National Opinions

Acceptance key to ending anti-gay violence

The horrendous June 12 attack on Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub is widely considered a terrorist attack, but it was also a hate crime. FBI statistics show hate crimes against LGBT people occur more frequently than against any other group in America.

Was it also part of the price the LGBT community must pay to gain acceptance?

We must work harder to create a more inclusive society benefiting all Americans, ending anti-gay violence in all its forms – whether it occurs in Orlando, Fla., or in Merced.

Such attacks, in part, might be a response to the legalization and increased acceptance of gay marriage. Some feel threatened by the marriage of two men or two women. A few act out.

Many patrons of Pulse never told their families they were gay, so some parents confronted the news of their child’s death as they were brought face-to-face with the realization their son or daughter was gay.

Many in Merced have found it equally difficult to initiate a discussion about being gay with family or friends. There is nothing more heartbreaking than being rejected by your parents, so many won’t take the chance.

Instead, many go to places like Pulse – which had become a transformative space to experience life away from homophobia and hatred. There are many such clubs across America, each vital in providing a place for gay individuals to feel safe and accepted.

In my professional scholarship, I’ve interviewed gay Latino men who experienced homophobia and hate from their parents, siblings and classmates and in their churches and communities. Many gay individuals in Merced County have shared incidents of harassment at work.

Young people in our midst live in fear of others finding out they are gay. A few have committed suicide after being rejected by family.

In the light of the Orlando incident, perhaps we can grasp the opportunity to forge stronger bonds with the LGBT community.

In 2013, United Way of Merced County and Building Healthy Communities brought together a variety of stakeholders and residents to address issues affecting the LGBT community in Merced’s first LGBT Forum. The Merced LGBT Center was one response arising from that discussion.

Now, Merced’s LGBT Center board President Angi Baxter works tirelessly to ensure the center’s doors stay open, providing essential resources to members of the LGBT community – more importantly, providing many a safe space.

At UC Merced, an advisory committee was created last year to identify institutional, structural and cultural initiatives to help advance the goals of creating a more welcoming community for LGBT faculty, staff and students. The university also instituted the Lavender Graduation Reception, honoring LGBT students who graduate each year. Last May, the Merced County Human Services Agency offered training to help raise awareness for youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning.

All are important developments, but there is more to be done.

As we consider creating a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ people in Merced County, here are a few suggestions. Model Stockton’s “Madres Unidas” media campaign, which addresses bullying and harassment and features parents supporting their kids. Included are messages of support, including: “As Latino parents to be, we will love our children unconditionally.” And, “I will be a strong Latina mother so my child will have nothing to fear.”

A similar campaign in Merced could feature parents on posters placed in local eateries, churches, public buildings and schools to bring greater visibility to LGBT issues. Local radio stations can highlight these issues through multilingual media campaigns.

What about an Annual LGBT Family Day in downtown Merced?

Of course, we cannot sustain such an initiative unless a variety of stakeholders join us – church leaders, elected officials, nonprofit leaders, business people, and students and officials from our colleges, the Merced LGBT Center, the Merced County Office of Education and the Parent Café.

Every community is stronger when it is united. Perhaps some or all of you will join me in this call to action to end gay violence in America.

Orlando wasn’t just a tragedy for the LGBTQ community, but a tragedy for all Americans.

Christopher Ramirez teaches writing at UC Merced. He wrote this for the Merced Sun-Star.