Message from Jason (June 2016)

Dear friends,

I hope this note finds you as well as possible. As I write this letter LGBTQ people around the country are grieving after the brutal attack on the club Pulse’s Latinx* night in Orlando, Florida. Those of us on the outside have been able to go to public vigils and have been allowed to grieve with our loved ones. I know that inside the prison walls gatherings of groups to mourn can be forbidden. Grieving in community is so important, please know that we on the outside are holding each of you in our hearts as we light candles in honor of those lives that were taken from us.

Like many of us on the outside, maybe you are having moments of feeling hopeless and broken. Like many of us on the outside, maybe you can imagine what the scene must have looked like before the shooting happened, remembering a club you went to on the outside. Maybe you can remember the feeling of the music washing over you as you danced with friends or were getting sweaty with a cutie you met that night. Maybe you went to a club where you were able to be yourself for the first time, not afraid that your family would see you or that a co-worker would find out. Maybe you can feel the beat of the music in your heart as you think about the safe haven bars and clubs have been for so many LGBTQ people.

As the names are made public maybe you recognize someone you knew, a friend, a family member, a lover. This loss of life touches so many of us. Looking at the faces of those who were killed, maybe you can see yourself in them. Maybe they look like you, like your family, like the people you have been in love with. As you read their names, and notice that half of them are Puerto Rican, maybe you can feel your heart ache for your own community, a community targeted by racism and colonization and yet a community of vibrant resistance and survival. Have you noticed how young some of the victims were? I had a rush of sadness fill my body when I learned it was an 18+ club. I was imagining those who were out at the club for the first time, who built up the courage to go out, maybe spent hours picking out the right outfit to try to impress someone, and then I imagine the fear that must have taken overĀ  when the first shots were fired.

I am also feeling angry. I am angry that the shooter, Omar Mateen, was able to get ahold of such a dangerous weapon. I am angry that he worked for the world’s largest security company, G4S, and was a prison guard for adults and youth. I am angry that no one stopped him from getting so violent. I am angry that no one got him help when he started acting violently to his ex-wife. I am angry that we live in a culture that toldĀ  him it is okay to devalue the lives of LGBTQ people. I am angry that his father taught him that being LGBTQ was wrong. I am angry that he might have been gay and too afraid to confront his own sexuality. I am angry that our LGBTQ communities are not better at welcoming people in and providing care that affirms people and all their different identities.

When I’m not feeling angry at Omar Mateen, I am feeling angry at the way politicians are reacting to this horrible moment. The two primary presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are using this moment to build up support to increase the power of the FBI and the NSA. They are also using Omar Mateen’s religion to target all Muslim people and strengthen the already powerful Islamophobia that exists across the country. I am angry that they are trying to turn the suffering and death of our people into more violence against people of color, particularly Arab and South Asian people, around the world. It is unacceptable for them to take advantage of this moment to create more racism, more Islamophobia, and more suffering.

We must know that as we grieve, we will not allow the government to use our grief to support their racist and Islamophobic efforts. We have the ability to transform our grief into something else. Let us turn our grief in to stronger solidarity. Let us turn our anger into deeper commitment to liberation. Let us turn our fear in to hope for a world free from violence and oppression. Let us do so as we keep building our movement knowing that once there were no prisons, that day will come again.

In loving solidarity,

*Latinx is a term used to be inclusive of gender non-conforming and trans people of Latin American heritage

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