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Barbershop: Taking Stock Of Orlando With Members Of The LGBTQ Community


Now it's time for our trip to the Barbershop. That's where we gather a group of interesting folks to talk about what's in the news and what's on our minds. And this week that means tackling one important topic, the mass shooting last Sunday at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando that claimed the lives of 49 people and wounded dozens more.

There's been a reaction all over the country and indeed internationally to the events in Orlando, but we thought this would be a good time to turn the Barbershop over to members of the LGBTQ community who have been processing this news for the past week - Jacob Tobia, a writer and host of the video column Queer 2.0 featured on NBC Out. As you might imagine it reflects on queer identity in the present moment. Jacob joins us from NPR New York. And we want to mention that Jacob uses the gender neutral pronoun they rather than he or she. Welcome, Jacob. Thanks for joining us.

JACOB TOBIA: It's great to be - I mean, it's not great to be here under these circumstances, but it's good to be on the line.

MARTIN: I understand what you mean. Thank you for joining us. Also with us - Alexis Joy Agsaulio. She's a pediatric nurse based in Orange County, Calif. She joins us from member station KUCI. Hi, Alexis. Thanks for joining us.

ALEXIS JOY AGSAULIO: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: And last, but not least, welcome back to Steven Petrow. He writes about etiquette for The Washington Post and USA Today and a column called Civilities. He's host of the Civilist podcast, and he joins us from WUNC in Chapel Hill, N.C., one of our regulars back with us. Steven, thank you so much for joining us.

STEVEN PETROW: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: So I know you've all had a week's worth of thoughts on all of this. But before we get to that, I just wanted to ask you - and I apologize - and I know it's painful, but I did want to ask you all when you first heard the news what kinds of thoughts and feelings this brought up for each of you. And, Steven, I'll start with you.

PETROW: When my husband first said there's been a shooting, I was like, OK, you know, that doesn't have anything to do with me. And then I turned the television on. It quickly went from 20 to 49, and then I understood that it was an LGBT club.

And then I just really had this moment of shock because I remember how many times I had been in bars dancing, singing, having fun, living my life and then the idea that these young people could be cut down in that moment - I mean, literally, Michelle, it broke my heart. And it really felt as though any of us could have been them, so it's been a tough week. I've vacillated between sadness, shock and then anger.

MARTIN: Alexis, what about you? I was thinking, you know, one of the things that has to be really poignant about this was the timing of this. First of all, it's during pride week. You know, June is pride month, but this was pride week. In a lot of places there are parades and big celebrations, and this is also early on a Sunday morning when a lot of people are just getting up and maybe getting this news the first thing in the morning. What about you? What did this raise for you?

AGSAULIO: Well, actually the night before Saturday night I was out celebrating LA pride with my fiance and her best friend. And, you know, we had a good time and to wake up to this news was - it was just, you know, horrifying for us.

And it was overwhelming. It was overwhelming, and we had planned to go to pride that morning as well and, you know, there's just so many emotions going on - fear and just not knowing if, you know, you're safe in a place where you're supposed to feel safe.

MARTIN: And, Jacob, what about you? And, you know, I hope it's OK if I mention that you're also Arab-American and then the shooter's ethnicity started being reported. I'm wondering if that was kind of an extra punch in the gut.

TOBIA: Yeah, I mean, you know, for me it was this incredible combination of juxtapositions of events in my life kind of colliding around that weekend. I actually spent all day Saturday in a board meeting for the organization I work for, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. And so I've had a late night out with some board members and then went home and was - went to the bodega across from the street from my apartment run by a Muslim immigrant couple.

You know, I go up to the counter, and I'm still in my outfit from the board meeting, and so I had some lipstick on and, you know, like a nice dress or whatever. And the husband's sort of like, oh, my wife wants to know what lipstick you're wearing. She says that you look beautiful. She thinks you look really nice, which was not what I was expecting at all given the scripts that we grow up with around how queer people and, you know, Muslim folks are supposed to interact, right?

And then I went to sleep, and then I woke up about 10:30 the next morning. And I was scrolling through my newsfeed and I saw these ominous posts about something bad happening. And I was like, oh, Lord, why are all my queer friends posting? What happened? What happened?

And I get to the article from The New York Times talking about the shooting. And by the third paragraph, it says, you know, this is being investigated as an act of Islamic terrorism, and I was just sort of like I'll be damned if this tragedy from the queer community is used to somehow fuel further violence against, you know, Muslim and Arab people all over the world. And I'll be damned if my sort of two identities of being a Syrian-American and being you know a gender-queer advocate get, like, ripped in half at this moment, you know?

MARTIN: Do you feel sometimes that you have to choose?

TOBIA: Well, it's not like I feel like I constantly have to choose between those things. Normally - so this is - I think it was really jarring feeling like I had to choose.

