What does it mean to be proud? The question has been forced into our minds too often these past few years — not just this weekend, when 49 people were gunned down and killed and 53 more were wounded at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, at the height of gay Pride month. Our very self-determination has been taunted with what feels like increasing tenacity, by racist presidential candidate Donald Trump, who recently suggested a judge’s Mexican heritage made him unfit to do his job and previously called for barring all Muslims from entering the U.S., or state lawmakers, who’ve determined that trans men and women can’t use the bathrooms of their choice in North Carolina and Mississippi. In America, young black people have been slaughtered by police departments. For many, rape and the refusal of reproductive rights are realities of daily life. If pride has never mattered more, it has also never seemed so futile. At this time, when the forces of evil are this organized, this loud, this mad, and this armed with assault rifles, pride is starting to feel like a weapon not quite strong enough.
And yet here we are. There will be a vigil for Orlando on Monday at Stonewall Inn in New York City, the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement. And this month we will celebrate gay pride all over the world and in the United States, now with this grey cloud overhead but still fighting the fight as we do every year, with marches and vodka sodas and dancing to the voices of divas blaring from every bar. That is to say: on our terms. This year, because of the shooting, I imagine the wigs will be a little taller, the outfits a little skimpier, the shouts of, "We're here, we're queer, get used to it" a little louder. That's how we do things where I come from. Our communities have helped build movements like #blacklivesmatter, reminded our representatives that this is a country of immigrants, and told Donald Trump to go fuck himself again and again, that we are stronger than him. Pride is not all we have: we have activists and intellectuals and politicians fighting to make our nation and the world more just. But pride is the main tool many of us possess, sharpened and edged by years of battling with it and little else.
A word on the gay nightclub: to many of us it is church. Much has been said about the gay nightclub as one of the only safe spaces for gay men and women (which makes what the shooter did all the more terrible, turning heaven into hell), but it is more than that. At gay clubs entire lives are lived, good and bad. Yes, you can sweat off the week's worries, but I have also fallen in love, had my heart broken, made lasting friendships, cried (more times than I'd like to admit), loved myself, hated myself, made mistakes, celebrated birthdays and new jobs. That on the night of this massacre in Orlando it was Latin night, where trans performers were featured, is doubly disheartening. Those are our siblings on the very front line of discrimination, the ones for whom the nightclub is most important. Some temples have pews, some have two-for-one drink specials, but they are all places we go to be in touch with who we are, and the people who love us for that difference.
I do not know whether the American government will ever get around to protecting its citizens with better gun laws. If the murder of first graders at Sandy Hook was not enough to inspire gun control, the death of gays, who were allowed to die during the AIDS crisis while President Reagan did nothing, will not certainly be the thing to get the NRA to back down. Which is to admit to a terrible thing: that things might not get better anytime soon. That we will continue to live through this epidemic of mass shootings, which I can only imagine history will look back on as an insanity. And that as we do, we must find ways to truly live. We will not stop going to nightclubs, to churches, to schools, or to theaters. Not just because we have no choice (those are sometimes the only spaces even available to us), but because we often feel most proud when we are most scared. If you are looking for hope, perhaps this trait can inspire it.
"Queer is invincible!" someone tweeted in response. This was bittersweet, because as Sunday proved, it cannot be true. Nothing is invincible; people die. Worse, people are killed. Pride is not enough to bring back the deceased, or change the gun laws, or dry the tears of heartbroken family members. And yet the very fact that this tweet existed so soon after a tragedy was proof of its very validity: we will be here, proud, loud, no matter how big the guns or rallies of hate grow. It is an imperfect weapon, pride, but it is a resilient one. It cannot be taken away. It cannot be taken away. In fact, it pops up when things are the most difficult. So what does it mean to be proud? I wish that question wasn't asked of us so much. I'm not sure there is an easy answer. But every time someone tries to knock us down, we reach somewhere deep and try to find the very thing that makes us happy to be who we are, no matter how many people hate our very existence. And this I say with total pride: we almost always do. There will be fights ahead, but we will fight them. Proudly.