Pride after Orlando!
In stark contrast to last year’s Pride festivities—a celebration of the epic Supreme Court civil rights decision extending LGBTQ rights—last weekend’s combination of San Francisco’s LGBTQ Pride Parade, Dyke March, and Trans March bore the burden of grief and fear in the wake of the Orlando massacre. Last year, hugging and kissing punctuated these events, as astonishment turned to celebration in the wake of the U.S. government’s formal recognition of the integrity and equality of same-sex relationships.
This year, the events seemed resolute, marked by tears of sorrow and embraces of determination in honor of the 49 lives lost at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and declarations that we refuse to be silenced. There is also a sense of outrage at the whiplash of backlash, as state governments impose so called bathroom laws in an effort, startling only because of its proximity to the Supreme Courts groundbreaking ruling last year, to limit rights by imposing soul-crushing definitions of gender. The pride events were not the only responses to these outrages. Since the time of both the massacre and the trans-negating statutes, our communities have grieved, marched, stood vigil, written tributes, and explained and explained why these things are wrong.
At the Alliance Health Project, we relied on our unique strengths to make our contribution. Knowing there were others who felt similar, on June 22, AHP created a special space—a Community Gathering—for members of our community to come together and talk about the impact of the shooting in Orlando. More than 30 people, LGBTQ and allies attended. Members met in small groups and tears were shed as people described what this tragedy meant for each of them. People spoke about how frightened, vulnerable and powerless they felt, how this reflected the many acts of aggression and hostility against LGBTQ people, and how angry they felt in response. We offered ourselves and a space and a time to encourage people to talk, because in our world, talking is a gateway to healing.
AHP’s work is primarily about talking and listening. We do it in support groups, one-to-one therapy, in meetings with our psychiatrists, case managers and substance use counselors. We believe, that even the brief intervention of HIV testing is about creating a safe and non-judgmental place for clients to talk and to tell their stories. As staff members and interns we are proud of, and honored by, the people who came to our clinic that night, taking a stand to publicly express their grief. Their recognition matches our belief: talking, when nurtured in the safe and responsive space such as AHP, is healing. The particularly wonderful thing was that the honesty and courage of those who spoke left all of us who attended—staff included—feeling a little more connected and a little less fearful.
The evening ended with a discussion of next steps, a discussion that highlighted self-care recommendations such as celebrate, rest, drink tea, exercise, eat nutritious food, talk to friends, dance, and tell the people you love that you love them. It’s easy to dismiss such simple acts as inadequate, but it was clear over the weekend that it was the being together, the celebration that prevailed, even during the grief, at the marches, that proved the backbone of the community, that proved, in fact, that we are a community.