This post was written by Emmanuel Carrillo.
Maybe the best place to start is at the end, where a group photo was taken. Very ordinary, just a group of people smiling at a lens in front of some rainbow flags. Mara, the president of the Queers and Allies club which put on this story night, made sure everyone knew that two pictures would be taken. One was destined to enter the ever-expanding digital realm where anyone with an internet connection could potentially access it. The other was not.
I spend most of my time surrounded by open-minded and accepting people, and I’m a straight cisgender man from a culture that places heavy emphasis on machismo. Because of these things, I am not very conscious of the careful tip-toeing which members of the LGBTQIA+ community must often do. It can be easy when residing in the left-wing echo chamber to forget that a large portion of our society is still unwelcoming and even hostile to the queer community. It’s easy to forget that many people don’t have a supportive family or community, that coming out can have very severe life-altering consequences, that posing for a photo at a Q&A event can have unwanted repercussions.
Spaces where people at different stages of their queer self-realization can be heard and made to feel safe and included are incredibly important. The stories told that evening took on various forms. Some were stories of standing up to oppression and adversity. Some were light-hearted anecdotes. Others were stories of love that made me feel happy and hopeful (and may have moistened a retina or two). Each depicted the inherent carefulness that comes with existing as a queer person in a world which has only recently made a small opening for their voices to be heard.
What I want to get at is that just because I, mild-mannered he/him/his, and straight cis people like me don’t have to personally face these issues doesn’t mean that we are absolved from having to take queer identity into consideration. Some people weren’t ready to be in a photo publicizing their relationship to the LGBTQIA+ community, a thought that hadn’t even crossed my mind. Frankly, taking these kinds of things into consideration is a big part of being an ally. I know that constantly looking out for people with different needs than your own is hard, but it’s necessary if we want to create communities that are inclusive and welcoming. And that’s the point of a non-published photo: giving people the option to feel like they belong and are safe, on their terms.