Some Queer Thoughts after Orlando

Image: Rainbow flag, tattered, from

I wrote a post about the Orlando massacre (Stop the Hateful Cycle.)But I have to say that when I first heard the news about the shooting I wasn’t thinking about Torah. I heard the news as a person who’s been out as a lesbian since 1987, and it kicked me in my LBGTQ kishkes [Yiddish for “gut.”]

I heard the the news just as I went to bed. I deliberately switched off the radio and went to bed because I could not bear to hear about another shooting in a gay club. I knew that if I listened for even one moment I’d be up all night at the television, identifying with the people in the club and the people who love them. It was Shavuot; I had no business at the TV. It was Shavuot, and anyway I could not bear it.

I came out as a lesbian after I had children, so I was never much of a partier at clubs. But I knew the power of those places in the gay rights movement, how none of us were taken seriously until a riot at the Stonewall club in NYC, how many of the lesbian leaders in San Francisco met at Maud’s back in the day. I knew that the clubs had bulletin boards long before the Internet. They had a long history as places where lesbians, gay men, and everyone under the umbrella of “queer” could come to organize or just try to figure things out.

Bars and clubs have always been a hunting ground for the people who hate us. Watch the film Before Stonewall for more about that, or read Let the Faggots Burn: The Upstairs Lounge Fire by Johnny Townsend. My reaction last night came from a sick feeling that I’d seen this movie so many times, so many times that it would break my heart to hear it again. Usually the victims were “just” one or two individuals leaving a club, murdered by some coward in the bushes who’d decided he go get some of us because he thought the Bible said we deserved to die. Usually those murders didn’t make the broadcast news, and I heard about them much later from the LGBTQ press.

I could not bear to hear about one once again, and I couldn’t do anything about it anyway, so I went to bed.

The first good thing I heard the next day was in President Obama’s speech from the White House:

“This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends — our fellow Americans — who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub — it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.” – From President Obama’s speech, 6/12/16

I love that the President gets it that a “gay nightclub” is not just a place to drink and dance. I love that he or someone in his Administration knows our community and its history that well, and that he’s willing to talk about it on a day when the news media seems obsessed with ISIS.

Most of all, I love that with his speech the President reminded me that this is not the same old horrible movie once again. The FBI is investigating. The news organizations are reporting. No one is publicly crowing that the victims deserved it. (Well, nobody except Daesh/ISIS, who are busy trying to take credit, they who are in the business of hate.)

My rabbi and mentor once told me that the real test of whether to worry about local acts of antisemitism was to watch for the response from local law enforcement: did they show up? Did they take it seriously? Did any local politicians dogwhistle about the Jews bringing it on themselves? He said that if the cops responded, if they took it seriously, if the politicians talked solidarity and walked their talk, then it was upsetting but not to panic.

Now there has been an awful event – a mass murder at a gay nightclub – and I see the responders. CNN and all the news services are covering it. I see local law enforcement showing up promptly and taking risks to save gay lives. The FBI is on it. Political leaders (yes, even Senator Ted Cruz!) are taking it seriously. The President gives a speech in which he clearly cares, clearly understands the context that makes this especially horrifying and triggering to the victims’ community.

We have come a long way. We have a long road ahead.

This week, we mourn our dead.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

13 thoughts on “Some Queer Thoughts after Orlando”

  1. I’m heartsick. That despicable real estate developer said it is because we have a weak president who has not banned Muslims from entering this country. I’m proud of our president. He at least has taste and class.
    Anne (Ireland)

    1. That looked very bad when it came out, I agree. However, when I read his statement about it, it made some sense to me: it was scheduled ahead. Or maybe it wasn’t, and he just came up with a plausible excuse. I still find it encouraging that public opinion had him taking it down instead of doubling down on it. But yes, it was a very sour note.

    2. I am sorry that you used the term mentally-defective; it reinforces a negative stereotype in regard to people with disabilities.

  2. Rabbi — my initial response was much the same as yours… wondering how we had lost two decades of progress and suddenly arrived back at a place where violence against gays at a gay club was again a possibility. Thank you for pointing out that the response, the lack of willingness to ignore these deaths simply because they were gay people, means that all of our progress toward acceptance and safety have not been lost. jen

    1. Thanks, Jen. I have since been a little concerned that I was too quick to look for something to feel good about here. Nothing diminishes the tragedy here, least of all the fact that belatedly our country is doing a smidge better than it used to around this subject. Still, I’ll take what I can get in the way of progress.

      1. Nothing can diminish the tragedy of the lives lost, but that is not what I thought was your intent.
        We are Jews…when things feel the darkest, we light a candle, so the darkness doesn’t swallow us. The candles can’t make the nights shorter or revive our dead, but they can help us remember (even as we mourn) to “hang on” and to hope for a future that is less dark.
        Your post was not “feel good” in a celebratory sense, it’s message was “all hope is not lost.” It was a candle lit in a moment of profound darkness to remind yourself and the rest of us to not lose hope. And for those of us old enough to remember leaving gay bars in groups to decrease the odds of being assaulted by homophobes, it was an important candle to light.

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