QUEER VOICES
06/13/2016 04:13 pm ET

Queer People Deserve To Feel Safe

In the wake of Orlando, safe spaces -- like what Pulse should have been -- are more important than ever.
Two San Francisco men hug at a vigil for the victim's of the Orlando shooting. 
Stephen Lam / Reuters
Two San Francisco men hug at a vigil for the victim's of the Orlando shooting. 

Sunday morning's rampage at Pulse nightclub in Orlando was a heartbreaking, hate-fueled infiltration of a safe space. 

Pulse, like any other gay or queer-friendly club, is a safe place for gay men. For gay women. For gay men and women of color. For trans and gender nonconforming people. For anyone who needs a reprieve from the looming hands and eyes of straight dudes who don't always understand the word, "No."

Over the last few years, the concept of a "safe space" has been repeatedly taken to task. And some of the most vocal detractors are straight, white men -- a group of people for whom these safe spaces for pretty explicitly not designed for. 

In the wake of Orlando, we need and deserve these safe spaces more than ever.

Last September, The Atlantic published a widely-circulated piece, "The Coddling of the American Mind," in which two white men accused everyone else of being hyper-sensitive. Millennials take a lot of heat online, but it feels like straight, male academics especially love to call millennials "highly sensitive," "self-absorbed," and "feeble," for daring to request spaces free of misogyny, homophobia or racism. 

And of course, there is Twitter, where the deploring of the oversensitive millennial comes less from academics, and more from conservative white dudes who equate a need for safe space to "liberal insansity."

As we tragically learned this weekend, marginalized communities are still not safe from hatred and bigotry. In the wake of Orlando, we need and deserve these safe spaces more than ever. 

Because make no mistake: many of the people who lament safe spaces are likely the same gun-loving fear mongers who are so afraid of their neighbors that they cannot physically part with their assault weapons; the same people who rush to purchase more guns after every mass shooting, because they are actually full of fear that they may have to separate themselves from the machine that has senselessly murdered elementary school students, movie-goers, people seeking health care at a Planned Parenthood clinic, and churchgoers.

This widespread hatred, simmering just under the surface -- or out in the open -- among some Americans, should no longer be surprising. Just look at the schoolyard bully who has managed to become the current Republican presidential candidate, whose fear is so acute that he actually needs to erect a wall around it.

Many straight men still don't understand that it is guys who look and sound like  them who are sources of fear for so many marginalized groups. That when I want to walk down the street hand-in-hand with a woman I don't do it to be whistled at like a dog, catcalled and kissed at. That when a man kisses another man he is not a threat, and he does not deserve to be hated and feared. That when a trans woman wants to use the restroom, she's much more likely to be attacked than to attack somebody else. That their slinging of assault rifles doesn't make anyone but themselves feel safer.

Members of marginalized communities deserve a place to get away from the sheer volume of threatening, toxic masculinity. Give us four walls and a roof where we can dance without uninvited straight mens' hands on our bodies, where gay men can kiss without the fear of being seen as repulsive, and gay women can kiss without it being a straight dude's pornographic fantasy.

Consider that what we are asking for is nothing much at all: a space to be ourselves. 

If you are a straight man disgruntled by a marginalized group's need for a safe space, let me explain something to you on behalf of everyone who is tired of being shot and groped and mocked and told to smile and followed and harassed and humiliated:

We are not a threat to you. You are a threat to us. And we are allowed to want to be safe. 

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