By Hannah Brandt
“I’m 54. People my age remember going to the old Express gay club near Belmont and Hwy 180,” says Chris Jarvis of Fresno LGBT Community Center. “We used to have to drive around to find a safe space to park. Once inside, there was sanctuary, but it wasn’t uncommon in those days for people to drive by throwing rocks us. There were murders there many years ago. Over the years, as there has been more acceptance, I pushed back that sense of fear. The shooting at the Pulse club in Orlando where 50 LGBT individuals died just brought it all back. That feeling of just how fearful it can to be LGBT person.”
Jarvis was one of the organizers of the Tower District vigil held on June 12 to honor the victims and spread solidarity. “I worked at Express, and sometimes I worried about someone coming into the club and shooting people.” Many in the LGBT community have stressed the fact that gay clubs have never been just bars and nightclubs as they are to straight people. They are centers of safety and acceptance in a world that too often is not. “What impressed me about this vigil was how many people came out from the LGBT community and our allies to support one another.”
“So soon after the shooting, many people were concerned about safety but they still showed up. What’s important about all this, is to continue to have rallies and be visible. It is important to be out on the street corner with our signs and show that we will stand our ground, fight this prejudice and hatred, and not be pushed into the shadows.”
Speakers from across faith communities and local organizations lent their support and expressed their grief to the hundreds in the crowd. Rev. Tim Kutzmark from the Unitarian Universalist Church asked how anyone could fail to notice that this killing was hateful and wrong. Imam Seyed Ali Ghazvini from the Islamic Cultural Center told the crowd, “Today we will have peace and support you.”
“We are all one. This is our vigil.” Rabbi Rick Winer from Temple Beth-Israel said, “All of the world must be together and celebrated. Without the spark of the divine within every individual we are not whole.” President of the Sikh Institute of Fresno, Gurinder Singh Narain stressed that, “The Sikh community accepts all differences because we are all brothers and sisters regardless of our different names. As Americans we all need to stand up and stand together against fear and violence.”
Since the shooter was from a Muslim family, the massacre increases fear about misplaced anger toward Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim, like Sikhs. Both groups already face bullying and violence, including here in the Valley, due to misperceptions that only Muslims are terrorists. The organizers of the vigil stressed that that is not true. Most terrorism and hate crimes are perpetrated by white supremacists. While the shooter claimed allegiance to ISIS, the vast majority of Muslims do not. Despite having the word Islamic in its name, ISIS is a political terrorist organization, not a religious institution.
Nor is the Muslim faith the only religion with a minority of members who spread hate and intolerance toward the LGBT community. A few Christian ministers have made violent, hateful statements toward the LGBT community after the shooting and a Jewish extremist in Israel went on a stabbing rampage at the Pride Parade in Jerusalem. It continues to be important for people from all faiths and walks of life to be educated, work together, and condemn hate and violence.
Pastor Norman Broadbent from the Big Red Church asked that, “We must all love and work together to see peace and love truly embrace.” Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor, Professor Emeritus at CSUF, “All the brave people who have spoken here tonight, you have spoken love.” He and others also called for a ban on assault weapons to prevent mass shootings. “Stop the hate, stop the violence. Gun violence has got to stop.” Quoting Dr. King he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can.”
Anna Lopez from New Thought Community Interfaith Church denounced the act, “We refuse to say this is where our hearts are. There is nothing but love from us. Our doors are always open to you, no matter who you are.” Robin Johnston McGehee from Get Equal praised the group for “standing in unity” and encouraged everyone to “be involved, not just tonight, but forever. Love trumps hate.” She also rejected statements by FPU president and those by other leaders of religious institutions against SB 1146 “that use religion to promote bigotry.”
The drafters of SB 1146 say it would, “Close a loophole that allows private universities to discriminate against students and staff based on their gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Under federal law, LGBT people are protected from discrimination by Title IX, though private academic institutions can request a waiver if they feel those requirements violate the tenets of their faith. Senate Bill 1146 would require universities that are granted a Title IX exemption to disclose that information to the California Student Aid Commission and disseminate the information to students and staff. The bill would also allow an individual who has encountered discrimination at a school claiming a Title IX exemption to pursue a remedy through a civil action.”
Jeff Robinson from Community Link reminded everyone that, “Less than a year ago we came together against the murder of K.C. Haggard, a local trans woman of color. We must stand up to injustice. To not celebrate our relationships of love is injustice.” The program closed with the group singing, “This Little Light of Mine… Don’t Let Bigots Blow It Out.”
There is always reason to celebrate how far we have come. Finally, after many years of Gay Pride festivals in Fresno, this was the first year the City Council recognized Gay Pride Day with an official proclamation. There must also be recognition of how far we have to go. Community Link revealed last month that in the last five years, the City of Fresno has been charging an extra $5000 to have the Pride Festival for increased security and street closure. The LGBT community has been asking whether Mardi Gras and other yearly parades have experienced the same rise in fees. Or whether they too are now required to have written permission from every single business on the parade route before they are granted clearance to have their event.
“It costs upwards of $25,000 to put the Pride Parade on,” Chris Jarvis said. “So the question on everyone’s minds moving forward is can we continue to afford it? And what should we do about this apparent discrimination? There has also been resistance to the new federal policy that all public schools provide gender neutral bathrooms and allow students to use those that correspond to their gender identity.
Being gay is so much more accepted now that some younger people have not experienced this level of terror or constant threat of violence.” Some, of course, have. Especially in the transgender community. Two thirds of hate crimes perpetrated against the LGBT community are against transgender women of color. “But after this, more of our youth are now living in fear. Now that we have a greater ability to be out we still have to keep our eyes open. It only takes one homophobic official or one hateful incident to take us backward. We must still be vigilant.”
Hannah Brandt is the editor of Community Alliance newspaper. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @HannahBP2. Follow the paper on Facebook at Community Alliance Newspaper and on Twitter and Instagram @fresnoalliance.