MARTIN: You know, each of you mentioned your social media feeds in one way or another. And, Alexis, I want to point out something that you said which actually caused a big debate in our office, I have to say.

You came to our attention because you posted a long piece on Facebook about what you're seeing, and you wrote that you were disappointed by what seems to be a suspiciously silent reaction from people who have been very vocal about previous instances of mass violence like the San Bernardino shooting and the Paris bombing, like, for example. Do you still feel that way? Is it - you feel like there's a difference in how are people responding - some people?

AGSAULIO: I do. I grew up in a very religious community. I grew up with a lot of really, really Catholic friends, and so a lot of my Facebook friends are those friends. And they were the ones that I noticed who hadn't posted about it, and it was more of the straight allies of our community and members of the LGBT community that were acknowledging what had happened.

MARTIN: Do the others feel this way as well?


MARTIN: Steven, I'll ask you first. Do you think that's true?

PETROW: Well, I noticed after Paris that almost 95 percent of the profile pictures of my friends had been changed to the tricolor, and I did notice here a couple of days ago that really was not the case. I think that it is true that we're not really seeing the same kind of visibility. People are making gestures and efforts in other ways.

But then, Michel, I have to say, I saw some really horrible things on my Twitter feed. And people seem to let this incident allow them to say things that perhaps they haven't been saying, but have been existing. And I just wrote two of them down here. And these are ones that I can say on public radio. One of them was Florida gay Pulse club attack - I'm so happy someone decided to start shooting perverts instead of innocent people, second one - nothing wrong with shooting a few gays.

MARTIN: What? I'm just - I mean...

PETROW: You know, and I could've read you 10 right off the bat that I saw, you know? I just stopped because of time here. I mean, saying these kinds of things, feeling these kinds of things - I mean, it really makes us re-evaluate or re-look at what we've witnessed in the last, you know, decade with marriage equality and with further acceptance of same-sex couples.

MARTIN: Jacob, what about you?

TOBIA: Part of what really struck me in this moment was that - was the really stark contrast between the number of folks who in fact changed their profile pictures for marriage equality, right? Like I remember my entire newsfeed was rainbow when marriage quality was passed, but when this shooting happened that didn't happen - right? - like that was not the result and, you know...

MARTIN: And how do you interpret that?

TOBIA: I think it's that people know how to celebrate and are willing to hold our community when we are celebrating and when we're happy, but I don't know if people are really prepared to hold the tragedy and the violence that our community faces in the same way.

MARTIN: Well, this gets me to the idea of how to go forward from here. And I'd like to get your views - each of your views on that. I mean, the shooter struck during pride week. Pride was created to combat homophobia in order to give people an opportunity to celebrate their identities, and so I just wanted to ask each of you what your thoughts are about that. What do you think is the way forward? Alexis, do you want to start?

AGSAULIO: Sure. I think what we need to do now is to stand up and to fight and to stay proud, stay strong. And, if anything, we shouldn't back down now.

MARTIN: Steven, what about you? What are your thoughts? What's the way forward here?

PETROW: You know, our community has known adversity in many ways. And I'm thinking about when Harvey Milk was assassinated in 1978. I'm thinking about the AIDS crisis. I'm thinking about Matthew Shepard. I'm thinking about a lot of things.

We are strong, and when I was down at the vigil here in Durham, N.C., the other day, I was just amazed by - first of all, how many people were there and how fierce they were. And I think that we are going to see LGBT people really writing this next chapter in a powerful way.

MARTIN: Jacob, final thought from you?

TOBIA: The idea of having to be brave is certainly nothing new for me and for any of my, you know, trans brothers and sisters and friends and chosen family members. You know, so many of us - like, part of my reaction to the shooting was like, no, I'm supposed to be attacked outside of the club not inside of it. Right? So I - we already have an expectation around persevering through real and actual fear for our safety. So I don't think we can let the fear stop us.

And, if anything, I think we need to let it propel us towards a more intersectional movement because what's clear to me from this shooting is that gun control is an issue the LGBTQ community must take on more rigorously than we have in the past. You know, we've been so siloed as a movement for a long time - a national level working only, you know, really for marriage equality if you think about where the dollars are going.

So I think it should compel us to build a stronger movement and to think more expansively about what queer issues are in the first place. That's what I hope is the political mandate that comes out of this tragedy. And I hope that that helps some of the pain and some of the lost fuel - like we learn something from it.

MARTIN: That's all the time we have this week with Jacob Tobias, Steven Petrow and Alexis Joy Agsaulio. Thank you everybody for visiting with us. I hope we get a chance to visit again on a happier occasion. I thank you all so much for this conversation.

PETROW: Thank you, Michel.

AGSAULIO: Thank you.

TOBIA: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.