By Jahneil La Mara
Although I recently moved from central Florida after living there for six years, I was super excited when I was invited to attend the 2017 LGBT Media Journalists Convening in Orlando. The location of choice was far more significant than visiting my second home. It was also home to LGBT nightclub Pulse, where 49 people were killed and another 53 injured when a gunman opened fire during the club’s popular Latin night. As a queer woman of color, I know that all spaces aren’t equipped to embrace my multiple identities. We’ve created thriving online communities that make living at these intersections as simple as pressing send on a tweet. The convening, however, served as a reminder of the importance of cultivating safe spaces offline.
The night the event kicked off, I was met in the hotel elevator by an older Black man that asked if I was visiting for the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church Conference. He appeared shocked when I told him that I was there for an LGBTQ media gathering.
“How dare you be here with ‘the gays’ and not the Black church?!” was the look I got.
Meanwhile I was thinking, “Not today, Satan. Not today!” Talk about a long elevator ride to the lobby from the 21st floor.
I knew that this wouldn’t be the last time I and other guests would have to maneuver intersecting identities that weekend.
The hotel had to hastily implement security as a result of continuous harassment (Holy Bible included) some queer and trans folks faced in gender-neutral bathrooms. (You can read more about the bathroom incident here.) The shunning behavior of some AME church members unearthed the still complicated relationship the Black LGBTQ community has with the Black Church. Once again, I was left feeling pressured to “pick a side” — an impossible task because there is no one “side” to a whole person.
While there were apparent gaps in the guest list (people of color, Black trans men, and women were significantly underrepresented), the four-day convening was a haven for queer media professionals to openly collaborate about industry trends, have candid discussions and challenge what it means to be a journalist while embracing all of yourself. With Orlando as our backdrop, these conversations couldn’t have been more relevant.
Flashback to early morning, Sunday, June 12, 2016. It took a while to process what just happened less than an hour away from where I was living at the time. I frequented Pulse with my college classmates and I’ll never forget the feeling of waking my queer circle up out of their sleep to make sure none of them had went partying the night before in Orlando. Many media outlets reported one of two things: an LGBT nightclub shooting or a shooting at a nightclub’s Latin night. In actuality, a shooting occurred during an LGBT nightclub’s Latin night. We can’t ignore the fact that this space was intended for queer people with a night intentionally for people of color. A predator intruded on a safe space for LGBTQ people and people of color, a second home for a lot of members of our community — changing how some queer people enter spaces forever.
Spending time in Orlando and at the LGBT Media Journalists Convening allowed me to reexamine what it means to be in a safe space when juggling multiple identities. Building safer, more inclusive spaces allows everyone to show up fully present (to do the work they came to do and to have nuanced conversations, even on elevators). For a lot of queer and trans folks, we have found safe spaces online but I encourage anyone reading this (allies included) to reach beyond a lit screen and be just as intentional about creating community in real life.
Jahneil La Mara is a Southern California native and graduate of Florida’s Bethune-Cookman University where she received her B.A. in Mass Communications and served as editor-in-chief of the school paper. She has always been intrigued by the personal style of others and loves food, natural hair, traveling and Instagram. La Mara enjoys reading all things queer, fiction and non-fiction, and writes about her personal experiences being a young fashionable queer woman of color on her blog, LaLaLaMara.com. Keep up with her madness on Twitter and Instagram.