This past Wednesday morning, employees of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York's Greenwich Village arrived for work and were met by a frightening sight. A Rainbow Flag outside the building had been set of fire during the night. Although surveillance cameras recorded the attack, and the NYPD's detectives are investigating, I was still deeply disturbed when I learned of this incident. This ws not just an attack on one of our most precious institutions, this was an attack against us all. This was a person or persons so filled with anger and hatred towards us, that they came in the night with fire and venom. While we slept, or sang, or worked, or even made love, the flames of bigotry arose to burn us all. We already walk in fear during the ordinary course of our lives; we never know if the price we might pay for being out and proud will be a beating, unemployment, eviction, ostracism, or even death. We walk the streets of our cities and towns, wondering when we'll hear the mocking voice of hatred: will it be in church, as the pastor demonizes us from his pulpit? Will it be on television, when a commentator says we are undeserving of basic human rights? Will it be in our schools, when administrators deny us participation in the gatherings of our classmates?
All these things and more, we think about whenever we assess who we are as members of the LGBT community. But to see a place like the LGBT Center, a place of our own, where we are free to express who we are in safety and comfort, attacked like this, is to witness hatred on a whole new plane. Those who came in the night with fire in their hands and hearts, knew full well the symbolism and meaning of their acts. By their attack they say "This is what we want to do to you." Their message is very clear. They came to take away any illusion that by merely entering a building we can delude ourselves into believing we are safe from the fears and attitudes of a very homophobic society. That our place of peaceful assembly and culture was attacked with violence tells us how deeply held the hatred is. When we talk about the progress we've made as a community--passage of same-sex marriage laws, achieving visitation rights in hospitals, the decriminalization of homosexuality--we also need to remember that there are those who will try to hurt us for that progress.
The attack on the LGBT Center was, by extension, an attack on all of our progress, all of our hopes, all of our dreams. That's why we, as a dynamic, complex, diverse, and beautiful culture need to address this evil act by reaffirming ourselves. Our community makes priceless contributions to society every day, even as its more hateful elements try to burn us back into the closet. I well remember being told over and over again, how I was "inappropriate", "socially unacceptable", "deviant", and many other hurtful labels. It surely kept me from living as the person I truly was, for a very long time. Fear of social sanctions prevented me and countless others from realizing their total selves, and the flag-burning at the Center is naught but an attempt to reassert that old fear in all of us. We cannot fall back, we cannot run, we cannot hide, though they approach us with fire. We may and must respond by expressing ourselves as human beings, as we are, for all to see. We cannot let the flames of hatred burn our beautiful village down.