Almost 30 years ago, a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and their allies gathered together at Manhattan’s Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center in righteous outrage over the government's horrific handling of the AIDS crisis plaguing our community.
Called ACT UP, the organization was devoted to effective, tangible political action, and over the years engaged in massive, high-profile demonstrations whose impact we still talk about as a community today.
ACT UP proved to be especially significant because of the coalitions it built between different groups in our community around a common issue. It also gave birth to Queer Nation, another group dedicated to political action in response to the alarming escalation of violence against queer people in the NYC streets in the early '90s.
ACT UP's highly visible forms of protest included events like staging a "die-in" at President Bush's vacation home in 1991, disrupting the CBS evening broadcast to shout “Fight AIDS, not Arabs!” during the Gulf War and protesting naked outside of Penn Station the night before the Republican National Convention in 2004. The organization is still operating today, having held a rally aimed to combat anti-LGBT violence last week.
While the impact of ACT UP and Queer Nation can often seem distant and removed to many younger queers, now is the time that we need to reflect on their strategies, goals, and long-term impact as a community.
Much of what ACT UP and Queer Nation stand for and took action on involves moving beyond single issue politics in highly visible ways -- moving beyond focusing only on the issues that affect your unique intersection of identities in a way that is unapologetic, loud and can't be ignored.
And that is exactly what our community needs to do today.
Now, more than ever, is a moment for people who consider themselves part of the queer community to be inspired by the work that ACT UP does and think about issues with an intersectional perspective while taking tangible action. We need to zoom out and understand how gun control is a queer issue, how violence against people of color is a queer issue, how Islamophobia is a queer issue and how lack of action is a queer issue. And that it's imperative that we act now so that we don't lose the momentum we gathered over the past week and allow it to fold back into our lives as processed pain.
Mobilize Against Gun Violence
Since the Orlando shooting, many people recognize this cultural moment of mourning and grief as a time to mobilize queer people against the problem of gun violence and the NRA in America. With LGBT people more likely to be the targets of hate crimes than any other minority group, this is certainly an issue that cuts to the heart of our community.
While it is disappointing that it takes an event like Orlando to make queers care about gun violence on a large scale, and not say an event like Ferguson, we need to act on our pain and let our legislators know that we will not accept one more death of one of our queer brothers, sisters or siblings because of this country's gun problem.
We need to be loud about this. Organize a die-in at the NRA headquarters. Interrupt corporate, whitewashed gay gatherings with protest. Write your senator. Call them. Take to the streets. Volunteer for anti-gun violence associations. Talk to your friends, family and loved ones and encourage them to do the same. Refuse to be silent.
Mobilize Around Violence Towards People of Color
The conversation surrounding gun control needs to also be pushed to that of police brutality and violence by the state. A significant amount of the violence we experience as a community comes from those who are supposed to be protecting us -- and the Pulse nightclub shooting reinforces the fact that the most vulnerable members of our community are queer and trans people of color, with the majority of victims being latinx.
We need to align ourselves and our politics with POC organizations like Black Lives Matter and elevate the voices of those in our community already doing this work, like Black Trans Lives Matter, The Audre Lorde Project and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. We need to recognize how issues that disproportionately affect queer and trans POC, like police brutality and incarceration rates, are issues that affect all of us as a community, and allow that perspective to shape our action and righteous anger. It is our responsibility to elevate the voices of the most vulnerable members of our community whenever possible, and ensure that queer and trans POC are always being included in the conversation.
Unite Against Islamaphobia
It's no secret that racism is a problem in the queer community, particularly among gay men. With many in the media, politicians and religious figures already attempting to frame the Orlando massacre as an act of "radical Islamic terror" and ignore the homophobic nature of the attacks, we must fight back against Islamophobic attitudes from both our queer brothers, sisters and siblings and the larger, general public public.
Not only this this kind of rhetoric an attempt to pit minority groups against one another -- but it also ignores the fact that people can be both queer and Muslim. It's so important that we don't allow the racist mentality of post-9/11 America to guide our thoughts and actions. Speak out against Islamophobia. Don't allow ignorance to erase the fact that this is an attack on our community by blaming "radical Islam." March in solidarity with Islamic members of our queer family. Elevate their voices when you can. Fight back -- be louder than the voices telling us that all Muslims are terrorists or that queer muslims don't matter.
Show Your Pride As A Form Of Protest
It's hard to believe that it's coincidental that Omar Mateen chose June, nationally recognized as LGBT Pride month, to violently attack our community. Here in New York City as we officially begin what is recognized as Pride week, many people are unsure of how to handle the complex bundle of emotions they are currently navigating.
Pride can be a frustrating time for many since each year seems to feel more corporate than the last. However, this is a perfect time to reach members of the community and allies and talk to them about these larger, intersectional issues that affect our community. Make flyers. Organize groups to go with you. Talk to people on the street. Make your voice heard and reach the members of our community who aren't engaged in these kinds of intersectional conversations with one another.
Be Gentle and Tender With One Another.
We are all hurting, and our community will never be the same after the attack on Pulse nightclub. Now, more than ever, is a time to recognize that being tender with one another -- sensitive and compassionate to the unique needs of your queer brother, sister or sibling -- is a radical act. Showing love to one another in public is a radical act.
Mateen and those who hate queer people want us to be afraid -- want us to stop going out, want us to stop engaging with one another, whether that be emotionally, physically or spiritually. But it is more important now than ever to be openly tender with one another, and not allow threats of violence dictate or shame us away from being authentic and open.
Queers -- it is time for us to ACT UP again. We need to avoid letting this pain and righteous anger surrounding the slaughter of our queer family be folded back into our day to day lives and recognize that taking action is part of the healing process.
Do your research. Utilize the resources listed in this article. Be loud. Reach out to your community -- vocalize your pain and call to action on social media. Be unapologetic in your righteous anger because, no matter how anyone makes you feel, you are entitled to it.
We’re here. We’re Queer. Get used to it.