June 17, 2016
Nearly a week after the horrific act of violence that claimed 49 lives in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, my heart remains broken.
It is hard to make sense of the extreme homophobia, the audacity of privilege, and the tremendous loss of lives and potential that this act brought to the world stage during LGBT Pride Month, which pays homage to the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan. In this Hemisphere it seemed that we were moving forward: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled gay marriage legal in the U.S., and in Bolivia, the government approved a landmark law recognizing transgender rights.
But, justice and progress are not always linear. As Justin Torres points out in his excellent piece in the Washington Post, liberation is not a permanent state; “this world constricts,” and so much more must be done until every individual is able to express their sexuality and gender identity freely and without fear.
In the region where I work, South America was the first continent to have a majority of its inhabitants living in a jurisdiction that afforded same-sex couples the right to marry, most recently, in Colombia. Still, discrimination remains rampant throughout the region: the average Latin American transgender woman will die before she turns 35. In the Caribbean, anti-sodomy laws remain on the books in eleven countries and gay rights activists like Belize’s Caleb Orozco live in isolation and fear.
After a tragedy like the Orlando shooting, it is hard to believe in love or a better future. It is tempting to feel defeated, but there are always people reaching out with love and help. Vigils were held around the world and more than 100,000 people donated to a Pulse victims fund created by LGBT rights organization Equality Florida in the last four days alone.
And, my co-workers wrote us from the field to tell us that despite these terrible injustices, these horrific murders, there is hope.
In Brazil, my colleague attended the launch of a new sexuality education phone app—Partiu Papo Reto— created by young people working with our local partner CEPIA in Rio de Janeiro. As part of a messaging exercise, she showed the more than 60 young people—ages 13 to 20— in attendance to view two HIV prevention campaigns. She asked them what they thought of the first one, which depicted two men spooning in a coffin. Hands shot up. Discriminatory. Hateful. Wrong.
At the end of the event, the youth did a rap about sexual rights and a presentation on their hopes for the future. What do they want? Human rights for all. Happy, consensual sex lives. And end to homophobia, transphobia, violence and sexual assault. My colleague was moved by their knowledge, their resolve and courageousness as the stained glass wall behind them bathed the youth in rainbow light.
We lost people who thought they were in a safe space where they could express themselves, away from the usual homophobia and transphobia that continues in society everywhere. This is an unspeakable loss. But, we will not lose hope. We will continue to stand strong and be part of a movement that stands for equality and dignity. We will remain strong and united. Reason, justice, and love is on our side.