I want to give voice to the voiceless, so that the powerless may be heard; and I want to give such hell to the powerful, that they’ll routinely need Rolaids.
This is not easy. We work in a profession where we are increasingly pressured to get people to “like” us. We want people to “like” our stories on Facebook, and we want them to “like” our Facebook fan page!
And most insidiously, PR people want to like us and for us to like them. They want us to like the access they offer, which comes at a price. And when the PR people are LGBT, and their client is LGBT, they will prey on our gayness to get us to like them, when we should be critical of whatever or whomever it is they’re trying to sell us.
Last fall, the New York Times printed a story that my editor and I worked on for seven months, about one of the few homeless shelters run for LGBT youth. It was a terribly run shelter, and it was run, sadly, by LGBT people. Our reporting showed that those kids were in precarious, unsanitary, dangerous conditions. Some LGBT activists were not happy with my writing something critical of our community. Any roof is better than a gutter, they said. Why give homophobes ammunition against us? But if not us, who else will write honestly about these kids? Should we as LGBT journalists turn a blind eye on the kids in our community, as we have judged those in other communities of doing? Don’t our readers deserve to know the real deal – not PR spin – about a world they might not otherwise see?
We are, as a colleague of mine put it, “Detectives for the people,” so that they may know something true about LGBT life — no matter how unpredictable or messy or beautiful or ugly that may look. That’s all that matters.
We are not here for people to “like” us.
I think about those amazing homeless kids I hung with last year. It was tough for me to get through writing that story – and I had a bed to go home to at night. Those kids did not. Those kids had been told by the world that they were garbage. Their parents told them that when they kicked them out for being gay or trans. The people at the shelter told them that when they said, “You can sleep with rats on the floor.”
And yet, they still had the courage to say, “I think this is wrong. I deserve better. And I will speak out about it.”
It is then when I realize: it takes no courage to publish my stories. It is merely a gift to have access to them. All I have to do is not screw up the gift.
NLGJA, I humbly thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me the chance to live up to the trust my subjects place in me.
A Father Refused to Claim Body of Pulse Victim
For a short while, it looked like society had advanced far enough that it had left behind a terrible symptom of homophobia, one that’s been seen after the infamous Upstairs Fire and the AIDS crisis that killed so many LGBT people.
Bodies for 48 of the 49 victims were claimed by family. Then, an article posted by Orlando Latino revealed there had been one outstanding case, and that the father of a gay man who died in the Orlando shooting rejected his son’s body.
The Florida news outlet did not release their names, as it did not want “to further victimize the deceased.” But it did identify the victim as Puerto Rican.
“The tale is part of the untold stories of the Latino victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre,” wrote Orlando Latino.
Fortunately, the Orange County Medical Examiner and Florida Emergency Mortuary Operations Response System were able to convince other family members living in Orlando to claim the body and arrange a funeral. And thankfully, there have been no other reports of similar rejections.
The case echoes a reality that was widely seen during the height of the AIDS crisis, in which countless numbers of young gay men died and family members did not claim the bodies of their so-called loved ones. This story was recently retold in Out magazine, in which caretaker Ruth Coker Burks revealed in an interview how she tended to and then buried hundreds of AIDS victims that their relatives feared to touch.
Some 32 people died in 1973 in an arson attack on the Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans. Filmmaker Robert L. Camina revisited the tragedy and was astounded that many of the victims’ bodies were never claimed.
“I think a lingering issue that is rarely talked about is the mystery surrounding the unknown victims,” Camina told The Advocate in a feature on the tragedy. “These men went missing and no one claimed them? I can’t wrap my head around it. It’s unfathomable. I grieve for the unidentified victims of the fire. I don’t believe they have found peace yet. I am shocked and sickened that the families never claimed them and that their bodies were dumped into a pauper’s grave.”
Then, as now, stigma is the culprit. Orlando Latino points to systemic homophobia in Puerto Rico as a factor that may have led to the unfortunate case of the Pulse victim, including the island’s social conservatism and its prolonged judicial fight against marriage equality after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last June.
“The pain of being Puerto Rican and gay is real,” the outlet wrote. “In the island’s macho culture (relative to the states), anti-gay bias is not subtle and has reached the highest levels of government.”
Regardless of its roots, homophobia can cause a massacre, as Pulse reminded us. But it can also destroy a family.