The success of the Brexit referendum has been a capstone for a year that has seemed to be defined by the politics of hate, exclusion, fear, and intolerance. The symbolic apotheosis of these politics has been in the Trump campaign in America. More practically, though, it could be seen in Omar Mateen’s brutal attack on dozens of innocent individuals in Orlando.
For those of us with a progressive bent to our politics, the year has had a tremendous number of lows. Bernie Sanders, the first Presidential candidate in decades with policy proposals even close to the mainstream of actual American opinion, seems defeated, barring a miracle, by a woman from a family who practically defined the pro-corporate rightward shift of the Democratic party. After the previous two Republican presidential candidates were relatively pragmatic centrists, the Republican party will nominate someone whose politics at the very least evoke a strong fascist bent and who started his campaign by painting Mexicans as rapists. Transgender bathroom bills showed those of us fighting for the rights of the marginalized that, even with major victories for gay and lesbian individuals, those on the LGBTQ spectrum still face their rights being in serious peril. Worse, the fact that so many bills appeared simultaneously to restrict the rights of transgender people indicates that organized political opposition to progress in America know that they can still pull on the strings of fear and revulsion. For all the work we’ve done, the politics of misunderstanding and division still hold sway in the United States.
On the Wednesday following the Orlando shooting, in the city I spent my first six years of life, I attended a candlelight vigil. The vigil was arranged by a young man, Bobby Trice, who I have known for his entire life. He said that, after he woke Sunday to hear about the shooting, that “I froze — for a while I was numb. Then I broke down, and my mom and I ended up crying all morning at the kitchen table”. He had a visceral reaction to this tragedy, as indeed he should have.
I realized, as he and others spoke at this vigil, that I hadn’t had the same visceral reaction. Being involved in politics for almost fifteen years now, events like the shooting in Orlando have become entirely too routine. I’ve seen far too many of my transgender friends struggling to get the most basic assistance to survive because of transphobia in the institutions they interacted with, let alone be treated with the dignity, respect and understanding that they deserve, and I’ve seen it for years. After an election season defined by Trump, I reacted with the idea that this would be just one more mess that we would have to all pick up as a society, yet another tragedy pushed forward by the forces that seek to divide us. This kind of a gradual acceptance of the insane as typical has affected too many of us, and led us to fear that the world may be collapsing into hate with no chance to stop it. I had come to accept that these kinds of atrocities are de rigueur. But they need not be, and I and others fight for the day that they are not.
Make no mistake: Mateen may have acted from a place of Islamic dogma, but he is the flipside of the Trump phenomenon beyond a doubt. He wanted to silence, shame and eliminate those who were different.
At the vigil, Bobby spoke to the crowd and told us that he would put Mateen’s picture on the wall of victims. He knew that Mateen himself had been trapped by hate just as surely as everyone who had died from the bullets he fired.
And in that moment, the hope for the future became clear.
Imagine if an event like the Orlando shooting happened in the 1980s. Imagine how much silence, misunderstanding and blaming of the victim there would have been. Imagine how few people would have been able to stand with the LGBTQ community, or be out of the closet in their action. The comparison is self-evident: the very fact that we can mourn in public, the fact that so many Americans can view the victims of the shooting as victims… it is comparing night and day. Social change is like the erosion of a rock: it takes the years, but it is unquestionable and inexorable.
Bills that aim to restrict the rights of transgender people, the shooting in Orlando, the hate Trump is preaching… they all are a sign of something clear: Those of us who believe in social progress and justice, who believe that every human being deserves love and respect, are winning.
Bobby learned how to fight because of Mateen. In a mere few days, he put together an incredible event to let hundreds of people mourn and celebrate life.
In one county alone, Mateen’s action galvanized a lifetime of resistance.
As hard as this election cycle can be, remember this: We are winning. If men like Mateen can’t even inspire us to hate them, then as loud and as ugly as Trump’s supporters will be, we will know it as the cry of dinosaurs on the way out. They’ve already lost: They just don’t know it yet.
This article was written by Frederic Christie, a writer for dusk magazine.