I have thrown and been a part of the New York LGTBQ party scene for years. Seven to be exact. New York’s queer nightlife scene is in my blood. It has seen me at my worst and at my absolute best. It has been with me through different pronouns, partners, friend groups, and style choices. It has always been the constant escape that I have at times loved to love and, hated to.
When you are a part of a “fringe” community, you gravitate towards spaces that others may have cast aside. As a teenager growing up in the post hardcore scene in New Jersey, I went to many basement shows; I moshed in abandoned garages, and sang my heart out in numerous warehouses. As I grew up and came out, that trend of DIY continued. I’ve been to countless parties and shows in spaces that were wildly unsafe. When I was younger that was part of the appeal. We were being told by society that we were wrong for existing, that we shouldn’t celebrate who we were, that we were not welcome to own our bodies and our art in the way straight and cis people were. And so we planned our own events. We made our own spaces. It was normal to go to events that had an entrance that doubled as an exit. Dancefloors that allowed people to smoke. Secret rooms that were dimly lit and decorated with curtains and filled with couches and carpeting with no windows or outlets. I’ve been to parties that felt more like home than my own home ever had; and that was the point. For many of us we needed more than acceptance, we needed home.
In 2016 two events happened that shook the queer world in a way I had not in my lifetime experienced. I was well read on the horrific events that have shaped Gay history; for instance the UpStairs Lounge arson attack that occurred in New Orleans in 1973 which took the lives of 32 people. Or the horrific killing of Matthew Shepard that would go on to become the groundbreaking play The Laramaie Project. After I transitioned and became more engrossed in trans activism, I learned the rates at which trans women were murdered and often forgotten. To be out and trans and queer is to know that many before you have not been able to live their lives as openly as you, and that many will be silenced simply for existing. 2016 felt for me like a turning point. A wave. The cries and chants and anger and activism, that I had always known felt to me like they were crescendoing.
I was at a massive party for Brooklyn Pride when the news began to hit our cellphones. A shooting. As Americans that alert is unfortunately far too familiar; to the point that we still get angry, are not entirely numb, but ultimately expect it. But this was family. This was a mirror what we were all on the dancefloor doing. We were at a club celebrating. We were making out with crushes and partners and lovers in corners. We had gotten ready with friends who were family in a way that our own families could never be. We were being seen, and it wasn’t a bad thing; were living. And while we were, our extended family, states away, were being silenced. They were being murdered.
Months later, I would be laying in bed when the news hit my Twitter feed and Facebook timeline that there had been a massive fire in Oakland. A city that I along with many of my friends had once or currently called home. A fire at a venue. A venue that was the home for queer makers and artists and musicians, and otherwise beautiful humans. It was on fire and it would go on to kill 36. I spent the night and next day scrambling to check on my people. Friends of friends were missing. Slowly people began to check in. Slowly, hope faded that others would.
The Ghost Ship fire happened because of a slumlords neglect and total ambivalence to maintaining a safe space for those who inhabited his building. The Pulse massacre occured in part because of our country’s obsession with guns and lax laws surrounding them, and because homophobia is a murdering machine and mechanism itself.
The commonality between the two struck me; both events saw queer folks who were simply trying to have a night where they could celebrate themselves, their community, and their friends, but they could not escape a society that vilifies, fears, ignores, and hates them. A society that failed to give them safe spaces that would allow for celebration without fear, without death.
Pride is not a party, it is a reminder of those who have fought for our freedom, and it a reminder that we are still far from free.