How The Pulse Nightclub Shooting Forced The World To Finally See Us As Human

By now we all know what happened.

One year ago today, 49 people were murdered in the most deadly mass shooting in U.S. history. They were people of all genders. They were mostly Black and Latinx. They were all targeted because they were at a club catering to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and allied people.

And with 49 dead and more than 50 wounded, I can’t help but think about how this tragedy helped our society at-large to begin to see people like me as human. Especially in tragedy.

As is usual in the throes of a mass medical emergency, Central Floridians were called upon to donate blood, and the world began to grapple with it all. And in this case, many of those who were closest to the tragedy were members of the region’s LGBTQ community and, of course, immediately wanted to give blood, which was vital for the surviving victims.

But due to federal laws, many of those wanting to help were blocked from doing so— even if they were family— due to being LGBTQ.

The lifetime blood donation ban for gay and bi men, and often in practice trans women as well, was announced by the FDA in 1983 in the early years of the AIDS crisis. Two years ago, long after the science around the question had evolved, the lifetime ban was altered, becoming a twelve-month ban starting from a person’s most recent sexual activity with another man. Of course, for many of us that is effectively no different.

But the dialogue around the blood of queer men has also evolved, even just since 2016 — and Pulse was a factor in this change. Following the massacre, a whole new wave of pressure poured into the FDA from LGBTQ people and our allies all over the country. And the very next month, the FDA initiated a process many hope will result in a complete overhaul of the policy. The first step is an open open call to the research community for relevant evidence on what reforms might look like.

A few months before, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins University did the first HIV-positive-to-HIV-positive organ transplant in the United States. The year after the blood ban was instituted, the government and UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing, promulgated a similar policy that the organs of HIV-positive people were unfit for transplantation. Since then, South Africa began HIV-positive-to-HIV-positive transplants in 2008, but in the U.S. we continued throwing away life-saving organs for another eight years.

But I’m encouraged that it’s happening now and I’m encouraged by all of the activism that has come out of the tragedy.

I’m hesitant to suggest that our grief must do something in order to be meaningful – grief is a long and winding process, and it can take as many forms as there are people. But I do want to suggest that some of the deepest healing we can do takes place in community, particularly when we do come together and transform our grief by working to transform the world.

My fondest hope is that those who have been spurred to action by this and other tragedies in our community pay attention to the details of the story though.

What can ultimately make activism the most transformative is when those who are most impacted are able to take their place at the helm. In this case, we must continue listening to queer people of color just like our Black and Latinx siblings we lost that night, as well as the queer Muslims who may have suffered increased prejudice in its wake.

And we can begin by having more conversations with our policy makers about better ways to change anti-LGBTQ policieslike the continual ban on blood from gay and queer men.

If we want to change medical policies, gun policies, and the rest of the world to better take into account the LGBTQ experience, these are the experiences to lead with, because a world that is safer for queer people of color is a world that is safer for everyone.

If Pulse taught us one thing, it’s that we are resilient and through all bad things we will and can come out stronger than ever before.

Far From Equal: A Community Grows in Tunisia

I can still remember very clearly the first meeting I attended. It was during the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia in 2014. Chouf (شوف), a new feminist LBT organization, held a secret gathering to commemorate its creation. A secret event was set up through Facebook, and only people who were invited could get in. The ATFD, another feminist organization, offered their space for the event. We were all excited, but also petrified that the police would come.

Before that day, I wasn’t aware of any LGBTQ people organizing in Tunisia. But as I started to become more involved, I discovered there was an organization called Damj (دمج), which had opened its doors in 2011 and officially registered with the government. They were actively working to change the law that makes homosexuality illegal here. Just as Chouf was getting off the ground, a group called Mawjoudin (موجودين) was being created and was registered by the end of 2014. Things haven’t been easy; the safety and security of our members have been very big issues. But today, things have improved considerably, and the community continues to grow.

At the same time, Tunisia has emerged as one of the world’s most promising democracies. In 2011, the whole nation stood up against the dictator who had been ruling for over two decades, attracting a lot of international attention. What was called the Jasmine Revolution brought hope and a determination for a better life and opportunities. Then in 2014, a new constitution came into effect, protecting and guaranteeing the rights of all citizens equally.

But, of course, the reality on the ground has been a bit different. A lot of what we have witnessed for the past six years is a whitewashing of Tunisia’s image, despite the numerous human rights violations that have occurred. As queer people, we are faced with an everyday struggle to be recognized as equal citizens. Lesbian, gay, and bi people specifically, are still persecuted under article 230 of the penal code which states that homosexuality is criminalized and punished by three years in prison.

