British DJ Jodie Harsh reflects on the attack on the LGBTQ Pulse nightclub in Orlando, as well as looking towards the future
“It was a normal Saturday night – I was up in the north of England doing my job – dressed in drag, up on a stage, DJing in a club to a packed dancefloor with gay boys, girls and everything in between. I’ve done this for years and always managed to avoid any kind of trouble, something I’m always grateful for.
A good time was had by all in a safe space where people were dancing, enjoying music, being with people they love and making new friends. The following morning I woke up in my hotel and began the usual routine – a skim through my phone for an update on what’s happening in the world. But this wasn’t a normal day. The death count at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub was going up hour by hour as I made my way back home to London. Grief-stricken mothers were outside the venue as dawn broke, gay men were unable to donate blood in the State of Florida while their peers lay desperate for transfusions in hospital beds [the US Food and Drug Administration bans men who have had sex with another man in the previous year from donating blood due to a belief that this prevents the spread of HIV/AIDS through blood transfusions]. 49 lives were lost.
Like many, I came of age in gay clubs. My formative years were spent on the dancefloor kissing boys and drinking beers. I made a new extended family and these places became our homes, places where you’re not judged on who you love, where everyone is welcome, and anyone looking for trouble will be swiftly removed. In Orlando these rights were ripped out of the hands of the people who went out to dance by Omar Mateen and an assault rifle. The music has stopped for a moment.
I’m angry. Major media outlets have brushed ‘the gay thing’ under the carpet. Leaving out the words ‘gay club’ in a headline or running with an offer for pearl earrings on your cover – like The Daily Mail did – instead of the shooting creates a serious shift in the narrative. This was a homophobic attack on the LGBTQ community and the biggest terrorist incident in America since 9/11. Sort of big news, huh? But those pearl earrings were kind of cute, and it wasn’t a room full of heteros, so…
As the horror in America began to feel real I switched on the BBC for an update to find they were running uninterrupted coverage of the Queen’s birthday party. Owen Jones’ reaction on Sky News in which he left a live broadcast – watch above – is a perfect example of how frustrating it can be when your voice is not being heard. The other news anchors in the segment refer to what happened in Orlando as a crime on ‘people’ rather than a crime on LGBTQ communities. Over the past two days we’ve seen a variety of news outlets, generally owned and anchored by straight people, undermining and silencing the feelings of LGBTQ people in response to the shooting. People have been using the term “straightsplaining” as a way of labeling the way they seem to be handling this information. Other news outlets seem intent on demonising all Muslims, when it was just one man who did this, because he was indoctrinated to hate gays. Muslims didn’t do this – Omar Mateen did this.
Now is the time to teach tolerance and acceptance and love. I am really not one for an ‘us’ and ‘them’ scenario – I’d probably find more straight friends in my phone book if I were backwards enough to count that or differentiate between sexuality and love, but it may be hard for a straight person to understand the implications of this fear on the queer communities and this reignited homophobia that had never really gone away. Our straight allies need to be made aware that this event sends a horrifying message around the world and we want them to be there to support us. We all need to come together but those who identify as straight need to listen to how we feel, not tell us how we should feel.
As I write, it’s emerged Mateen spent a lot of time at Pulse and on gay hookup apps. Maybe he was scoping out a venue and victims for his attack, maybe it was more than that. Maybe this was his way of saying he ‘ain’t no fag’ – who knows. I’m sure we’ll find out more over the next few days.
For many of the rest of us, it’s the start of Pride month worldwide – a time when we should be standing together at our strongest, dancing together at our happiest. It’s the one year anniversary of gay marriage in the US. You can’t turn the telly on or listen to the radio without some widely accepted gay camping it up. But don’t be fooled – we’re still being slaughtered.
Whatever the gunman’s motives may have been, he tragically committed a mass murder in safe place created for LGBTQ people to be themselves without judgment, creating fear and panic across the world and reminding us that hate is well and truly present for those who are proudly queer. But we must remain exactly that – strong and proud, and we must keep dancing to the beat, because LGBT hatred is still very real. The events in Orlando mean it might be harder to go to a nightclub for everyone – not just gay clubs – and it’ll be harder to be ourselves.
My friend, the artist Scottee, said ‘how do we make sure that this is not just another attack for another generation to be reminded they do not belong?’ and my life of parties and my job of fun-provider seemed so fucking insignificant all of a sudden. And then I thought – no, this is important, these gay spaces are important. This is the real world, and we have to keep dancing.
All over the world, us gay, trans and queers are still being thrown off buildings, beheaded in public, stamped to death in Trafalgar Square, bullied to death at school, tied to lampposts and set on fire, taking our own lives in shame and being gunned down in our local clubs. On Monday night at 7pm we stood still in our thousands on Old Compton Street in London’s Soho, where the Admiral Duncan pub was nailbombed in a homophobic attack in 1999 and thought about the young lives lost in Orlando. We lit candles and stood in silence and released rainbow balloons and the London Gay Men’s Chorus sang.
In cities across the world others did the same thing. The fight for equality is still on, but we are a strong community, and we will win it. Let’s be loud and let’s honour those lives lost and stand up for what we all as a human beings should believe in – love. Let’s all meet on a dancefloor soon.”