Finding out about the brutal killing of 49 partygoers in Orlando’s LGBTQ nightclub, Pulse was like an arrow to my heart. It was painful, enraging and felt very personal. These party-goers are my community. I do not know any of them personally but they could have easily been my friends. The killing came only one day after the euphoria of Boston Pride where I marched with a crew of Boston friends and colleagues. We all marched together celebrating our differences and celebrating life.
The Orlando massacre has threatened the sacredness and safety of LGBTQ nightclubs in cities around the country. In the aftermath of the shooting, a number of writers have reflected on these spaces. Less discussed, but equally important is that this act of violence has also threatened alternatively positioned queer spaces where people go to feel safe to be who they are.
Many of these spaces already have a precarious existence so it is critical to explicitly name them and lift them up in this moment. Often, they are incorrectly deemed by society as being immoral and promoting promiscuity and are sometimes even legislated against by zoning codes and planning regulations. Opposition to these spaces is based in an oppressive critique that suggests that queer people should follow the social institutions of a heterosexist, anti-gay culture; this stands in opposition to the liberation that these spaces are offering.
In Boston’s majority Hispanic, yet ethnically diverse neighborhood of East Boston, nestled in a row of brick houses, is one of these alternatively positioned spaces: a queer “Blatino” house party. Here, party goers complexity and multiple identities are embraced. On one night at “Wonderland”— two new immigrants from West Africa just starting their life in the USA, a medical student who volunteers at Fenway Health, an accountant whose wife just learned that he is gay, a gogo dancer that performs in one of Boston’s nightclubs, and myself a research fellow from MIT who wouldn’t miss this amazing place, amongst other people—meet. Here, people from diverse races, ages, backgrounds, gender identities and preferences are respected and provided a rescue and a pause from life outside. “Wonderland” is a safe haven. Yet, spaces like this are often overlooked or maligned.
As a gay person, I’ve heard it said, “It is okay that you are gay. But, can’t you do everything at your home?” This question is said as if one can separate the public and private. In reality, for queer people, the public is already legislating into almost every aspect of the private. Society tells me whom I can marry. Society tells me how I can bring kids into the world. Society defines how I can have sex.
There is a way of life that society demands I should follow. But for many queer people it is very difficult to do this. One might be closeted or living in a 1bedroom apartment with another 5 or 6 people. So then a very basic thing like having sex, becomes impossible in their own space. In those cases, we need spaces like “Wonderland”.
There are many types of queer spaces and each one of them serves a different purpose. The horrific tragedy in Orlando threatens many of these spaces. The big risk in this attack and the fear it creates, is the potential it has to restrict the ability of queer folks to attend and engage with each other in these spaces.
Planners, wherever they are working, have a role to play in keeping this risk at bay by legitimizing (through zoning and planning regulations) those spaces that are alternatively positioned instead of fighting them. There is definitely work to be done to protect these spaces from hate fueled attacks like the tragic event in Orlando; but first, these spaces must exist. In working to make that happen, planners take a critical step in embracing, nurturing and protecting queer folks.
Post & Images by Ofer Lerner.