Most people arrested under this article are men. To prove they’ve had gay sex, they are forced to undergo an invasive and humiliating anal test. National and international human rights organizations have denounced this practice, labeling it torture, but Tunisian officials have continued to use it.

This is not to say that there has not been enormous social progress. Although society has been witnessing the rise of Islamism and conservatism during the past years, the calls for hate and murder of homosexuals by some religious figures have not deterred more and more people from opening up to education and discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity.

The media has also helped address LGBTQ issues, whether on TV, radio, or in written form. Although not all platforms have been allies, the issue is being put out there; the dialogue has started and it is strengthening our community. It took some time before the terminology used on some channels changed from “perverts” and “pedophiles” to the correct Arabic terms for “gay,” “lesbian,” and “trans.” More time is still needed to build a progressive, respectful media, but we have come a long way and for this we are proud.

Despite the lack of authority over these hate speeches and the limited legal achievements, queer people of Tunisia have built a great community – a young and determined community, striving to end all injustice.

All or Nothing: Europe’s Troubled History of Recognizing Trans People

When I started my career as a trans activist in 2003, sterilization was seen as something that just “came with the territory” of being a trans person. Both my native Germany and the Netherlands, where I lived at the time, made it an explicit requirement for legal gender recognition, i.e. my ability to change the gender marker on my paperwork. Sterilization in this context means infertility through surgery, such as a hysterectomy (for trans men) or removal of the testicles (for trans women).

Back then, that seemed logical to most. After all, what was once called “transsexualism” was understood to be a desperate need to transition from one neatly defined gender to the (only) other neatly defined gender, including a desire to get rid of reproductive organs. These notions were internalized by doctors and trans patients alike and went unquestioned, even by virtually all of the trans people I met in support groups.

But how did we get there?

Access to transition care in Western Europe developed something like this: trans people sought hormones and surgeries, then found providers (often outside the mainstream) who were willing to do it. Doctors became convinced by the first narrative they heard, there were only two genders and these individuals required a change from one to the other. Trans people then shared that same narrative with their peers, who in turn used it again to get the health care they also sought. Over time the “standard” trans story became entrenched, including the crucial element that all trans people wanted, or needed, every available surgery so as to be “completely the other” gender. Ultimately, that version of a trans story was not only the desired story but the obligatory one.

Doctors actively rejected those individuals who did not fit, making non-binary trans people, as well as others, unable to access the health care they needed without also undergoing treatments they did not need or want.

Another part of that narrative was the belief that all trans people sought to live as “stealth” a life as possible – i.e. without being visible to anybody as a trans person. To facilitate this invisible life – which was heavily promoted by doctors – trans people needed identity documents that showed their self-identified gender.

There was no real choice between fertility and being recognized as a person before the law. I needed a job, and therefore proper ID – so I did what I had to do.

Parliamentary documentation does not tell us much about the reasoning that went into explicitly requiring sterilization (this would be a fun project for a historian!). But I believe that it was written into law following the same eugenic thinking that forced involuntary sterilizations on other marginalized communities such as Roma, poor people, and people with disabilities. It is rooted in a belief that some lives are socially undesirable and simply not worth living, and so must be prevented, even eradicated. But the act of taking a treatment protocol based on a narrative that fit the identities of some people and turning it into a piece of law that applied to all was a factor as well. Sterilization is a necessary or desired part of medical care for some trans people. This is perfectly reasonable provided that those individuals can make an informed decision about their fertility. For their legal treatment, however, mandatory sterilization or any other medical requirement becomes a human rights violation, especially when it is codified as a precondition for an unrelated benefit – such as an updated identity document.

The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights last month is a major victory and fulfills a vow that I made to myself when I started out as a trans activist: to ensure that no one else was subjected to the coercion that led to my own sterilization. I am deeply grateful to everybody who joined in to make this vision a reality, in ways both big and small – but most of all I am grateful for their work in also envisioning a world free from policing of fertility.

Now that we have prevented new generations of trans people’s exposure to this wrong, our governments must right what was done to us. A full apology and reparations are the least they can do.

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Justus Eisfeld is the co-founder of Transgender Netwerk Nederland, Transgender Europe, and Global Action for Trans* Equality, and helped develop the UN interagency statement “Eliminating forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization.”

