Finding words to process the wave of anti-LGBTQ antagonism and violence

By Helen Parshall

The most interesting interview I’ve ever had started with a simple question: Do you consider yourself to be a writer or a journalist? 

I was at the journalism career fair in my final semester of graduate school, trying to figure out where I wanted to take my career once my masters was complete, and longtime journalist Rob Hiaasen was there with the Capital Gazette. 

We talked about the tension I felt around how I approached storytelling, having been shaped by activism before entering journalism, and Rob’s simple question made me realize that it was OK to not fit into the model of a traditional reporter.

I didn’t leave the career fair with any answers to my existential questions or job offers for after school, but I felt more sure in my craft than I had walking into the room — and that was everything.

Rob Hiaasen was one of five people killed in the Capital Gazette shooting in Annapolis, Maryland, on June 28, 2018.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been more than 600 mass shootings just this year.

I often think of Rob’s simple question in moments like this where I feel the tension between a  calling to create something as a writer and powerlessness to make any sort of impact. 

By now, we’ve all seen the news about the shooting at Club Q on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance. The echoes of the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando, which claimed 49 lives, the majority of whom were Black and Latinx, are pronounced. 

Spaces like Club Q and Pulse are refuges for LGBTQ+ people — sometimes the only ones in communities that are less than welcoming. Club Q was set to host a TDOR event the morning after the shooting, but instead of remembering the victims of transphobic violence from the past year, they are mourning new losses of their own.

Officials, family and friends have confirmed the names of the five lives lost at Club Q: Ashley Paugh, Raymond Green Vance, Kelly Loving and bartenders Daniel Aston and Derrick Rump. Additionally, nearly 20 other individuals remain injured, some critically.

Ashley is remembered by her sister as “a loving, caring person who would do anything for anybody.”

Raymond, described as having a “bright smile,” was at Club Q with his girlfriend and others to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

Kelly is remembered by a close friend as “‘like a trans mother’ who taught her how to be tough and move through the world as a trans woman.” 

Daniel’s parents have spoken about their worry that something like this would happen after their son came out to them as transgender. His mother told Colorado Public Radio that “he was the happiest he had ever been. … He had so much more life to give to us and to all to his friends and to himself.”

Derrick is remembered as “loving, supportive, with a heavy hand in his drink pouring, and just a really good listener.” CBS Philadelphia wrote that his friends said that he “welcomed everyone into Club Q with a warmth and light that has now been tragically dimmed.”

Each of these individuals were deeply loved by so many.

In my conversations since Sunday with other queer friends, I hear echoes of my own immense heartbreak and exhaustion as we reflect on this tragedy. Almost no one is surprised that a tragedy of this magnitude has happened again, in the wake of the rise of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, antagonism and violence in recent years. I’m certainly not.

Since Transgender Day of Remembrance last year, we know of 47 people whose lives were taken, according to reporting from the National Center for Transgender Equality

“Within our community, we also know that trans women of color, and especially Black trans women, face an alarming and unacceptable amount of violence,” said the organization. “Trans women made up 85% percent of those taken from us, and 70% of those trans women were Black.”

More than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in statehouses across the country this year, according to tracking by the Human Rights Campaign.

Extremist, dangerous rhetoric from politicians across the country fuels stigma, bias and threats made against LGBTQ people from events like drag queen story hours to Prides — and simply just wanting to dance. 

Startlingly, approximately 1 in 5 of all hate crimes is now motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ bias, according to the Department of Justice.

This has to change.

We at the Bisexual Resource Center are absolutely heartbroken by the shooting at Club Q and we send our deepest condolences to all who lost loved ones. And though too often erased from mainstream media accounts, we know that our bi+ community is also hurting right now. Violence, stigma and hatred impact each of us.

One thing the BRC strives to do is provide resources and support to connect our communities, and so I want to end this post by shining a light on a few organizations that are doing incredible work to support QTBIPOC communities as we reflect on TDOR this year. Please feel free to add your own and help us grow this list.

And click here to donate to the fundraiser for the victims of the Club Q tragedy or here to donate to Inside Out Youth Services, the Colorado Springs area LGBTQ youth center.

I don’t have any answers with which to end this post. I encourage each of us to surround ourselves with love and check in on each other today and in the days to come.