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    Ann Rostow: We’ve All Been to Pulse

    annboxBy Ann Rostow

    We’ve All Been to Pulse

    There’s a version of Pulse in every city, and we’ve all been there. We’ve all met friends there on a Saturday night. We’ve all joined the crowd trying to get a drink as last call approaches. We can all hear the music and laughter and feel the chaotic fun of a gay nightclub in early summer, in the wee hours of the morning when time has stopped for a seemingly endless moment and when everyone around us feels like a friend.

    Our community has changed considerably over the last 30 years, and so have bars like Pulse. In the 90s, they truly were safe havens; the only places where we could stop looking over our shoulders. Even years later, they were still the meeting spots, the social clubs, the public parties filled with possibilities. These days, connections are made online rather than on the dance floor, safety is to be found in many places, and gay bars are for everyone. But underneath it all, Pulse hasn’t changed. The baby boomers, the gen-xers, the millennials: we’ve all been to Pulse.

    So when a violent nihilist barges in with an assault weapon and murders dozens of people in a barrage of gunfire, well, I don’t quite know what to say.

    Was this an antigay hate crime, or an indirect ISIS attack? The answer reminds me of that gold or blue dress that circulated on the Internet a year or so ago. Squint one way and the guy was obviously filled with pent-up gay hatred, maybe self-loathing, maybe a weird obsession. Squint another way and the guy clearly had a thing for terrorists, regardless of their specific ideologies. ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, this man was oblivious to their differing “religious” or political positions and attracted simply to their shared approval of killing people.

    But gold or blue, the dress was a dress. Likewise, this guy was a mass shooter who sought to murder as many people as possible. They are fundamentally all the same, these mass shooters. The Columbine boys, Timothy McVeigh, the guy in Arizona, the Charleston church killer, the 9/11 pilots, the Newtown maniac. Too many to name. All with their own sick motivations. All with their own inexplicable catalysts. Racism, social isolation, mental illness, homophobia, twisted faith, politics. What on Earth can we do about them? Have they always been with us? Will they always be lurking—psychopaths bent on destruction with hair triggers in their minds like aneurisms?

    Do their motives even matter? It seems as if these men are so damaged that their rationales are irrelevant, and yet it is in our nature to unravel and try to understand each specific instance as if an analysis of one particular case might reveal an off button. We examine the logistics of each crime with detailed hindsight even as each scenario varies wildly from the last. We call for gun laws, only to be told that this or that law would not have stopped this or that massacre. We stereotype over a billion Muslims in an effort to thwart a handful of mass shooters with ties to the Middle East. We do useless things (and refuse to do the one obvious thing that might lesson the carnage—ban assault weapons).

    But there’s another thing we can do, and we can do it for ourselves. And that’s simply to refuse to be terrorized. Lightning kills about 45 people a year in the U.S.; car accidents kill well over 30,000 Americans annually; gun violence kills more. And mass shooters? Over the seven years through 2015, they’ve killed roughly 200 Americans, and in doing so, they have literally terrorized us all in the process.

    It’s an instinctive reaction. We can stay inside during a storm, we can avoid dangerous neighborhoods, and we can drive carefully. But there’s nothing we can do to make absolutely sure we will not find ourselves dodging bullets at the mall or the movie theater. So danger seems possible, and after Orlando, if we go out dancing tonight, it seems more than possible.

    But it’s not.

    Yes, anything’s possible. We could be crushed to death by our own Jeep in our own driveway. But for all practical purposes, we are safe from mass shooters, period. Now, if we could be safe from fear, safe from overreaction, safe from falling into an unwarranted defensive crouch, we would be okay. And we can be if we so choose. Let’s choose that.

    Mass shooters have a variety of targets, and many just aim at a generic crowd. This time, we were the direct target, but this was no simple hate crime. This was yet another crime against us as a nation, and just as our community grieved for Charleston and San Bernardino, so our compatriots grieved for us. Just as we grieved for Paris, the Eiffel Tower was bathed in rainbow colors, and so it was around the world. And this was not simply because of the tenuous ISIS connection. It was an outpouring of human empathy in the face of barbarism, and it signified that our community is no longer considered un-American or sub-human. That has not always been the case, and in the midst of this horrifying week, I was deeply grateful for that.

    Does Hate Still Matter?

    The post-Orlando news contained various hateful items. A preacher who publicly wished more of us had been killed. An accidental Facebook post (quickly deleted) from none other than the Lt. Governor of Texas, reminding sinners that “you reap what you sow.” A nasty church sign in Atlanta, later “vandalized” when the words linking gays to Satan were covered with black paint. A Westboro Baptist protest at one of the Orlando funerals (blocked by people dressed as angels). On the whole, however, support for the LGBT community was virtually universal.