A Safe Place: To Be Gay, Muslim, and Strong

From Paulo Berberan:

“’A Safe Place’ started out as a follow up to my previous film ‘A Conversation,’ and I knew from the beginning that I wanted to follow the same structure of filmmaking, only this time, I wanted to push the fictional narrative within the film a bit further.

I interviewed three Muslim LGBTQ subjects: Safdar Kayani, Sohail Ahmed, and Asifa Lahore. From their personal experiences, I started writing my script and building my narrative. Initially, I wanted to focus on their experiences from a religious point of view, but quickly I realized that all three of them had one thing in common: their strength. It was obvious to me that by overcoming the pressures their community had imposed on them, they all faced those obstacles fearlessly.

That’s how my main character, Jamal, came to life and how their experiences influenced my character’s journey into self-acceptance. His relationship with his lover and bully, Hamza, and that duality of love and hate was the main center of my story. Jamal’s struggle was embodied through his dance abilities, and it was the mechanism he used to come to terms with his own identity. Through dance, he found within himself, his personal safe place, away from the dangers and trials of the outside world.

To vehicle this story, I decided to make my film mostly about memory. I use Jamal’s older self, reminiscing about his youth through fragments of imagery and glimpses of a poetic monologue, to tell his own story. I was very much influenced by the poetry of gay rights activist Essex Hemphill, and the filmmaking practices of Marlon Riggs, whose quote I chose to open the film with.

’A Safe Place’ is a film that opts for strong visuals and subtle dialogue to tell its story, yet leaves the viewer to interpret its own silence as well.”

Eight To Know Now: Berlin

Check this mix of dynamic, creative LGBTQ kids causing a creative scene and expressing the fuck out of themselves in Germany’s balls to the wall metropolis. Oh, and they know where to party.

NAME: Hungry
AGE: 23
OCCUPATION: Performer

Where is your safe space?
I feel pretty safe all around Berlin. There are a few areas that can get a bit annoying, but the right attitude gets you through anything. I definitely do have my favourite venues and events to just relax.

Favorite place to go out in Berlin?
Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke. It’s where we have our weekly party. Love the staff, love the venue, love our crowds.

NAME: Michael-John Harper or “MJ”
AGE: 29
OCCUPATION: Performance artist

Do you ever feel nervous to be your true self in public?
I did when I was in high school because I was teased. But I realized what people respected the most – and the point where I no longer felt nervous to be myself in public – was when I started to unapologetically claim ownership of the things that define my idea of myself.

NAME: LyraPramuk
AGE: 26
OCCUPATION: Singer, artist

Do you ever feel nervous to be your true self out in public?
All the time! I’m actually still pretty paranoid. I started transitioning a little over a year ago, and especially as a trans woman it can be extremely intimidating sometimes to be out in public. There’s such a vulnerability to existing as a trans-femme person in our culture. I often deal with anxiety when I’m out in public or in a mainstream environment for very long.

Favorite place to go out in Berlin?
Grunewald – it’s a forest in West Berlin.

NAME: Asbjørn
AGE: 24
OCCUPATION: Musician

Where and when do you most feel yourself?
Dancing is somewhat the perfect balance between letting go of myself, but simultaneously seeing myself from the outside, which I think is a hard balance to achieve on a fundamentally personal level. Being yourself while being conscious about how that affects your surroundings, you know?

Favorite place to go out in Berlin?
First a little live-swing at Vila Neukölln, then dancing my ass off at Schwuz (the small floor), and maybe a late night chat at Ficken3000.

NAME: Marshall Vincent Garrett
AGE: 24
OCCUPATION: Musician

Do you ever feel nervous to be your true self out in public?
Only in cases where I feel some pressure to click with people I don’t click with. I would say there’s a lot of incessant apologizing with not getting along with folks in a place like NYC. In retrospect, in my long time of living there, the word “cordial” comes to mind more than anything. I certainly told myself once I moved and settled in Berlin, that I wouldn’t waste my time. It’s been a fantastic decision.

Favorite place to go out in Berlin?
A friends flat, or my own, preferably with wonderful people, lots of beer, and other things.

NAME: Mikey Woodbridge
AGE: unborn
OCCUPATION: Full-time Mikey

What impact has social media had on your work?
I’ve been lucky enough to score some really amazing jobs and projects that would have never come up if I didn’t have a profile. It’s a powerful and important self-promotion tool, especially if you’re an artist or working in nightlife. I’ve done projects for Rihanna designing a custom outfit, countless party hosting or DJ jobs, photographic and fashion collaborations, and a film for Depeche Mode. They were all jobs earned mostly through having an Instagram account putting my work out there that way.

