I Am Also A We : LA Pride In Wake of Pulse Orlando

Photo Credit: Walter Pro   [Image Description: a memorial with flowers, rainbow flags, and candles set up in front of Pulse Nightclub after the Orlando shooting June 2016]

Photo Credit: Walter Pro

[Image Description: a memorial with flowers, rainbow flags, and candles set up in front of Pulse Nightclub after the Orlando shooting June 2016]

My first Pride March took place in Los Angeles the morning after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. I left home early in the morning to avoid traffic, so I didn’t hear the news until I arrived at the parade. Reports were still rolling in, and it was difficult to piece together the details of what had happened. As I was marching with The Trevor Project and they were busy getting organized, it took even longer for me to understand the magnitude and direction of the attack. The death toll hadn’t been finalized yet, as many people were still being treated at hospitals. The number we were hearing then was in the thirties, an unthinkable number later raised to forty-nine dead and fifty-eight injured. At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States.

Still waiting to start the parade, we were told that the police had stopped a man with “an arsenal of weapons” in his trunk not too far from the parade. The organizer of The Trevor Project announced that those who felt like they had to leave would be escorted home. I remember seeing people in our group who couldn’t stop crying. Yet everyone continued to march. As we marched down the street, more and more hand painted signs popped up, reading “We March For Orlando” and “We Stand With Orlando.” I wondered when, in the few hours since the story broke, people found time to make their signs. One day later at a wake for the victims of the shooting, I learned the march organizers had been asked by LAPD to cancel the event. To the police at that time, it seemed too dangerous to move forward with the Pride March. In response, one of the organizers replied, “This is what our lives are like from when we start on the playground.”  For the first time in my life, I felt I was part of the group in danger, part of the greater collective who faced this hatred. The danger, the hate seemed real and more palpable than ever before. I remember standing at the wake holding candles with my friend (she of Hispanic descent, I, half Mexican). We listened to volunteers read the heartbreakingly long list of the names of those who had died and their ages, many of who were Hispanic, Latinx, and our age. We were listening to names that could have been ours.

I have lived a privileged life, especially in comparison to the earlier generations of queer people in America. While I have friends who had faced violence and family abandonment, I have never seen anyone face death, so it was both shocking and crushing to see the reactions of the older participants at the wake. I was struck by how familiar those attendees were to, what seemed to me, was an unimaginable horror. Wordlessly and collectively, they knew the actions to carry out, the order of the rituals, even the words of the hymns we sang. We are a gentle angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives. I slowly realized this familiarity was there because the people around me had lived through this tragedy countless times before. I learned so much from these two events that they became a turning point for me. Before then, I had never been a part of a queer club at school or even attended queer events before. I felt like I hadn’t really needed to be a part of these groups; they always seemed to be for those who were suffering more than I was. I had considered attending my college’s “Lavender Ceremony,” but the fact that I hadn’t been involved in the group before made my participation in the event seem like an empty gesture to me.

The very reason I had been inspired to attend Pride was an episode of the television series Sense8. In the episode, Nomi, a trans woman with very unsupportive and toxic parents, writes a blog post which ends “Today, I march to remember that I’m not just a me, but I’m also a we. And we march with pride.” This speech had spoken to the part of me that had wanted to reach out, but didn’t know how. I had gone to Pride because I was curious and wanted to find a community, to connect and engage with a broader culture I had never really thought that I was a part of. Instead, I found a group of people living with a level of grief I could scarcely comprehend. For many of them, banding together had been an act of survival.

It has taken me time to realize that creating community is about choosing to engage. It doesn’t exist if people don’t show up. I had been waiting for an invitation, some sort of signal that meant I was part of the club. I know better now, and I’m working harder to get involved, to make new spaces, and to educate myself about a history that I had let myself gloss over. I’m still grappling with what happened that day two years ago, but now I am also trying to reach out, knowing that it is through reaching out, through connecting, that we find our way to respond to the darkness.

Tiffany Babb is a New York based writer and academic. You can find out more about her work at www.tiffanybabb.com or follow her on twitter @explodingarrow.