The numbness is starting to recede, but I am still struck at odd moments by tears and waves of grief, for people I will never have the chance to know.
Many have begun speaking about how they feel unsafe in public spaces. I have always felt this way. Living in the South, I am on the alert for homophobic violence, and walk through the world in a constant state of threat assessment.
This may be difficult for many people to understand. They might say that we've made so much progress, with the legal recognition of a right to equal marriage, and the progress on adoption and children's rights. And that's true, those things have happened.
But that isn't the whole story. As a historian and activist, I know quite well what many have started to say again: there is a sad relationship between progress and violence. As the LGBT community makes progress in the courts, make progress in some cultural spaces, those who oppose our existence are increasingly marginalized. As they recognize that they will not win this struggle, that their bigotry and hatred will not carry the day, their rage increases, and their focus turns from legislation and policy to punishing the LGBT community for existing.
This is a dynamic people of color recognize immediately, as visibility increased violence against people working in the African American civil rights movement. Those who oppose rights for all—and they are the same people, make no mistake—want most of all for minority communities to be silent. And when we are no longer silent, they begin to take matters into their own hands, usually with the deaths of innocents as a result.
It is important to recognize that this does not entail the end of policy struggle by those who are opposed to LGBT people, full stop. Far from it. As we know, the past two years have been marked by a stupendous outpouring of anti-LGBT legislative efforts, in states in the South and Midwest. These efforts are usually accompanied by the hateful caricatures of LGBT people as predatory, damaging, and un-American beings, less than a full person. As those attacks proceeded in the statehouse, hate crimes against LGBT people rose in the streets.
Words matter. Words can hurt. And sometimes, tragically, words can lead to deaths and violence. When people like Pam Bondi, Rick Scott, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mike Pence, Pat McCrory, and all the others like them try weasel their way out of their responsibility for creating the culture that nurtures this violence, we must recognize this for the lie it is. They may even be lying to themselves. But for effective change to happen, we have to recognize the damage done by a public discourse that makes LGBT people out to be subhuman sex monsters who are too dangerous to use a public restroom, care for a child or marry one another. Those who peddle these lies have to be challenged, vigorously and constantly. We cannot be silent.