to stay quiet on these things. My generation learned it over 30 years ago. We all learned it again last week.
Silence = Death.
Rod Hensel is based in Buffalo, NY where he was a gay activist and Mattachine Society chapter president in the ’70’s and ’80’s. He later co-founded Stonewall Democrats of Western New York. He is currently helping to organize the SIlver Pride Project of the Pride Center of Western New York to address issues of concern to LGBT seniors, and writes on LGBT senior issues for Buffalo’s Loop Magazine. You can find him at facebook.com/rodney.hensel.