Compatriots, the year is 2017. Hundreds of gay men have been abducted and tortured in gay concentration camps in Chechnya. Some reports say over thirty have been murdered — by the police or by their own families. The government is calling it a cleansing. An unidentified gay man told France 24 News, “They tell the parents to kill their child. They say ‘Either you do it, or we will.'”
Chechnya is a republic of Russia in Eastern Europe. The Kremlin is unlikely to do much to address these horrors since Vladimir Putin is waging his own war against LGBTQ people in Russia by outlawing all visible representations of homosexuality in the country.
The Russian government has denied the reports of gay concentration camps, while the Chechen president has publicly stated that all gay men in the country will be eliminated by the end of the month, the start of Ramadan. Putin, who has orchestrated perhaps the greatest feat of international espionage in recent history by meddling in the American election this year, has denied the existence of these camps, even though various news sources across Europe have confirmed them after Novaya Gazeta broke the story last month.
Things are bleak here in the United States.
Today, May 4, 2017, our president is expected to sign a sweeping “religious freedom bill,” which will open the floodgates of religious-based anti-LGBTQ discrimination across the country. Middle America will have a field day on us. The new battle for the anti-LGBT — and specifically ant-trans — front will be through “religious freedom” bills, as though Christians are an oppressed minority.
On the morning of June 26, 2015, the day Obergefell v. Hodges ruled in our favor, the day we won national marriage equality, I thought we had a road of victory paved ahead of us. I was living with a man I loved. We had no air conditioning and the temperature had risen to triple digits. We kept the windows open all night. Outside, the cicadas screamed into the warm, wet air. We had sex on our antique bed, which was falling apart, and felt safe and strong.
A year later, Pulse happened.
49 people were murdered, gunned down in a gay club in Orlando. Most are Latinx. It was the bloodiest LGBTQ hate crime in history. Infuriatingly and irresponsibly, many media outlets claimed it was not a hate crime at all — a claim that disrespected and erased my community from our own tragedy. A few months later, we elected Donald Trump, a president bent on punishing undocumented Latinx people in this country. What frustrates me so much is that, out of all the sex-positive activists, all the campaigners and fighters out there working to help people and make a positive impact in this world, one name will stand out. One name will outlive them all. A stupid, oafish, evil name: Donald Trump.
The funny thing is, I threaten Trump, just as I threaten Putin. I threaten the Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov. My very existence, the existence of my people, are threats to their worldview, threats to an otherwise perfect society in which we don’t exist. That’s why we must keep reminding them and everyone that we do — that we’re here and not going away. My friends, existence is resistance. You must keep resisting, keep fighting into the future.
It feels as though we have failed. Some days it feels like we’ve lost. But then I remember the AIDS activists who lost everyone, who faced countless defeats and countless losses before anything changed. So many gave their lives to the movement, and because of their work, I live. I take my little pill every day. I have an HIV specialist I see every three months. My virus, which felled so many talented and sexy and vital queer people before me, has become a manageable, chronic illness, something that hardly impedes my life.
We’ve come a long way, and I believe a resistance storm is brewing, a youthful and angry response to the GOP, an aggressive counter-attack to Trump, but every damaging headline, every embarrassing and unhinged tweet from the highest office in the land, damages our country a little more and adds to the work we’ll have to undo. It feels defeating.
I really hope things have changed by the time you read this, future queers. I hope the world has turned and that the concept of a massacre like the one happening now in Chechnya seems impossible. It seemed impossible to me only a couple of years ago. But here’s my warning: Never be fooled by victory blindness, as we were. The backlash will come. They will turn violent. Be violent back.
There will always be leaders like Kadyrov, just as there will always be toothless white trash in Alabama beating their gay sons to death. These people will always be lurking in a church somewhere, bent over their hymnals, praying for our extinction. These people will always wander the halls of political office, gathering support, pushing legislation quietly through the cracks. Do not ever forget that they are there. They will turn bloody. They will round us up into camps if given the chance. Never turn your back on them. Never let them gain power. Fight them, kill them if you have to. Because it’s our lives or theirs. We must never let them win.
No matter how dangerous things get or how frightened you feel, remember how powerful it is to live your life openly. Being out and visible is power — it is the greatest act of protest in your arsenal, and you can do it every day. They want to push us back into the closet, into secrecy and fear, but we can’t do that. Our actions, like the powerful above us, have echoes too. For every antigay lawmaker, there are thousands of queer people spurred to action. Never give up the fight. Never stop fighting for others — for undocumented immigrants, for Black and Brown people, for women, for transgender and genderqueer people, for the populations the white and religious arm of society feel compelled to bully and kill. The queer struggle can never again be a fight merely for gay men and women, because our struggle overlaps with the rest of the people on the margins, the rest of the outlawed and the oppressed, with sex workers and educators and artists. We are stronger together.
Never give up.