You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
Rogers and Hammerstein – South Pacific
When Hitler first started passing laws they were largely aimed at excluding Jewish citizens from going certain places, attending certain events. He made their circles of safety smaller and smaller until they no longer existed. How much easier is it to control a population when they feel they have no safe haven, when they are all clustered in one specific place? A lot, I imagine. And it certainly makes it easier to annihilate them, doesn’t it?
Hatred is so freaking efficient.
I grew up in the eighties. I like to think that isn’t ALL that long ago, but in some ways it seems another era altogether. You could never have had shows with openly gay characters who were just, y’know, PEOPLE- not cartoons or ugly stereotypes (thank you, Shonda Rhimes.) People were terrified of AIDS and that gave them a perfect excuse to villify a group of people who were already marginalized in our society and around the world. It was a time when many of our rock stars were androgynous or flamboyant but we never considered the idea that they might be gay- in fact, we threw the word “gay” around as an epithet with alarming regularity- me included.
That was until I auditioned for my local community theater. Before that, I didn’t know any gay people. I mean, I DID- because, of course I did– but I didn’t know it. When I got a part in the chorus of a production of South Pacific I was thrilled, but a little intimidated. These people were TALENTED, and I was… enthusiastic. I could dance, that was about it.
Anyway, it was my first exposure to people who were open about their sexuality and felt free to be whoever they were. I was surrounded by these phenomenally talented, brilliant, funny as hell people – which was a gift of such magnitude. The thing about prejudice is that it’s much harder to pull off close up. I hadn’t thought I held any of those attitudes and biases until they were challenged. It was just so much a part of our culture- that mindless cruelty. “That’s so GAY!” I either heard that or SAID that probably almost every day of my high school years- right up until I joined that cast.
There were people that I’d known in high school who I’d not known were gay until I got to know them in that context. I remember being taken aback at how open one young man was- he’d not behaved that way in school when I knew him. Of course, if he’d behaved that way in my high school, he probably would have been beaten on a daily basis.
Think about that.
Think about consciously reigning in the person you know you were born to be every day just to keep yourself reasonably safe. Think about putting on that mask and moving through the world being careful- not because you’re doing a thing wrong, but because you are surrounded by people who believe what you ARE is wrong. Can you imagine how exhausting that would be? That constant vigilance? That holding your breath all day, every day, all of the days?
I think back then community theater was a refuge for people who grew up in a time when keeping your sexuality deeply buried was the norm. It gave them breathing room to explore who they were, a safe place to figure out their stuff- the way the rest of can do in, y’know, public. I don’t mean to imply that it’s easy now- it’s not. But back then the notion of gay marriage or the fact that my kids’ high schools had Gay-Straight Alliance as an afterschool activity was not even a dream, it was a fantasy.
It was a place where young men and women, many of whom had no safe haven- not even their families of origin- could exhale.
I’m guessing gay nightclubs are the same thing. In fact, I know they are. My friend Jaime wrote beautifully about what having gay nightclubs to go to meant to her.
“These places and so many more showed me that I had people. Beautiful, creative, brave, HOT people. I’m not a club goer much anymore but those are still my places. What happened in Orlando is a violation of a precious, life saving resource for queer people.”
I think that’s so important to understand. Exhale places are not a luxury. Gay nightclubs aren’t just a place to go to have fun, to dance. They’re a respite. We all need places where we feel seen and heard and SAFE. Where we can be ourselves, and love who we love OUT LOUD.
There’s a lot being made of the fact that this is an act of foreign terrorism. I suspect that doesn’t make much of a difference to the people who loved the men and women who were slaughtered there, just as the fact that nice young white man was a domestic terrorist made a difference to the families and friends of the people massacred in a church in South Carolina last year. The lost are still lost- the body count still is what it is. There is no WHY that makes sense, so why should the WHO? Hate with a different tag-line is still hate.
Terror attacks are most effective when they take something or somewhere we previously took for granted as safe and make them ground zero. A domestic flight, a church, an elementary school. A nightclub.
When those places become battlefields it makes it hard for us to breathe.
On opening night of South Pacific, the musical director talked to us before show time. He spoke of how much the show meant to him, with its message of acceptance and tolerance. It was a Love Wins speech, even though we didn’t know to call it that back then. I am embarrassed to admit that until he made that speech, I’d not thought of the way LGBTQ people are treated as a civil rights issue.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!
Him having that safe place to be who God made him to be made the world better. Made ME better. We all suffer when our brothers and sisters have to hold their breath. We are all worse off when one of us cannot exhale.
Go out into the world today and be who you are, and make sure there is safe space for everyone else to breathe, too.
Edward Sotomayor Jr. was 34
Stanley Almodovar III was 23
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo was 20
Juan Ramon Guerrero was 22
Eric Ivan Ortiz Rivera was 36
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz was 22
Luis S. Vielma was 22
Kimberly Morris was 37
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice was 30
Darryl Roman Burt II was 29
Deonka Deidra Drayton was 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez was 21
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla was 25
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez was 35
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez was 50
Amanda Alvear was 25
Martin Benitez Torres was 33
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon was 37
Mercedez Marisol Flores was 26
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado was 35
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez was 25
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez was 31
Oscar A Aracena-Montero was 26
Enrique L. Rios, Jr. was 25
Javier Jorge-Reyes was 40
Miguel Angel Honorato was 30
Joey Rayon Paniagua was 32
Jason Benjamin Josaphat was 19
Cory James Connell was 21
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez was 37
Luis Daniel Conde was 39
Shane Evan Tomlinson was 33
Juan Chavez Martinez was 25
Jerald Arthur Wright was 31
Leroy Valentin Fernandez was 25
Tevin Eugene Crosby was 25
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega was 24
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez was 27
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala was 33
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool was 49
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan was 24
Christopher Andrew Leinonen was 32
Angel Luis Candelario-Padro was 28
Frank Hernandez was 27
Paul Terrell Henry was 41
Antonio Davon Brown was 29
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz was 24
Akyra Monet Murray was 18
Say their names out loud today, like a prayer.