With Trump poised to sign an anti-LGBT executive order, LA-based Jeff Leavell hits out at those white gay men sitting silently by as hatred spreads.
Each month until Trump leaves office we'll be hearing how he's impacted individual lives in our column My Month With Trump. As the Bigot-in-Chief looks poised to sign an anti-LGBT executive order, LA-based Jeff Leavell hits out at his fellow white gay men just like him sitting silently by in his community as the flames of prejudice spread. There is no safe space to hide in.
A couple weeks ago I met some friends at the Eagle, a gay bar in the Silverlake neighbourhood of Los Angeles. Most of our conversation centred around upcoming parties: World Pride in Madrid, the White Party in Palm Springs, Texas Bear Round Up in Dallas. The conversation moved into the casual discussion of steroids and sexual exploits.
“I can’t help but be scared,” Mo said, out of nowhere. We all looked at him.
“Scared of what?” Someone asked.
“People like me, with Trump as president, what happens to us?”
It was a strange moment. At first I wasn’t sure what Mo, short for Mohammed, was referring to with his “people like me” line. Living in a city as diverse and vast as LA, sometimes it’s easy to forget your friends’ back-stories: where they come from, who they were before they ended up in Los Angeles.
LA is a giant liberal bubble. It is easy to forget that outside the bubble the world is a very different place. Racist and homophobic, angry and violent; a world where Donald Trump becomes president.
People like Mo should be scared.
Mo is from Syria. He is Muslim. He is gay. He is living here illegally.
“No!” Sam, another friend, squealed. “We aren’t doing this. I’m not talking Trump or politics anymore. Not for four years. There’s nothing I can do. I want to go to parties and meet cute boys and wait this out. Maybe that makes me a terrible person, but I can’t take one more Facebook post, one more outraged queen. I want to stay inside my bubble until it is all over.”
Sam is the exact opposite of Mo. He is white, from a wealthy Atlantan family. He’s got some privilege.
The conversation moved quickly back to steroids and bear parties and sex.
Later, alone, I asked Mo: “What does happen to you?”
“I have no idea. I can’t go back to Syria, you know? This is my home now.” Mo has lived in the States for 9 years, he has been involved with the same man for seven of them. He is a part of my community. “This is my home. I can’t go back to that world where I have no voice, where all I can do is hide. He laughed, but there was no humour in it.
“And yet, now, I can’t help but wonder, if maybe that is exactly what is going to happen here. I moved to the US to have a voice, to be open about who I am, to be free. Now I turn on the news and I begin to feel as if I am everything this country hates: Gay. Arab. Illegal immigrant.”
Recently I was in Vegas with my boyfriend, Noah. He was visiting from London. We were having drinks at the Cosmopolitan. I leaned over and kissed him, and there was that moment, that realisation that we were no longer in LA inside our bubbles. We were in the wilds of America. I pulled back quickly. Nobody noticed. Nobody was looking. Nobody called us fags, they didn’t chase us out of town with bats and guns.
But there was a moment when I was suddenly afraid, a moment where I had been revealed for who I really was: a faggot. A moment where I couldn’t hide.
Mo can never truly hide who he is. It is in the colour of this skin, in his accent, on his documents. To some Mo will always be the enemy, the terrorist, the threat that must be destroyed.
I would be a liar if I said I didn’t understand where Sam was coming from. That desire to hide, to pretend that everything is fine, safe in our bubbles. I come from the same wealthy background, the same white privilege. I might even be able to weather what is ahead. Maybe I will come out okay.
But to survive in my bubble I will have to be complicit: to be silent in the face of what is happening to my LGBTQ community.
Lawmakers in states across the country have introduced bills that would allow religious people and businesses to refuse services to those who live lives that might conflict with their religious beliefs. These bills seek to legitimise and legalise discrimination aimed directly at the LGBTQ community. Bills like this aren’t new, they have been popping up ever since the US Supreme Court legalised same sex marriage in 2015.
But now they have a friend in the White House: President Trump has made comments that would suggest he believes that religious liberties came under attack during the Obama Administration. The bigoted right have a powerful new ally, President Trump looks set to sign an anti-LGBT executive order this week. And it’s just the beginning of the battle.
Because that’s what this is, right? It is a war. They have been at war with us for a long time now.With the legalisation of same sex marriage, and 8 years with a gay friendly Obama Administration, it was easy to feel like, even if we hadn’t won the war, we were definitely heading in that direction.
We believed we might finally be safe.
To live in my liberal, wealthy, white bubble I would have to agree to be complicit in the war that is being waged on those, who, unlike me, cannot hide. Those Queers who do not carry the privilege of race. To live the lie of safety I will have to allow those who live on the fringes of my community to be sacrificed.
They are the price we will have to pay for our bear parties and our culture of steroids and drug fuelled sex and dance parties. People like Mo will be the price we pay to continue the lie of freedom.
In 2015 at least 21 transgender people were violently murdered. The majority of these were people of colour. This was the highest number ever recorded. In 2016 that number rose to at least 22 violent murders.
There is a long history in the Queer community of radical politics: of outrageous experimentation, of pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable. Organisations like Act Up and OutRage pushed for non-assimilation politics, for a separatist view on the world, seeing ourselves as outsiders, and using that as a place of strength and not weakness.
Great strives have been made in queer politics. We have been granted access to many institutions once held for the heteronormative community. But the price for access is assimilation. The price for access is the denial of the threat that looms over our community.
The price for access is 22 murdered trans people. The price for access is the fear Mo must live with every day. The price for access is the denial of proper HIV treatment for lower income peoples and the homeless.
It would be easy to disappear into my bubble and to hide. To watch the newest shows on Netflix and go to all the circuit parties, to lose myself in all the cute boys. To believe maybe I am safe in my wealthy white male privilege, untouchable. It would certainly be the more comfortable thing to do.
But I can’t help but think that we have an obligation: that the price for our privilege should be our voices and our actions: as a white, relatively wealthy gay man, I am obligated to stand up for those who cannot. To risk my comfort and my safety, to risk everything for those who are being silenced: those who live on the fringes of my community. For those who are fighting so hard for what I take for granted.
“All I want is to be allowed to be who I am,” Mo said to me that night at the Eagle. “To not be afraid. To love my husband and to live my life how I choose. All I want is the opportunity to be me.”
There is no bubble. There is no safe place. There is nowhere to hide. They are at war with us. And they will not stop until they have won.
“Maybe what I am afraid of,” Mo said, “is that those things I long for are no longer possible in this country.”
Follow Jeff on Twitter.