After Orlando

Dear WGS students, faculty, staff, and supporters,

It’s been a week since the atrocity in Orlando, in which 49 people were murdered (and more injured) for being in a gay night club. The victims overwhelmingly were people of color — most victims of violent crime against queer and trans people are. They were there for their own reasons, but together, they were part of a local queer Latin community, a community that viscerally has had to relearn the lesson that queer and trans bodies are potentially subject to horrific violence, particularly if they are not white, including in the very spaces in which they believed themselves to be most safe.

I have been hesitant to write about the massacre and the waves of personal and collective grief that have come in its wake. I’m supposed to offer comfort and uplifting words, but I don’t know that I can muster much of either. I could say it was backlash against LGBT progress in securing legal recognition and rights. I could say it was an isolated incident, made possible by lax gun control laws and enforcement. However, I don’t think those things are true, or at least they seem to me to be at best half-truths that offer comforting fictions. HB2 and similar laws illustrate the continuing, and in some ways increasing, institutionalized violence of transphobia, homophobia, and heteronormativity, and the number of queer and trans people murdered each year, especially gender-nonconforming people of color, belies any effort to cast Orlando as exceptional.

The club is a space of radical hope for many queer and trans people, a space in which to experience and embody potentials for being in the world often unavailable outside of it. While not by any means a utopia, it can serve as a vital place of imagination, affection, eroticism, and self-expression. This particular attack on this particular club feels, at least to me, like a profound threat, like a broader assault on the possibility of having spaces in which collectively to experiment with what liberation might feel like.

I once said to a class that activism is about committing to the process of trying to bring about change. Amid my own numbness, mourning, and rage about the atrocity in Orlando, I remain committed to the process of trying to make the world around me more just, even though I don’t always know what that could or should look like. I take comfort in being part of an extended WGS community that I believe also is committed to that process and to the incredibly hard work of figuring it out together.

I want the WGS program to be a space of possibility for queer and trans people and allies in struggling against the intersecting violences that shape the environments in which we live, in imagining less harmful possibilities, and in helping all of us survive and flourish as we work to bring them into being. I hope that we can do that for each other and for the other communities to which we belong.

I look forward to next semester when we will reconnect and again take up that difficult, painful, necessary, and hopeful work together.


Dr. Mark Rifkin
Director, Women’s and Gender Studies Program
University of North Carolina at Greensboro

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