Je suis Orlando, Je suis LGBT

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I went to George Square tonight. Just like any other night on my way from the office to get the train back through to Edinburgh.

Except it wasn’t like any other night. Because rather than scuttle by to reach my train home, I stopped for an hour at a vigil for Orlando organised by Free Pride.

It was impromptu and homemade. Candles and cardboard beneath a cool grey sky. Even the change in the weather seemed to chime with the sombre tone.

And there they all were. The office workers and the students, the priests, the politicians and the police officers, the community activists and the trade unionists.

How far, how far we’ve come.

United on this shocking day by our shared identity. Not everyone who was there was LGB or T for sure. There were others who came by to pay their respects. But it was mostly us.

The event had been called in our name and it was we who responded first. That’s not to exclude anyone or call anyone out. Everyone has their piece to play at moments like this and everyone responds differently.

I wanted to be there though, precisely because I knew I would meet others from the wider LGBT community. I wasn’t sure who’d be there but I knew I’d see friends and colleagues whose experience these past 24 hours would resonate with mine.

And I did. I went for solace and solidarity. And I found it.

Earlier in the day I’d been at a conference. A friend from the sector I work in had arrived and someone asked her how she was. Awful she said. The questioner had a slightly quizzical look on her face. Had she missed something on the news?

But I knew what my friend meant by awful because I knew she would have been touched in the way that I had been. I knew she would have understood why Owen Jones had walked out of his Sky papers interview.

And I knew she’d have been angry at the extraordinary failure of the speaker on Thought for the Day to even mention the words gay or homophobia when mentioning last night’s atrocity.

It could have happened to anyone, of course. And brutally, unimaginably, in Paris and Brussels just a few months ago, it did indeed happen to anyone.

But last night it didn’t just happen to anyone. It happened in an LGBT nightclub. It happened to people like us. Precisely because they were people like us.

We recognised it for that because we knew about the particular hatred that inspired it. It’s a hatred that has touched all of us and those who we dare to love at some point in our lives.

We’re lucky because for us that hatred didn’t end with guns. But many of us will know someone who has been the victim of a violent attack. Some will even know people who’ve been murdered.

Sometimes it seems absurdly random, but it’s never inexplicable. Thirty years ago my late partner was beaten black and blue getting off a bus in the leafy London suburb of Chiswick.

Homophobia doesn’t bother with boundaries. You might be better able to protect yourself if you’re middle class but if the homophobe seeks you out, you’re not immune.

So when some journalists started to say last night, they still didn’t know why this had happened, we were incredulous. We knew precisely why it had happened.

Motivated by the repulsion he felt when he saw two men kissing, the murderer decided that he must seek their ilk out and brutally murder as many of them as possible. With devastating consequences.

And yes, it’s part of a wider campaign of terror which has a declared affiliation to Islam. Though here was another crushing reminder of the pain of millions of people for whom Islam is their religion and who have no desire to wreak such havoc.

And yes it’s about gun control too, and the absurd failure of a nation to stop something that is, literally, killing its citizens in seemingly countless numbers.

Of course,it was about both those things and more. And of course every decent person will feel a shared sense of revulsion, just as they did with those atrocities in Paris and Brussels, not to mention the countless bombings which ricochet around the Middle East with almost mundane regularity.

But none of that contradicts the understandable and visceral response which so many of us across the LGBT community will have had. This was about us. This happened because somebody wanted to kill us. Us.

And just as last year we were all Charlie, the response we really wanted today was, Je suis LGBT. Not the mealy mouthed, you can’t own it, offered by Sky News. But we will own it with you.

We will be the other for a day. We will stand at the vigil in your shoes. And to those who did and are, we thank you. We would do the same for you. I’d like to think we won’t have to. But on that I’d say all bets are off.

A few years ago I was walking down Long Acre in Covent Garden with one of my longest standing gay friends. We had, as Colm Toibin put it, forgotten we were gay because we were too busy doing something else.

We forged our friendship long before all the policy and legislative gains which have been won since. As we walked and chatted, a young gay couple strolled in front of us holding hands. What do you think of that my friend asked me? I’m not sure I said.

We were, of course, musing on the fact that it had not been something we’d ever done. Out of fear, embarrassment, holding our boyfriends’ hands when we were younger would not have been something we’d have dreamt of doing.

A young woman who heard us chatting understandably misunderstood our conversation and called us out. She thought we should be ashamed of ourselves. Good for her. No bystanders is one of the ways we will make progress.

Tonight, as I stood talking to someone who, like me, is a veteran of the movement, a younger man approached us offering candles. Was he one of the organisers, asked my friend? No, he said, but he wished he had been.

There’s pride I thought. There’s hope. There’s someone who wants to own our struggle in the future. Thank goodness.

Because just imagine you are the young person who last weekend was working up the courage to go to an LGBT venue for the first time. What would you be thinking now?

My, how far we have come. My, we have come a long way.

But we’re not there yet.

First published on 13th June 2016

Chair @SAMHtweets, Non Exec @socsecscot & runner @EdinburghAC, Views my own

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