Monday, June 20, 2016

SAEN Columnist writes touching commentary on Orlando killings

After every loss comes healing, at least eventually. That will be no different for the LGBT community in the wake of a massacre in an Orlando gay nightclub.

Time can heal the wounds. Past every prayer and vigil, what loss demands is time, not only to feel whole again but to make sense of what happened and figure out what to do next, especially in quelling the hate that fuels such violence. It’s not new to U.S. history.

Thoughtful San Antonians in and outside the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have been thinking about these next steps, and LGBT leaders say the community must stay out and proud, and it’s just as important for allies to remain “out” with them.

Maria Salazar, who at Thursday’s vigil helped read aloud the names of the 49 people who died at the Pulse nightclub in Florida, says the work begins with each of us. “We all need to be out,” she said.

“I don’t want to see the LGBT community go back in the closet,” said Salazar, who knows all too well that the Latino targets of the Orlando massacre were killed simply for being themselves. Orlando hit extra-close to the Latino LGBT community.

Fear can pull people into shadows. It’s not theoretical for Salazar.

In the early 1990s as a student in Oregon, she was targeted by two men for being lesbian. One hit her over the head with a pipe. They kicked her repeatedly, spewing hateful names. When a vehicle turned a corner and beamed light on them, they ran. Salazar went back to the gay bar she had just left and a 911 call was placed.

Bleeding, she waited.

A second call had to be made before help arrived. Salazar recovered but couldn’t help looking over her shoulder, because of “this permission” others feel they have to hurt those different from themselves.

The deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 was also the deadliest attack on the LGBT community in U.S. history. It also followed terror attacks that resulted in the deaths of 32 at Virginia Tech; 26 in Newtown, Connecticut; and nine in Charleston, South Carolina.

Such violence isn’t unprecedented, as a piece in the Wall Street Journal said. Homophobia and racial hatred spurred an estimated 100 African-American deaths in East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1917; as many as 300 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921; and 32 in a gay bar in New Orleans in 1973.

In the 1800s, about 250 Native Americans were massacred at Wounded Knee by U.S. troops. Between the 1910s and ’20s, Texas Rangers killed hundreds of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in state-sanctioned violence.

We’re still coping with much of this. Yet where do we go from here? What’s next, and what else? Those with whom I spoke said: Open your heart. Don’t give in to fear. Donate blood. Get out of your comfort zone. Have meaningful conversations with people different than you.

“Embrace love,” said Brandon Logan, past chair of the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, “overly do it.”

“We need to look for moments of unity rather than moments of discord,” said Richard Farias, past chair of the Pride Center San Antonio. He admits that it has been hard to see friends who “don’t get it.”

“Yes, it was an act of terrorism, but it was also a hate crime,” he said. Overlooking that it was a targeted attack pains the LGBT community.

Farias says there’s healing in telling your story, and a small kindness can make a huge impact, like the African-American colleague who sent him a note to say she was thinking of him after the shootings.
“That gesture was so simple, yet so meaningful,” he said.

Orlando can lead to growth, too. We can learn more about LGBT history this Pride Month. UTSA holds important local LGBT archives that can advance that goal.

Like incorporating Mexican-American history into curriculum, so too should LGBT history be included, said Darrell Garcia Parsons, vice president of Fiesta Youth, a group for LGBT teens and young adults that’s nearing its third year in San Antonio.

Mara S. Nathan, senior rabbi at Temple Beth-El, counsels all houses of worship to welcome LGBT, not tacitly but truly and overtly.

And small gestures do make a difference.

When an ally speaks up for an LGBT friend against a bully, it makes a difference. What you smile back at a transgender co-worker, it makes a difference. And when a long-reluctant family member agrees to listen to an LGBT story, it makes a huge difference.

“We have made tremendous progress, but so much needs to happen,” says Salazar, a San Antonio attorney and vice president of Org├╝llo de San Antonio, an LGBT chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, which recently was named council of the year at the LULAC Texas convention.

And the difficult work ahead can begin with an embrace of our LGBT brothers and sisters. eayala@express-news.net Twitter: @ElaineAyala

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