Comedian Rebecca Shaw had never felt completely safe before she stepped into her first gay bar at 18. Here she explains why the impact of the events in Orlando have resonated with her so much.
Rebecca Shaw

13 Jun 2016 - 1:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Jun 2016 - 4:06 PM

Last night was Sunday night, the night before a public holiday, and I was at home sulking. I had been quite ill for a few days, and also knew I had to work Monday morning (COMEDY DOESN’T STOP FOR THE QUEEN), so I had made the responsible boring annoying adult decision to stay in, even though there were some huge queer parties and events being held because of the public holiday. The sulking came because very many of my friends were out queering it up together, and I wasn’t there with them (standing awkwardly somewhere probably, but still).


The regional Queensland city I grew up in did not have a gay bar. Or a gay anything, really. There were no queer events, there were no queer parties. The most I experienced as an adult was the secret Thursday night at a gross pub that a few people knew as the ‘gay night’ of the week – inside the pub on those nights were 90% regulars of the pub who had no idea it was the gay night, and 10% gay people pretending to be regular locals at the pub, but exchanging knowing looks over the XXXX-stained pool tables.


When I was 18, my friend Emma organised her birthday party in the big smoke, Brisbane. A car full of us traveled up to the city and stayed in a hotel. We went on the infamous Brisbane party cruise ‘The Island’, got incredibly and inappropriately boat-trashed, and then came back to land. We headed to the nearest nightclubs in the city, and everyone went in.


I did not. Until this point I had never been to a gay club. I had barely any queer friends or acquaintances, and I wasn’t out to anyone. I knew there were gay bars and clubs in Brisbane, and I knew I had to go. It wasn’t about finding a woman to pash; it wasn’t even about other people at all. There was simply a fire inside me that forced me to take off from my friends to find my way to Fortitude Valley by myself that night. All I know is that it came from the embers of needing to belong, and to try and feel truly myself for the first time.


It is easy for people to forget, because of how far we have come, that it still takes something to live openly and proudly as an LGBTQI person. Yes, many of us are extremely privileged, especially those amongst who are cis and white and who live in a country like Australia. And yet, it still isn’t easy. If you aren’t part of the community, it is easy for you to forget. It is easy for you to walk down the street, safe in the knowledge that you love queer people, and ignore that there are still many who don’t. To know and to sense, like we do, that there is still blatant hatred towards us. And to fear that if it isn’t blatant, that it’s just hiding there under the surface, waiting. It takes something to keep living as yourself when you see this seething and spiteful underbelly of this every time someone talks about Safe Schools or marriage equality, or draws a pathetically homophobic cartoon in the national newspaper.


It takes something to live visibly. It is an active step you take when you begin to navigate the world as openly queer. It’s there at every coded homophobic comment you hear. It’s there in every step you take as you walk hand-in-hand down the street with your same-sex partner. It’s there when a group of straight men laugh at your trans friend when you walk down the street together. It’s there when you are harassed, or spat on, or attacked, or violated. When your relationships, when your brothers and sisters, when your trans friends are denigrated, when we are all legislated against, when we are treated differently. When we have to fear for our safety. Straight people don’t have to worry about this stuff. And it takes something to keep going.


And one of the saving graces, one of the life-saving graces, are places we can go to be together. When I stepped (stumbled, thanks The Island) into The Beat nightclub in Brisbane that night when I was 18, I was terrified. I wasn’t yet sure of myself, sure that I could do this: be someone who could live openly as a lesbian. To be someone that could even go into a gay bar. But that fear was very quickly taken over by an overwhelming sense of relief. Every single cell in my body relaxed like never before as I walked around that place. As I saw queer couples dancing and kissing and drag queens and groups of queer people laughing and drinking together. I was welcomed, and I was accepted, because that is what those spaces are for. They are for people like me, people who never truly feel completely comfortable anywhere else. They are for people who are always the minority in every situation. No matter how wonderful the majority is, there is something incredibly powerful about being in a place where everyone accepts you completely.


It is something that makes you feel so safe.


And that’s why what happened in Orlando is so heartbreaking, and so gut-wrenching. It happened in a place that is meant to be a safe space because people like us don’t feel safe in other places. It is a stark reminder to all of us of every single time we have ever felt hated, and unsafe. Safe spaces like that are sacred. They are where queer people agitated. It's where we build families. They are where we find ourselves, and our identities. An attack on a place like that is an attack on all of us. It is significant. It is hard not to take it personally. 


That is also why it is so important, so vital, to acknowledge that this was a homophobic attack. This was a hate-crime. This was terrorism, and that terrorism was targeted at the LGBTQI community, and many queer people of colour within that. I have heard the father of the shooter claim it was an attack brought about by homophobic anger, the anger at seeing two men kissing. I have seen newspapers remove reference to it being a gay club that was targeted. I have heard radio stations in Australia today omit the fact that the shooting happened at a gay club. This morning I heard the Prime Minister of Australia omit the fact that the shooting happened at a gay club (he posted a statement to clarify later).


I have watched Owen Jones walk off set in disgust after trying to have it acknowledged that this was a homophobic attack.


These shooting victims were at a gay nightclub. The victims were queer. They were the same kinds of people who live visibly in a world that often hates them, and a world that fights to stop them living their lives via rhetoric, political agendas, and violence.


This is not a time to erase us, or ignore us. This was an intentional attack on LGBTQI people, regardless of anything else.


And yet, this is also not a time to use us to further an agenda – If you are Lyle Shelton and the Australian Christian Lobby, if you are Ted Cruz, if you are someone who has argued against our humanity, who has used hateful rhetoric, who has fought actively against our rights – you do not get to use us now, pretending to care for us and love us, wielding us like a hammer that you can use to nail an agenda against people of a different faith. You are disingenuous, and we see you. We remember the damage that has been caused to us, the deaths that are on the hands of people of all sorts of religions. You do not get to use us this way.


This is the biggest mass shooting in history, and the victims were my brothers and sisters, and I am heartbroken and furious.


I’m not sulking anymore. Instead I am hoping that every LGBTQI person is out there queering it up, and they will continue to do so every minute of their lives. It takes something, but it’s worth it.


Keep dancing, queers. 



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