By Joe Glass
A week ago saw the worst mass shooting in American history. To date. I'm sad that I feel I need to add that last bit, but frankly, the phrase 'worst mass shooting in American history' is becoming all too frequently uttered.
It was an act of absolute terror. But it was also a terrible, harrowing hate crime. A hate crime is defined as 'a crime motivated by racial, sexual, or other prejudice, typically one involving violence'. The attack was the very definition of a hate crime – a violent act targeting a community due to their own prejudices against that community. The LGBTQ community.
It's a week later, and I feel so much that I should write something about it. I did so on my comics Facebook page, but that I should use this platform afforded to me by Bleeding Cool to make some sort of in-depth comment on this atrocity that was perpetrated against my community, and the atmosphere that permeates our world and media that exacerbates these prejudices.
After all, other of my contemporaries who cover LGBTQ issues in comics have done so. There are two particularly great articles by Brett White over at CBR and Matt Santori-Griffith over at Comicosity that I absolutely INSIST you go and read. They make incredibly poignant and powerful statements, and make a call for changes in mainstream comics in particular that are absolutely necessary.
I should say something too…but I am finding it so incredibly difficult.
There is an indescribable level of pain in me surrounding this whole event. A deepness of sadness, of depression and of rage that is so hard to put into words, I don't know if I can even try. That I am continued to be reminded of how bad this world is for LGBTQ people at times since this atrocity makes it all the worse: the GOP in the USA, where this vile massacre occurred, doubled down on anti-LGBTQ legislature just TWO DAYS after giving their 'thoughts & prayers'; pastors are applauding the gunman, and only bemoaning that he didn't kill more of us; there was a mass shooting just days before the Orlando shooting, again at a gay bar, that wasn't reported on until after the massacre at Pulse – presumably only because of the location of that killing, and another example of how easily media can make the LGBTQ community invisible, even in their violent deaths.
There have been those that try to remove the context of hate that was the motivation for the attack, such as presenters on Sky News who tried to belittle and remove that aspect, that led to the walk out of one journalist in disgust. Why do this? Well, there's been a long, long history of media, education and even governments trying to make the LGBTQ invisible, and especially the crimes of the majority or those in power against us. For example, in my years in school, studying history, we never once touched on the fact that the Nazi party in World War II also rounded up LGBTQ people and killed them in concentration camps. Text books we had mentioned pretty much every minority affected, but the LGBTQ community were vanished.
Why though? Is it maybe too painful for these people who share the same prejudices as a monstrous killer to want to admit it? They can't possibly be as bad or as evil as such a man, surely? All they want to do is deny the rights of this group, to determine where we may use the bathroom, to not have us on their TV screens, in their cinemas, in their comics. In history. They merely want us to go away.
So how does this relate to comic books?
Well, it's comic books but also the wider media at large. I will say, TV is a lot better these days and is leading the race in improved representation if you ask me, but there's still a ways to go. Comics, and the majority of other media, lag behind – they are culpable in the mass vanishing of the LGBTQ community.
Let's take Marvel and DC, and their 'thoughts and prayers' actions in response. Each company used some of their key characters in images to reflect solidarity and support to the LGBTQ community, to the victims of the Orlando shootings. Superman. A white, cis-gendered, straight superhero. The Avengers (the movie cast in an image by Mark Bagley) who are none of them represented as queer, and one of whom may in fact have been a Nazi sympathizer (at best) this whole time.
We are assured that all these characters are allies. Well, that's great, allies are great and important, and I do thank Marvel and DC for making some sign of doing something to show solidarity. But it is not more important than using actual LGBTQ characters to make that statement.
Catwoman. Batwoman. Poison Ivy. Harley Quinn. Constantine. Midnighter. Green Lantern (Earth-2). Iceman. Iceman (Icekid?). Northstar. Ms America. Wiccan. Hulkling. Karma. Mystique.
Heck, Marvel could have used the X-Men, if nothing else, who not only have a large number of queer characters in their cast, but whose struggle itself is analogous to the struggle of the LGBTQ community. But therein lies a whole other can of worms.
These are just a few of the LGBTQ superheroes that could have been used to illustrate the same point of solidarity and support and would have been so much more meaningful.
Instead, they used straight people.
Instead, LGBTQ leads are dropping. Instead, when a company does have an LGBTQ lead character in their own book they 'don't want to label it'. Instead, we, as a whole, wide and expansive LGBTQ community get an issue or a scene and then have to wait months for the next time that character gets to continue that arc.
No single character can represent the whole community, nor should they. All books should feature a diversity of characters, in the lead and in support, to present a broader world. To make those LGBTQ readers feel like they are there, that they deserve to have their stories told.
The killer apparently took his heinous actions because he didn't like seeing two men kissing. Some even began reporting some suggestions that he too had a Grindr profile and was a regular at Pulse, Orlando (though the FBI has since stated they are finding less and less evidence to support this). Some of the media reporting that are trying to make it suggest that this maybe wasn't a homophobic hate crime at all. This is another attempt to make the hate crime invisible in favor of a different narrative. Far from it, if anything it would further exemplify how an atmosphere of hate and lack of visibility can cause such horrendous and reprehensible actions.
By hiding us away, by not confronting hatred in the world, by trying to ignore the issues that affect us as a community but also affect everyone, a culture of ignorance and hate permeates, and can even make an individual push those feelings inward.
If we do not see ourselves in the world, we are being made to feel like we shouldn't be a part of it. If we do not see that we can be the heroes of the story, how are we to be brave? If we do not ever see ourselves getting the happy ending, how can we ever believe it can be so?
I have said it before and I say it again: REPRESENTATION MATTERS. And I take it further: I personally call on Marvel and DC to give more than their solidarity, to give more than thoughts and prayers, but to actually do something about it. I call for a renewed commitment to improving LGBTQ representation and diversity in their comics.
Just as they focused on women in comics. Just as they focused on racial diversity in comics. If they really have to take this 'one at a time, get in line' view to improving diversity and representation and improving their comics, then I say 'now it's our turn'.
One small thing that helped bring me a bit of hope this passed week, and made me smile again: anyone who follows me on twitter will know I am somewhat obsessed with the mobile game Avengers Academy. The game is having a small mini-event called British Invasion where several British superheroes became available for unlocking. This includes Union Jack, who in the comics is gay. I did not expect this to happen in the game – the game after all is technically aimed at a younger audience, and heaven forbid we let younger people understand the full breadth and depth of love and the world around them. I completed a quest with the character – only to find him come out to Black Widow. In the game. In my hands. Representation occurring in such a natural and positive way. That felt so huge after last weekend – this tiny, small thing.
And finally, to the LGBTQ fans and readers out there – please, I know how hard it feels at the moment. I know how much fear, and anger, there is. But don't let it defeat you. Don't let it win. Look to the amazing actions of love and support there have been since, and yes, including Marvel and DCs statements of solidarity thus far. Look at the #QueerSelfLove on twitter. Know that you are not alone. Look to these, and find hope. And also, find the strength to push forward and DEMAND that things get better.
Joe Glass is a Bleeding Cool contributor and the writer/creator of LGBTQ superhero team series, The Pride. The Pride is available here and also on Comixology. He is also a co-writer on Welsh horror comedy series, Stiffs, which also includes a gay character because representation can occur in any book, any genre, at any time. Stiffs is available here and on Comixology too.