I teach children. I teach them math and compassion and resilience and humor. I teach them inspiration and partnership and responsibility and love for other human beings. And I teach them how to respond in case of armed intruders. We drill and role-play various scenarios multiple times a year because their lives are at stake every time they walk into a classroom. These “safe places” for learning have not been safe for years.
When I learned of the horrific and tragic shooting in Orlando, I hung my head in grief and shame. We have been here before. Individuals get upset, bring weaponry, and destroy lives. Shootings have become commonplace in the United States; so much so, in fact, that there’s a clear pattern to the response. Horror. Rhetorical and shock-laden “How could this happen?” questions. Statements offering sympathy and prayers. Temporary Facebook profile picture changes. Vigils. Calls for increased focus on mental health assistance. Calls for gun access reform. Devolving debates between the groups. And then the conversation fades away.
Let’s be clear. Each one of these responses is temporary. Each is a reactionary measure. Each is predicated on the assumption that this is all that CAN be done, both individually and collectively, or, worse, that this is all that NEEDS to be done.
I grapple with the knowledge that I am complicit in these murders because I have not done enough to prevent them from happening; I bear some responsibility for the event and I have a significant amount of anger at myself as a result. I have not worked enough for systematic changes to our culture of violence, vengeance, and othering. I have not worked enough for my trans, queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and questioning friends to be accepted by the wider community, enough for them to be safe to be themselves all the time. I have not worked enough for systematic mental health assistance or systematic gun access reform. My complacency, our collective complacency, has resulted in more tragedy. Did we think the cycle would end because the last time was so horrible?! Have we decided that a certain amount of loss of life is considered normal and okay? When did we lose sight of the humanity in others?
I struggled to get to sleep last night. Normally I use mindfulness meditation techniques to calm my mind and body and settle into sleep. Didn’t work. I couldn’t calm down using any of my standard methods, so I tried a new one. I recited Assata Shakur, over and over again, as a way to find control and hope in this situation. “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” Those four sentences bring it all home for me.
Countless queer and trans folks, mostly individuals of color, have been on the front lines of the Black Lives Matter movement, reminding us that their safety is not guaranteed. Queer Lives Matter. Trans Lives Matter. Trans Women’s Lives Matter. These individuals have been othered and victimized and threatened and scared for far too long. Folks should not die because we, as a society, have not taken adequate measures to put safety and well-being and love at the forefront. These people have been sacrificed as a result of our complacency.
So, I say it again. It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.