Favorite place to go out in Berlin?
I’ll usually always end up at Berghain on Sunday. The magic that happens there is unlike anywhere else.

NAME: Nikolaj Tange Lange
AGE: 36
OCCUPATION: Performer, writer, and singer-songwriter-producer in the project Nuclear Family

Where and when do you most feel yourself?
The self is a pretty fluid thing, I think. Whether I am on stage in a costume, on a leash on all fours, or at home on the sofa with a book and a cup of tea, I never feel like I am putting on a role that isn’t part of who I am.

Favorite place to go out in Berlin?
Gegen, Cocktail d’Amore, Herrensauna, and of course Lab-Oratory.

NAME: Ahmad Larnes
AGE: 35
OCCUPATION: Singer/songwriter

Where is your safe space?
A vocal booth.

Favorite place to go out in Berlin?
Berghain

Living As An Undocuqueer In Trump’s America

Six years. That’s how long I have been out as a proud gay man. But 23 years is how long I have been an undocumented immigrant in the United States of America. My name is Jesus Chavez, I am 25 years old, and I am an undocuqueer.

As an undocumented and queer person of color, I live an undocuqueer life. I have come out as gay, and I have come out of the shadows as undocumented. These two parts of me have driven me to overcome obstacles, but also to live with anxiety and fear at the tips of my fingers.

During President Obama’s administration, we had hope. Undocumented youth, often led by those who are also LGBTQ, pushed for and won relief through a program called DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This two-year renewable program provided temporary relief from deportation, and a work permit for young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Despite this program, the Obama administration still deported millions and separated families. This will only worsen under the Trump administration, raising even more fear in my community.

Over the past five years, since the beginning of the DACA program, I have been able to get a job, graduate college, and advance in my life. But all of that could be easily erased if the new president chooses to end the program, as he promised to do numerous times during his campaign. The goals and aspirations of almost 800,000 could be dashed away with just one executive action.

I was three years old when my parents decided to immigrate to the United States. What were their reasons… survival! We lived in an adobe home with a dirt floor, and no running water and electricity. Resources were limited, and my dad could not find work. I often think about my parents’ decision and the difficulty they faced for choosing to leave their home.

My experiences of being undocumented, gay, and carrying the weight of my parents’ aspirations have allowed me to be resilient and survive in this country — even though it often feels like many of its citizens would rather I just disappear. While I am lucky to have the support of my family when I came out, my rejection came at the hands of a government that refuses to accept that I am a citizen of this country, even if my birth certificate does not reflect that.

Being undocumented was something I had to conform to, embrace, and sometimes deny. It has complex layers that barred me from the normal parts of life many people take for granted — like driving and getting a driver’s license. For many people, finding a job can be a daunting task in itself. Now imagine working under the table, or having an employer discriminate against you for your immigration status, despite having a work permit.

On a more personal level, even dating can be tricky. You question yourself: should I tell him? Will he be accepting? Will he take advantage? Will he think I want to marry him to adjust my immigration status? Is he a citizen? Does he realize I can’t travel abroad? And so we undocuqueer people sometimes have to survive by going back into the shadows. This is the common ground that the immigrant justice movement shares with the LGBTQ movement. For many years, LGBTQ individuals hid their identity to conform to society and “feel safe.” And the sad reality is, in this administration, neither LGBTQ or undocumented immigrants are safe.

And while many people in the LGBTQ community cannot fully understand what it means to be undocumented, I want people to know that we are in this together and that hundreds of thousands of people like me are facing a significant threat. In my experience, the worst thing one can do is to dehumanize me without getting to know me; label me without understanding what “illegal” signifies, and threaten me with detention and deportation. I want people to know that Mexico is not “my country.” I haven’t been able to visit since I left as an infant. To deport me now would mean sending me to a place I don’t even know.

We may not know what is going to happen during this new administration. But we do know that as LGBTQ individuals, we are diverse. We all come from somewhere; we all have a story to share, and we all are individuals. But as individuals, we must also take the time to learn, to read, to share and grasp these stories, and avoid simple judgments hurtful to me and my undocuqueer community. We are living difficult times, but like many leaders before us, we will continue to fight and prevail to achieve justice for all.