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Healing in community
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I'm reading
Healing in community
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I'm reading
Healing in community
Pass it on
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Articles
8 November 2016

Healing in community

A few months ago I woke up to my husband Jack whispering, “Davey. Something happened in Florida. A lot of people were killed at a gay club.”

Written by David Crabb

This story originally ran in issue #48 of Dumbo Feather

Image courtesy of One Archives

Jack and I had only recently moved to Los Angeles. In a place where we were still getting our bearings and making new friends, the news felt especially isolating. That Sunday we were meant to be celebrating our first LA Pride. But instead, we found ourselves moving slowly around our house in total silence, processing the nightmarish news from Orlando as it poured in: the number of deaths, their names and ages, the types of guns used. We decided not to meet friends but to stay together in Silverlake, our home base and the only LA neighbourhood we were familiar with.

To be fair, we weren’t that excited about the Pride parade. I’ve always thought there was something absurd about being aligned with a group of people simply because of our sexual attraction. But on Sunday June 12, 2016, I found my whole heart and mind with my “community” as I scrolled past heartbreaking posts from my gay and lesbian friends. It didn’t seem possible that all of this could be happening while thousands of LBGT people and their allies were gathering for a parade in Hollywood, just a few miles away.

After hours of texting with friends and reading news to each other, Jack and I were stir-crazy and starving. We walked down Sunset Boulevard to our favourite local hangout, The Black Cat, where we shared my favourite dessert: a massive sundae covered in caramel and shards of peanut brittle. We spoke quietly, holding hands as we ate, stopping intermittently to cry a little or check our phones.

“There’s a lot of gay people here today,” Jack noted through a mouthful of ice cream. I looked around and noticed he was right, which didn’t seem strange, it being Pride and all. What was strange were their ages: elderly couples and groups of people over 60, which was particularly unusual for Silverlake, the home of uber-cool 20-somethings wearing giant-brimmed hats and silly moustaches.

On the wall I noticed a framed black-and-white photo of hipsters picketing. They held signs that read, “No more abuse of our rights” and “Blue fascism must go!” As I looked closer at the kids in chunky glasses and high-waisted jeans, I realised these weren’t hipsters of the 2000s, but people from the 1960s. Towering above them was the Black Cat sign, the same sign which was still outside and had apparently been there for over 50 years.

It turned out that The Black Cat had a history I hadn’t known about. On my phone I read about a riot in 1967, a couple years before the Stonewall riots in New York. That New Year’s Eve, several plain-clothed LAPD police officers infiltrated the then-gay bar. They waited until the stroke of midnight, and once the bar’s patrons began kissing, they started beating people. One man was bludgeoned in the face by a cop with a pool cue. The incident spilled out onto the streets, starting a riot in which police attacked more people, including two bartenders from businesses across the street, both of whom were beaten unconscious. They arrested over a dozen people for assault and public lewdness.

Days later, a group called PRIDE (Personal Rights in Defense and Education) organised a 600-attendee demonstration and were met by a squadron of armed policemen. Two of the men arrested for kissing were registered as sex offenders. The men appealed, but the Supreme Court would not hear their case. Lives, businesses and bodies were shattered, and somehow, I’d never heard about it.

Strangely, my husband’s and my choice to avoid Pride had landed us at an historic epicenter of LGBT civil rights. On the way out of The Black Cat I noticed a plaque on the building deeming it a landmark in 2008. For a split second I was lulled into a kind of complacency, holding the hand of my legally-recognised husband and thinking, I’m so glad that era is over. I’m so glad that we’re safe now. It lasted only a split-second, like that wonderful rush of twilight in your veins as anaesthesia kicks in. And then it was gone.

On the walk home I read the news: “James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said there are strong indications of radicalisation by this killer and a potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organisations. Mr Comey said agents are also looking into antigay bigotry as a motive.” I read that last sentence again: “agents are also looking into antigay bigotry as a motive.” I wondered, How many bodies do they need to make that clear? How many corpses do they need to see that this was a hate crime at a gay bar during an LGBT Pride celebration? Would the slaughter at Pulse nightclub become another Black Cat riot? Would it become a minor-key event that, in spite of being the deadliest mass shooting in America since 1890, would slide far back into the annals of history because it was a crime against gay people?

Instead of going home, Jack and I walked to Akbar, an old-school gay club down the street. The only place left to sit was a table right by the cash register. For a couple of hours we watched gay people of all shapes, genders and ages file in, each one unique but still “like me” in a way that felt meaningful. In spite of the flashing lights and deafening music, the place seemed haunted. Every smile seemed to falter. The lights were too bright. Prince and Bowie made up a significant portion of the DJ’s playlist. It was all just a bit…off.

But as the sun went down, that discordance felt right. The slightly askew vibe of the evening didn’t take away from the urgency of the party itself. Something about the emotional wonkiness of it all felt universal: part-wake, part-rave, part-revolt. I knew I was supposed to be there at that time, in that place, with those people. For a few hours, as I rested my head on my husband’s shoulder, it didn’t feel absurd for us all to be together because of who we slept with. In fact, it had never made more sense.

David Crabb

David Crabb is an American storyteller who leads The Moth’s high school storytelling program. His first book, Bad Kid, is about growing up gay and goth in Texas.

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