When Comparing Tragedies, Nobody Wins
On Being Both Gay and Native in the Wake of the Orlando Shooting
The horrific act of hatred that took place on Sunday morning at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando cut me to the core. And while I was still trying to make sense of the news I was hearing on Sunday morning, I started to see a few folks on Twitter begin calling out the many headlines of “Deadliest Mass Shooting in U.S. History” as incorrect. I kept seeing Wounded Knee mentioned as the deadliest mass shooting. Later in the day, other atrocities against Native Americans were brought up as well. Now, as Monday draws to a close, I continue seeing Facebook and Twitter posts along this vein. Some have included photographic images of bodies from Wounded Knee lying in the snow.
If I weren’t gay and didn’t have my own personal experiences to draw upon, I may have read these posts and merely agreed that the mass media was erasing Native history through reporting—yet again. But for myself, and many others I have interacted with on social media in the past 48 hours, this is intersectional. We are both Native and LGBTQ, and it was especially difficult to be seemingly asked to divert our attention from this immediate tragedy for a Native cause while bodies still lay on the floor of that nightclub in Orlando. I’ve made it through Sunday, slept on it, and spent a full day going about my business earlier today, and it still isn't easy.
This mass shooting is too close personally for me to see it as anything other than an act of hate targeting the LGBTQ community. I still can’t wrap my head around what has happened, let alone want to start criticizing the media for being insensitive to Native concerns as they were figuring out how to cover a developing story. I’m not saying that anyone who brings this up doesn’t have a valid point in wanting to correct news outlets, or that they intended harm toward LGBTQ people. However, many of these comments can easily be mistaken as if the commenter is trying to re-center the tragedy on Native issues at the expense of the victims. I still need to somehow process this disaster, to mourn and grieve, to find a way to incorporate this new and terrible hate crime into how I will move through the world. And I happen to be processing this through a lens of my own sexuality; because I live in a society where it is possible that I may be harmed at any moment, in any place, simply because of who I am and whom I love.
I could tell you more about my own pain or explain more about my background, but this isn’t really my story. It is the story of the people who died and who managed to escape from that nightclub in Orlando. This happened on a hosted Latin Night at the club, meaning that the shooter victimized a smaller marginalized ethnic group within the larger marginalized LGBTQ community. Let this be their story as much as it is possible in the media right now, they deserve that much. There are already enough other voices out there fighting to politicize this in one way or another, or to erase the fact that LGBTQ people were targeted, or that this massacre predominately affected Latinx people of color.
To anyone who is upset that the media didn’t frame this event correctly, I welcome your criticism of the media’s treatment of Natives, yet I still don’t want to read about it right now. (Instead, at this moment I want to hide, I want to cry, I want to rage against the targeted destruction of people who died for being who they were—people who died because they dared to live and love openly.) Know that I hope you will write and publish comments and blog posts and articles about the media’s erasure of Native histories and Native people. I will read these posts and articles later on and I will support you for writing them. Use the reporting from this exact event as an example. Make your words important and strong. Please say what needs to be said without reducing this horrific event to a footnote or a meme or an, “I support the victims, but…” statement. And please don’t trivialize the suffering of others, or co-opt the experience of other cultures/Nations/Tribes in order to make your point.
Ultimately, there is no right way to respond to a tragedy. We all deal with things differently, see things through our own individual lenses, and cope as best we can. As Native Americans, we have endured much due to past U.S. genocidal policies and we carry a huge weight of historical trauma on our shoulders. It is an unfortunate fact that there are so many specific acts of violence against Native peoples throughout history to select from for comparison. It is understandable that, as Natives, we often view the world through the terrible things that happened to our ancestors.
So let’s remember that time and space can make good medicine. We should be okay with sitting back for a moment and allowing others to fully mourn their own losses, especially when it happens to another marginalized community. When comparing tragedies, nobody is a winner. Every Native culture has their own stories of loss, whether you are Oceti Sakowin, or Wiyot, or Pequot, or Southern Cheyenne. Yet we are still here. There will still be time for us to tell our stories, just like we have since time immemorial.
*Note: I used LGBTQ as a general term, but it in no way is meant to exclude any similar or related labels that people may use such as Two-Spirit or Intersex or Asexual or anything that I may have missed mentioning.