Orlando - a view from our Pride network

Last Updated: 24 Jun 2016
Topics: Our people
Ben, the chair of our Pride network, reflects on his feelings after the Orlando shootings on 12 June 2016

I’m struggling to write this. I always find writing my Pride blogs difficult, the subject is often difficult, occasionally contentious and always personal. But usually I know what I want to say, I just struggle to craft the words. This time I don’t know what I want to say, I just feel I need to say something. I’m struggling to find the right words because I can’t fully come to terms with what has just happened in Orlando. So, at the moment I can only really approach this personally and hope it resonates and helps people understand.

I’m really upset. 

I was in Madrid this weekend with a friend, possibly the most gay-friendly place I’ve ever been. Much more so than London, which is ok but can still feel quite ghettoised. I went out dancing in Chueca, their ‘gay village’, in places pretty similar to Pulse in Orlando. It was fun and relaxed and felt safe. I try juxtaposing what just happened in America to the places I went and I just can’t get my imagination to do it. What is sticking in my mind though is the memory of two boys I saw in a park, far away from the gay district. They must have been about fifteen and were walking on a sunny day hand-in-hand, clearly head over heels in love and without a care for anything in the world apart from each other. It was one of the sweetest, most life-affirming things I’ve ever seen. 

When I was fifteen, far right extremists set off a series of nail-bombs in gay venues across Soho, killing 3 people. It was just as I was starting to come to terms with being gay. Denied information about sexuality at school by the government, and fearful of the rejection I rightly predicted would come from my family and friends, there was at least the hope and knowledge that places existed where you were accepted and could safely be yourself. And then that was suddenly taken away, to be replaced by a gnawing claustrophobic fear as I realised some people would attack you for being like I was. 

And I’ve just seen it happen again. But on an even worse scale. And it’s devastating.

He who robs us of our dreams robs us of our life.” Virginia Woolf, Orlando.

It seems ironic that one of the seminal feminist and transgender works of English literature should now share its name with that event. For this was not an indiscriminate attack. People were targeted because of who they were at the most fundamental level. In a world where LGBT+ people have so few truly safe spaces where they can feel free and comfortable to meet people like them and be who they want to be, for one of those spaces to be so atrociously violated feels incredibly personal and actually quite scary. It’s tragically robbed 50 people of their life, robbed families and friends of loved ones, and robbed millions more of the dream of living in a world where you don’t get attacked for being who you are – that stops you living your life.

The image of those two boys in Madrid has been haunting me all day. Yesterday they were innocent kids, today they are targets. I can’t stop wondering whether they will still be out in public holding hands today. I hope so, I really hope so, and I’m determined to help make it so.

That begins at home, we will pause to mark our grief, we have already shared condolences with our sister networks at NSA. We have raised £1500 for the Orlando fund through a cake sale and we will redouble our efforts to make GCHQ and our local communities a safer place to be LGBT+.


GCHQ Bude's aerials lit up in rainbow colours to celebrate IDAHOBiT Day 2016
©CBphoto 2016