It’s June, Pride time, which this year ushers in the waning months of the Obama presidency. And so I had been preparing to write a celebratory column about all the momentous progress for LGBT rights during Obama’s two terms, the obvious struggles against the anti-LGBT backlash notwithstanding.
And then June 12 happened. 2 am, Pulse, Orlando. Another, agonizingly predictable massacre in a country that blindly refuses to ban assault weapons. And so nothing has changed and the line between “terrorism” and “hate crime” is further blurred. The Pulse tragedy may have been the work of one depraved assassin, but the danger — for LGBT people, blacks, immigrants, women — none of it is over.
Brock Turner demonstrated a sociopathic lack of empathy and compassion toward a single person; Omar Mateen toward more than 100. Both embodied a culture of entitlement that gives permission to abuse and discard, maim or kill another human being without conscience. To ruin one life or to take many. It is modeled at the highest level by Donald Trump, who deems vilification a pastime, the demeaning of non-whites a birthright, and Orlando as a vindication of his Islamophobia.
And so this will happen again, no matter how many well-meant PSAs spring up, no matter how many op-eds like this, or statements by political leaders or civil rights and human rights groups. It will not change until we vote out of office the burrs who support the murderous National Rifle Association. And we change our gun laws.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center which monitors them, there were 892 active hate groups and 998 antigovernment groups operating in the U.S. in 2015. The Ku Klux Klan still tops that list with 190 active groups, with anti-LGBT/Other groups trailing closely behind at 184. That’s a lot of very dry tinder.
June is not only Pride month but also LGBT History month. That history is now forever stained by the events in Orlando. The 2016 chapter will be a very dark blot indeed.
But the rallying cry is to fight on. And so we must try to celebrate the recent remarkable achievements that will be logged into the Pride history books.
In proclaiming June LGBT History Month, Obama lauded the “tireless dedication of advocates and allies who strive to forge a more inclusive society,” and noted that “they have spurred sweeping progress.”
The pinnacle of that progress undoubtedly came last June with the victory of Obergefell v. Hodges, bringing marriage equality to every couple in every state and celebrated in rainbow floodlights that night by the White House itself.
Two years before came the collapse of the key component of the Defense of Marriage Act; earlier, in September 2011, Obama repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
In February 2015, the White House named Randy Berry as the first Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons. Last August, Obama appointed the first openly transgender White House staffer in the person of Raffi Freedman-Gurspan. Last month, Obama’s openly gay selection for Army Secretary, Eric Fanning, finally got confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
There are a few tasks remaining. We are still waiting for the Pentagon decision on whether or not to allow transgender service people to serve openly in the military. And the administration is yet to designate — as it said it might — the Stonewall Inn, already a National historic landmark, as a National Monument.
If this happens, the famed Greenwich Village bar and an adjoining park would become the country’s first LGBT rights federal monument. The Inn, scene of a notorious raid and riot in 1969, is widely considered to be the birthplace of the LGBT rights movement in the U.S.
As Rainbow History Project board chairman, Chuck Goldfarb noted: “It was the place where a diverse group of oppressed people fought back when they faced yet another attack on their dignity, respect, and physical well-being.”
All of that was under siege again in Orlando on Sunday, when a safe place became a cemetery.