Marginalized Memories—Remembering our LGBTQIA+ Siblings in Orlando and the Systemic Injustices that Link Us All
Monday marked CNY Pride Week Day 1 and I had a moment of reprieve in my schedule—or perhaps the overwhelming emotions I am experiencing forced me to take respite—to join the vigil in downtown Syracuse to honor the Orlando Shooting victims, the vast majority of whom were black, Latinx, other people of color, and some possibly transgender. I have not had much time to process these events, as my heart is going to my friends in Orlando and to all of my community.
I have also been busy analyzing the ways in which the media has erased indigenous experiences of violence and massacre by calling this tragedy the largest shooting in history when we know indigenous people have faced this kind of tragedy for centuries. I am also witnessing the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has turned this into fear-mongering about Islam and my friends and family in the Muslim community. In doing so—in labeling this a so-called “act of terror”—it is wielding a word that my transgender Muslim partner reminds me is actually a slur to marginalize Muslims and many of the Middle Eastern community. I do not want to call it that. If I were to call it that, under that definition, it would erase not only the experience of queer Muslims who are in our community, but also the very reality of what this incident was: a hate crime committed by an individual against the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly the Latinx LGBTQ community. I implore the larger community and the media not to erase this fact, as the media uses rhetoric to erase almost everything else, like history, experience, and truth. As a queer woman, I know this was a hate crime committed against people like me in my community.
The individual who carried out this act cultivated his hatred in ideals of misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and transmisogyny. Where did he get these concepts? Before we are so quick to condemn a religion we are not a part of, I would like to first look to the inequities of our system that allow this kind of hatred to grow: from laws that do not protect LGBQ, and particularly trans people, from housing and employment discrimination, to inadequate healthcare for the trans community, to rape culture that disproportionately affects trans and poor women and women of color, to gender binaries that devalue traditional women’s roles through lower pay, to the glass ceiling (even more profound for women and transwomen of color), to inadequate sentencing for sexual offenders, to more provisions for men’s sexual health than women’s reproductive health, to a lack of leadership positions of LGBTQ people (particularly trans people and people of color) in most mainstream organizations and institutions… I could go on.
This system that continues unchecked, with small advances being made only to require us to be like the mainstream rather than to challenge it, is what created the violence yesterday. Not one person. Not one man. Not one religious ideal. Not an entire community’s religion. No—it stems from centuries of injustice that still needs to be challenged, defeated, and changed.
My heart goes out to Orlando, to my Native friends who continually fight to be heard and to have their histories matter and mean something, to my Muslim friends and family who are celebrating Ramadan and who should be on a spiritual path right now (not a fearful path), and to my Latinx friends who lost so many so young in Orlando. To my LGBTQIA+ family to which I belong, my heart is heavy right now, but it goes out to all of us in solidarity, honoring those who passed by not giving up the fight and being sure to be inclusive of those most marginalized because their voices and lives matter and speak truths to which we need to listen.
Ionah is an award-winning performer/instructor of Middle Eastern dance based in Syracuse who uses her dance for entertainment as well as social justice, healing, and awareness. She works full-time at the largest outpatient mental health clinic in the region, helping to bring cultural competency to the work of the clinical and administrative teams, and is a graduate student in Maxwell School’s Conflict Resolution Program. Her work recently awarded her Syracuse University LGBT Resource Center’s Social Justice Award. As a working-class activist with a background in labor history and creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College, she is a staunch advocate of workers’ rights and economic justice.