Safe Spaces

I’ve been thinking a lot about safe spaces recently. Sanctuaries. Havens. Places where you feel comfortable to be wholly yourself, without any want, or need, to censor any part of yourself.

A view at Indy Pride on June 11th, 2016. On June 12th Obama ordered that all flags be flown at half mast out of respect for the victims of the Orlando shooting.

Yesterday I attended Indy Pride — a joyful and welcoming celebration of all things L, G, B, T, and everything in between. Even though I was just one of thousands of attendees, I felt a certain sense of comfort. Surrounded by rainbow flags, scantily-clad men, happy couples, and amazing food and entertainment, I was simultaneously overwhelmed and calmed. This feeling came from being engulfed in a community that embodies and strives towards inclusion of all identities. While it is important to note that the LGBTQ+ community is not perfect — it has a long history of issues with transphobia, racism, misogyny, etc. — Pride events and LGBTQ+ celebrations of any kind are an oasis in a cisheteronormative world.

Fast-forward to last evening, where a friend and I visited Bind Cafe, a local coffee shop and cafe that has become a hub for diversity and culture, with an emphasis on strong African American roots. It is new to the small city of Kokomo, Indiana, and is a haven for many in a town that is 83.5% white and once hosted the largest Ku Klux Klan gathering in history. Last evening Bind Cafe hosted a jazz concert and served a menu featuring Korean and Mexican foods; my friend and I were immediately welcomed and stayed for hours, chatting with the patrons and owner in a space that was warm and inviting.

Then news broke early this morning about a shooting at Pulse, an Orlando gay nightclub. I’m not writing about the details of the shooting, politicians’ responses, gun laws, the role of Islam in this shooting, etc. I am writing about how in our society marginalized groups have to fight for the right to carve out their own little scrap of space to call their own.

For hundreds of years, society has been molded around and constantly caters to white people, cisgender people, able-bodied people, Christian people, rich people, and men. If you fall outside of any of those boundaries, you have had to fight to be heard and respected, and those fights are far from over, as indicated by this tragic and heartbreaking shooting. These sanctuaries, like Pulse, are constantly threatened, but not just by extreme examples like this shooting. There are countless other examples (Gamergate, Beyonce’s halftime show, the new Ghostbusters movie, etc.) of marginalized groups creating art, media, music, movies, places, events, or other avenues for representation and community that are promptly criticized by the oppressing group.

But even those examples are extreme — consider casual, every day, run-of-the-mill sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. (“Marriage should only be between a man and a woman!” “I don’t want any of those perverts going to the bathroom next to me!” “You’re not like other black people — you’re so well spoken!”). These microaggressions fuel and encourage extreme acts that, as we were recently reminded, quite literally kill people.

The shooter responsible for the 50+ LGBTQ+ deaths was angered after seeing two men kiss. While that instant in time acted as a catalyst for him, how many times before that moment had he heard off-hand homophobic and transphobic comments from friends, classmates, coworkers, family, and people/characters in media? The shooter is undoubtedly responsible for the deaths that he caused, but it would be unwise to isolate this event and not recognize that it is a manifestation of centuries of hate aimed towards minority groups in this country.

It does matter that Pulse is a gay nightclub. It matters that June is Pride month. It matters that Pulse was hosting a Latinx night. It matters that transgender acts were headlining the event. The rampant homophobia, racism, transphobia, and sexism in this country is incredibly (and uncomfortably) relevant because our culture of hatred creates an environment that does nothing to discourage hateful and prejudiced crimes against those who are just trying to find a safe haven.