    When I first started writing this column some 20 years ago, I would report antigay speech in the U.S. as an example of the tip of the iceberg. For every preacher or politician lashing out at our community, a hundred more were saying the same thing just under the news radar. Now, the iceberg is more of a floe and it’s the positive things that people say that are representative of a silent supportive majority. I’m not trying to be a Pollyanna. I’m just saying that the Westboro Baptist Church and the obscene preacher have become anomalies rather than examples of intolerance.

    That said, the intolerance most certainly remains. It is less intense, more complex, and more hidden than it was in the past, and in that way it’s both less dangerous, and harder to fight. That also means that the random crazy clearly homophobic comment from a fringe spokesperson is less newsworthy. News should focus on reality and the reality beneath the reality. As such, good reporting on where we stand as a community requires a more complex analysis than it has in the past.

    I’m writing all of this (I was just asking myself how the hell I got on this tangent) because as a GLBT writer, I still encounter all of these news items about this fool or that idiot who said stupid stuff about gays. Sometimes, I feel as if all of us in the gay media cover this stuff out of habit with the same mindset we have had in the past. But the context has changed and I wonder whether it still serves a purpose to write about the Westboro Baptist Church as if they exemplify a deep national well of gay hatred. They don’t. They’re ridiculous. But they’re still worth a line or two in this column.

    Sorry Fish

    I am now torn between devolving into mindless ramblings on irrelevant topics, and revisiting the ongoing debate over transrights. You might remember our court victory a few months ago at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, where a split panel ruled in favor of a transboy who was banned from the bathroom by his Virginia high school. Recently, the appellate court declined to review its decision and the school district announced plans to appeal this case to the High Court. Given that there are several other transrights cases in line for the federal courts, given that the original ruling was not unanimous, and given that the case was sent back to the lower court and is still going on, it’s not clear that the eight-member High Court will accept. We’ll see.

    So what do you say? Shall we wander off course?

    I was surfing around the other day and encountered an alarming headline that asked: “Do Fish Have Feelings?”

    You know, every now and then I look around at the world, recognize that I was born in the 1950s, and think that I just have to hang on for another 20 years or so and try to ignore some of the disturbing developments that will encumber my juniors. One of things that I don’t want to deal with is the notion that “fish have feelings.”

    It’s becoming more and more difficult to scarf down bacon (pigs are as intelligent as five year olds), fowl (geese mate, fall in love, and mate for life), beef (cows recognize and show affection to specific farmers and children) and the list goes on. I’ve even had trouble tossing the old lobster into the pot (do lobsters feel pain?) and now I have to worry about fish feelings?

    I’m serious. I will continue to eat fish and various animals, and I will continue to compartmentalize as I eat them so that I don’t think about the friendly cow and the curious pig and the frightened lobster. I can do that at this point in my life, but if I were in my twenties, I think I’d have to reevaluate the whole thing. Indeed, in a hundred years I believe we will eat differently as we continue to recognize a sophistication in animals that was unthinkable in earlier times.

    Oh, and I’ve also been seeing commercials asking women if they have contracted cancer from talcum powder. Talcum powder? Really? What’s next? Cancer from bottled water? Cancer from cotton sheets? Cancer from writing on your laptop all day while smoking cigarettes and drinking grapefruit vodka?

    Hey, if I get it, I’m blaming the talcum powder.

    No Excuse for Assault Weapons

    I know I should probably dig up some additional GLBT news, but there’s one more subject that’s been on my mind. I’m one of those people that favors gun control, but I am reportedly not as enthusiastic in this belief as are the people that oppose gun control. I just read an article about the difference in intensity between the two sides and I guess I plead guilty.

    But what bothers me in the recent discussions is the idea that the slightest restriction on gun control “violates” the Second Amendment. In fact, there are many situations in which constitutional amendments can and should give way, particularly situations when competing rights are in opposition. As a community, for example, we face a version of this conflict when a religious actor refuses to follow a law that protects the larger public from discrimination. When a government has a legitimate public interest in a policy that might trespass on constitutional rights, that policy survives.

    The right to an abortion has been ruled constitutional. But states are nonetheless allowed to modify that right within certain parameters.

    Free speech is a constitutional right, but there are limits, not just for those who would yell fire in a theater, but also for those who would use speech to threaten your life or disrupt certain forums or undermine school safety.


    So why would there not be limits to the Second Amendment? Surely a government has a legitimate, if not compelling, interest in banning military style weapons from the public square. Surely the government has a legitimate interest in keeping a person on a watch list from buying a dangerous gun. Indeed, we just saw the Supreme Court say as much by refusing to hear the appeal of the Connecticut assault weapons ban.


    It is infuriating then, to listen to these sanctimonious Republicans fawn over the constitutional due process rights of the hypothetical person who might have accidentally been placed on a terrorist watch list or a no fly list. These lawmakers are the same people who seek to defund Planned Parenthood without a second thought for women who need a safe abortion and can no longer find a local clinic.


    They bend over backwards for probable terrorists and undermine women throughout conservative states, all without blinking an eye.