People fear what they don’t understand. From the ancient ancestors imagining an angered thunder god sending down lightning and destruction, picking out scapegoats as their preferred victims, and sacrificing them in the vain hope that a smaller amount of “their” spilled blood would stave off the larger amount of “ours,” humans have always been good at spreading their confusion and pain and fear around.
I have a friend who teaches middle school, fifth-graders, ten and eleven years old. In her homeroom she has a many-pages-long protocol for an active shooter attacking the school. They practice drills, twenty-first century survival skills for children. She is a teacher, like the teachers in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut (where 20 students and 6 adults were killed on December 14, 2012), and although we haven’t discussed it, I am sure that she has considered to what lengths she would go to protect her students in the event that the drills became real one day.
I know this because I have considered it myself, since the shootings at Virginia Tech University on April 16, 2007, when the shooter killed 32 people and wounded 17. This was the first shooting at a college or university in a long time. Previously, most of the school shootings had happened at high schools; somehow I assumed that teenagers were more likely to be unstable than students a few years their senior, but the Virginia Tech shootings made me realize that I too could one day face the unthinkable at one of the universities I teach at.
Colleges don’t make protocols for these scenarios. College life is unlike middle and high school life in their uniformity of scheduling and classrooms. So if you work at a college, you have to think these things through for yourself. Could you talk a gunman down? Should you try? Does your classroom have two exits or only one? One of my criminal justice students pointed out that the safest place to be was near a gunman. Far away you haven’t got a chance in hell of closing the distance and overpowering him; even close up, it would be suicide, although as in Sandy Hook, a teacher might just consider that an acceptable choice if she or he thought there was a chance of success.
So tonight I was at a Pride Block Party. We had already held a moment of silence for the 50 Latin@s killed at the gay bar Pulse in Orlando, Florida (and the 53 still on the wounded list). Then, because Pride is all about standing against institutionalized oppression and ignorant hatred, we danced.
Intermittently, my lesbian sister texted the newly-out me to warn me that, given that the shooter had made comments about the Boston marathon bombers, Boston might be the site for a copy cat. I took her warning seriously, thought about exit strategies considering the narrow space we were in with a brick wall all along one side. Another of her texts pointed out that young people in the group might not be as savvy to the possibility of gay bashing, since the US has gotten a good deal friendlier toward gays than it was during the Stonewall Riots of 1968. I pointed out that as a teacher, I automatically consider the younger people; teachers teach, yes, but we also often protect. Sometimes it is just from bullying, or insensitivity or ignorance, but it does seem to be an unstated part of the job.
I could say that nothing happened tonight. I will not add “of course,” because if the US failed to take the murder of small children four years ago seriously, it will hardly take the murder of more than twice as many gays seriously. I do not expect better gun laws any time soon, alas, nor do I expect the violence to end. But yes, we were lucky in that no one else tried to attack our Pride celebration, or from what I have heard (so far) anyone else’s, so far.
But something has happened. We were reminded, at the height of our celebrations (which is of course how backlash so often works) that we are still vulnerable (not that the trans community needed the reminder, with the scandal of anti-trans violence a worldwide pandemic). Our straight allies, those who are not racing to blame radicalized Islam-against-Americans-in-general as the culprit, were reminded that achieving the right to marry has not granted us any more practical financial or physical protection from the haters.
And here’s the other thing that happened, and maybe I am the only one who put the bits together in this particular way, and maybe I’m not. But towards the end of the party, it rained lightly, just as it did yesterday at the parade. Only this time, we got an actual rainbow out of it, the symbol of hope from the story of Noah, where God promises not to wash the world away ever again.
I know too much about human intransigence and sea-level rise to take it literally as a promise from God, but I do believe that humans are powered by symbols just as cats are powered by the sun. So I will take this as a sign that love is more powerful than hate, even if it does require more work. I am in the community now, and in the game, or war, or whatever it is. And I, too, was at a gay club last night with my friends. It could have been us. It could have been everyone. It could have been my out-of-state sister or friends or the friends of friends. So, for all intents and purposes, it was.
And, that rainbow tells me, it’s time to get to work.
Photo of rainbow over JP by Paula M. Grez.