Queer Spirit Festival and Orlando - a response by Al Head
I heard about the mass shootings at an lgbtq club in Orlando, USA, while I was at a ‘Radical Faerie’ gathering near Glastonbury, UK.
Some of us there were also involved in festival organising, and so, amongst the shock and dismay of the news, amongst the grief and the anger and the fear, and amongst the closeness and support of the gathering, I thought about how these things connected. While we work hard to make a safe, beautiful, spiritual event, while we do our best to build community, the forces of fear and bigotry are rampaging through the world. In the UK the ‘leave’ campaign preyed on people’s fears, fostering hatred and racism. And in Orlando a man learnt to hate himself and who he suspected he was so much that he could not bear others to be like him, he had to destroy all he could of those he saw himself reflected in. He lived in a place dominated by prejudice and fear, a place with values dictated by right wing Christians who gave him the message that what he was, was bad. His own religion seemed to agree with this. He had nowhere to turn. Or at least, this is what I imagine that he felt.
What is our response to this? As a global lgbtq community we have held vigils, we have supported each other, we have shared our grief and rage at this event. We have, largely, (and I am so proud of us for this) resisted the impulse to fall into the islamophobia and racism that the right wing has been blazing out, not only in the US, but here in the UK. We have remembered that the majority of the people killed in Orlando were people of colour. We have remembered that the majority of them were young (as we passed the names of the dead around our circle to read out in Glastonbury last week, the one that came to me was the name of a young man the same age as my son). We have acknowledged the places where this event has touched us, how it has made us feel unsafe in our safe places, where it has spilled out in anger and fear at each other.
At the gathering we shared in heart circles and in pairs and small groups. We made magic and we held each other. We stood outside the White Spring and read the names of the fallen. We processed into the town centre and asked people to join us for a 2 minute silence, and many did. We cried, and later we dedicated the energy of our joyful drumming and dancing to the fallen, and to those still able to heal.
Does it seem frivolous to be organising a queer festival right now? Or does it seem the perfect time? Can what we are doing be a part of the building of community and solidarity that has been such a huge part of the response to this terrible happening? We already had plans for a memorial wall, a place to remember the many who have died from homophobia and transphobia, as well as to remember the lgbtq ancestors of our own community, and of the larger global community, some of whom, like David Bowie and Prince, have only recently joined the throng. Now this will expand to include all those who have died in Orlando, they also, now, are our queer ancestors, they join those who we vow never to forget.
We will make space at our festival for grief and pain and anger. Yes, we want this to be a joyful event. We want to be able to celebrate what we have achieved, to celebrate the spirit of queer people and to share and explore our spirituality. But this is not only a joyful time for us. And by that I don't just mean the events of the past few weeks. I mean the past centuries of repression, of hatred and fear and murder and institutionalised oppression. Orlando is not an isolated, tragic, event. It is a particularly horrific one, but not, I feel, a surprising one, and it does not stand alone. Lgbtq people are killed, beaten, ridiculed and reviled every day, all over the world. We are killed by others, and we kill ourselves in fear and shame and despair.
Of course we want our festival to be happy, but even more than that, we want it to be real. And that means acknowledging the places where we, as a community and as individuals, are not happy; where we are scared and angry and grief-stricken. We want our festival to be a place of holding, of each other and of our community and of all the feelings we have and all the realities of our lives. Above all, we want our festival to be a safe place. We understand that what has happened in Orlando has made us as lgbtq people feel very unsafe. We are working to protect our festival in the magical and in the material realms. We are putting into place security and communication procedures to make this happen. We are calling on powerful energy workers to make this happen. And we will have people experienced in providing places of emotional safety for people to share and to discover their own and each other’s feelings.
Being part of organising this festival is my gift to the lgbtq communities. And I feel that that gift is an especially important one right now. I feel that our communities need these spaces of caring and of sharing and, yes, of love and of joy. Because it is love, it is joy that will counteract the fear and the hatred. It is acceptance, of ourselves and of each other, that will help to heal the pain of Orlando, and of all the other times we have been attacked. It is joy, it is love, it is acceptance, that will heal the internalised shame and self-hatred that can lead us to hurt each other, in whatever way and on whatever scale.
It seems that the shootings in Orlando may have been an extreme form of internalised homophobia, where the hatred and shame we are targeted with as lgbtq people gets turned back on ourselves, and on the others in our communities. On a smaller scale, we see this process at work in our lgbtq groups and communities on a daily basis. We criticise or lash out at each other, blame each other for our not feeling safe (when it is the conditions of society ‘outside’ that makes us unsafe) and attach our feelings of fear and anger to each other. Often it is the very ‘safe’ nature of our communities that allows us to feel ‘safe enough’ to feel these things, when we are numb to them so much of the time. But it is hard to remember that our communities, and our loved ones, are not where these feelings originate.
Attempting to bring 500 lgbtq people together then, under these circumstances, and with all the huge feelings we are carrying at this time, is a risky thing to do. But, for me (and I can only, ultimately, speak for myself), it is not only a risk, it is also a statement, and a promise. It is a statement that always, and especially at times like these, it is better to be together than to be apart, that grieving and being angry together is better than doing it on our own, that community and love are stronger than hatred and oppression. And it is a promise to put differences aside, to come together despite and through diversity and disagreement, to forgive the times when we forget to treat each other well, and to work together for love.
This is my promise to you.
Here are the words of the song I wrote a few days after the events of Orlando.
Lead the Beings Home (song for Orlando)
Life is turning, hope is burning.
Love is filling me, fear is killing me.
Hear the dying moan,
Let the spirits roam,
Lead the beings home.
The shock reverberates around the world.
Gay oppression becomes hatred of ourselves.
Fear and repression get switched to overload.
The shots ring out across the world.
Hatred rising, not surprising.
Can't be one of you, have to murder you.
The people congregate around the world;
Standing together for a place we may have never heard,
Standing in vigil for community and love.
The shots rang out across the world.
Blood is falling, voices calling.
Hear them crying, as they're dying.
The call is to create another world:
A place where everyone can be ourselves.
We accept our fears as we accept our love.
Let love ring out across the world.
Join us dancing, life enhancing.
Let us hold you, let love enfold you.
Hear the joyful moans,
Let Queer Spirit roam,
Lead the beings home.
Al Head Summer Solstice, 2016