[Catalyst Project & Chelsea E Manning:] Statements on Orlando Mass Shooting
Yesterday morning I checked the news groggy-eyed and learned of the massacre in Orlando at ‘Latin Night’ at the Pulse gay club. The grief is overwhelming. I find myself unexpectedly in and out of tears.
Queer space is sacred. We owe the fact that there is space for us to go seek community, joy, pleasure, desire, family and justice to generations of freedom fighters. To the ACT UP warriors and the dyke caretakers who fought for queer safety and survival while most of the world did not care as a generation died of AIDS. To people like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and other unsung transgender women of color who fought the police at Stonewall and continued fighting for the right to live with dignity, power and safety. To James Baldwin and Audre Lorde and Bayard Rustin. To the queer and trans leaders of Black Lives Matter and many other movements carrying the torch today. To so many whose names we will never know because they have been intentionally erased from our history.
This year, 16 states were subjected to a right-wing Christian push for some of the most vitriolic anti-LGBTQ legislation this country has ever seen. Last year 21 transgender women, most of them Black, were murdered. We live in a society where queer and trans people, especially people of color, are forced into poverty, prison, criminalized work, and isolation–and the impact of all of this is often premature death. Orlando is an outrage, and it happened in the middle of an epidemic.
I’m writing to you all today because I am sad and scared and furious. Because despite the fact politicized, right-wing Christianity is daily making it less and less safe to be queer and trans in the U.S, all the news will be talking about is Islam and ISIS (also known as Daesh, the Islamic State, and ISIL).
None of them will say that U.S. imperialism in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Libya, Palestine, Lebanon, and Somalia has caused massive trauma, displacement, destabilization and poverty in a region we have desecrated with war. They won’t acknowledge that the wars we launched paved the way for the rise of Al Qaeda and then the Islamic State. None of them will say that our own culture’s virulent racism and patriarchy and queer/transphobia kill people every day. None of them will say that what we actually need is a militant anti-racist movement for queer and trans liberation and against U.S. empire.
And that is why we have to. We have to engage when they ask “Why do the terrorists hate us?” We have to engage when they say that Islam is more homophobic than Christianity. We have to engage when people want to use our communities’ grief as a justification for further hate and policing and war.
In the days ahead it will be important to look to the leadership of radical queer and trans people of color, of queer Muslims, of people who are doing the work day in day out to free us all.
As a part of that, we want to ask you to join us in donating to Southerners on New Ground (SONG). “SONG is a regional Queer Liberation organization made up of people of color, immigrants, undocumented people, people with disabilities, working class and rural and small town, LGBTQ people in the South. SONG envisions a sustainable South that embodies the best of its freedom traditions and works towards the transformation of our economic, social, spiritual, and political relationships.” May their work light our path forward.
Fifty people lost their lives yesterday and many more lives are forever changed. As we head into Pride month, whole communities will be grieving and scared about accessing the very spaces that could provide a collective sense of comfort. At this moment, those of us who are queer and trans people could imagine that our fear and grief is exceptional. But the experience of feeling unsafe in the very places we go to heal is one that has been shared by too many people, including Black churchgoers, undocumented people seeking refuge, and Muslims attending mosques and schools and hospitals in warzones.
Last night many of us were at a vigil, coming together in our collective grief. When one of the speakers said that it is “time to stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters” a beautiful cheer erupted from the crowd. This is our moment to show the world that we will fight for the safety and freedom of people everywhere.
With love to the families and friends and survivors in Orlando, and to those who have known their pain.
Keep loving. Keep fighting.
Isaac Lev Szmonko
on behalf of Catalyst Project
Note: Images did not appear in the original statement but were added when reposting to this blog.
We must not let the Orlando nightclub terror further strangle our civil liberties
This morning, I woke up in my cell to an even more shattered and fractured world. We are lost. We are devastated. We are bewildered. We are hurt. And we are angry. I haven’t been this angry since losing a soldier in my unit to an RPG attack in southeastern Baghdad during my deployment in Iraq in 2010.
As a young queer kid growing up, I explored my identity through the Chicago and Washington DC club scene. As many have said, the club is our sanctuary – a place where we find ourselves, love ourselves and find community. I can totally relate to the trauma that has afflicted our community in the wake of the shooting in Orlando.
We must grieve and mourn and support each other, but in our grief and outrage we must resist any temptations to let this attack – or any attack – trigger anti-Muslim foreign policy, attacks on our civil liberties or as an excuse to descend into xenophobia and Islamophobia.
However, an attack like this is carefully planned and executed to maximize attention by inflaming the passions of a helpless public. Because of this, the response can be more dangerous than the attack. The refrains of “safety and security” have, for many years, been used as a tool by the powerful to justify curtailing civil liberties and emboldening backlash against immigrants, Muslim people and others.
Those who wish to continue campaigns of fear are prepared to cast an entire religion as hateful with no reflection on their own complicity in the many forms of violence the queer community encounters in the United States. We should not let their agendas guide our reaction to this senseless massacre.
We’re not sure yet what schemes might be proposed over the next few days and weeks, but we have seen how politicians have used our fear to compromise our constitution many times in the past, from extraordinary rendition (kidnapping) to enhanced interrogation (torture), from foreign intelligence surveillance courts to encryption backdoors.
Some will claim extreme measures are necessary to protect the queer and trans community. Others will erase the queer and Latin identities of the victims and instead claim that we are at war with Islam. But regardless of how the narrative is told, such policies will undoubtedly have a negative impact on our community at home and abroad.
Current proposals for hate crime laws and terrorism enhancements only take more power away from our community. We consolidate power with law enforcement only to have those same mechanisms turned against us. For example, more intense scrutiny on verification procedures in government and business have created barriers for trans people seeking documents that correctly identify their gender, causing us to be subjected to abusive and humiliating searches when traveling. Any increase in surveillance of marginalized communities for the sake of security theater have expanded the cycle of criminalization that queer people – especially queer people of color – are forced to navigate.
Earlier this year, the FBI sought a novel judicial backdoor to a cellphone in response to the San Bernardino attack. Such a backdoor would have potentially allowed the government to more easily target queer and trans people as well as human rights campaigners, environmentalists and anti-corporate protestors as “threats and criminals.”
In response to leaks and mass attacks on military bases, the FBI also sought to stifle potential whistleblowers. This Insider Threat program used my gender identity, psychological profile and history as a basis for their targeting. “Safety and security” has even been used as a justification to place a two-inch limit on the length of my hair.
We are not safe and secure when the government uses us as pawns to perpetrate violence against others. Our safety and security will come when we organize, love and resist together.
We should remember that we are alive. We are real flesh and blood. Apart from the fact that we are increasingly disconnected from the world by technology and politics, we are still surviving as a community.
And even though we have come a long way, events like these remind us we still have a long way to go. Thoughts and prayers alone won’t protect our community. We need to continue to build and support queer and trans communities and end the profiling and criminalization that so many face.
We find solace and sanctuary in the club because we are so often expelled from other public spaces – from bathrooms, from street corners, from jobs, from history. Our survival is our resistance. And our solidarity and support for the Muslim community in these coming days and months – some of whom are queer and trans – will lift us all up in the face of anyone seeking to further marginalize another.
How Chelsea Manning sees herself. By Alicia Neal, in cooperation with Chelsea herself, commissioned by the Chelsea Manning Support Network, 23 April 2014