As the parade marched down King Street, a Bud-Light sponsored dune buggy shot t-shirts into the crowd. The first few sounds of compressed air being shot into the crowd led a few people to instantly cower and shriek in fear – memories of Pulse, Deco and Kendra Martinez flashed through people’s minds. Charleston may be making strides to portray itself as inclusive a city as possible, but it still has a long way to go.
Charleston still needs to push for those who dare to be their most authentic selves. To feel safe in the city they express themselves in.
Wade Allen, a junior majoring in Theatre, lives a second life as his drag alter ego – Suede. When Allen walks down the streets of Charleston, he feels safe, but Suede does not.
“When I’m walking home or walking to a destination in drag–given that attacks [against queer people] have happened and that there’s people who have that hate in their hearts–it can be dangerous for all of us,” Allen said.
Many drag queens throughout Charleston began to carry mace and other forms of defense to prepare themselves in case of a possible attack.
Tanner Crunelle, a junior double-majoring in English and Women and Gender Studies, describes himself as a part of the intersectional queer liberation movement. He believes that everyone has a role in furthering the queer liberation. Despite his hope in the goodness of man, he does not feel as though he can be his truest self at all times because of fear.
“I have learned to navigate different social spaces and present myself differently based on what is needed and what will keep me safe. As many queer people must,” Crunelle said, “and that is even as a cisgender, gay, white man. Like, I can only begin to empathize with people who have identities which are more emotionally taxing to modify based on safety in specific spaces.”
In the early morning of Aug. 19, Kendra Martinez was confronted about her identity as a transgender woman of color and was violently assaulted. Martinez was attacked on Ann Street in what many had believed was a safe and secure place, causing many to feel troubled. When the crime first occurred, the Charleston Police Department was still compiling evidence and was hesitant to call it a hate crime which many called absurd.
Until recently, Allen and Crunelle shared the sentiments of many queer people who felt that the Charleston Police Department were not entirely on their side. However, during Pride there were announcements made about a new unit being formed that will fight explicitly for the interests of the queer community.
“That makes me happy, that’s a good thing,” Allen said. Unfortunately, this unit is not an entirely new program (like many believe) and has been established in Charleston for a few years, according to Vanity Reid Deterville, a rising senior Political Science major. However, she does feel that the strengthening of this unit could help the queer community–to a point.
“I think that the whole LGBT liaison group is a great start of how we can educate certain members of the police for to issues within our community,” Deterville said, “but I feel like it needs to go beyond. It needs to be an intentional among all police officers to have a duty to protect and serve all citizens… I feel like it requires the intentional want and duty to protect all people, not begrudgingly.”
Deterville is outspoken in her comments on how the police department interacts with the queer community. For Vanity, Charleston has to become proactive in its efforts to protect its queer community instead of waiting until tragedy strikes to implement any effective change.
Deterville is a member of the Board of Directors for Charleston Pride whose appearance on the board has caused strides to be made in bridging the divide between subgroups within the queer community.
“She is a fierce and wonderful advocate for intersectional queerness,” Crunelle said. No longer is the community in Charleston only being represented by white men, but now includes a transgender woman of color. Deterville describes her goal on the board as making the community of color feel comfortable celebrating their pride in Charleston. In the past, many queer people of color have gone to other cities to celebrate pride.
“The kind of larger governmental structure in which we reside has found a way to make very visible specific forms of queer identity and self-expression,” Crunelle said. “[and] We certainly see a hierarchy in the queer community on whose faces represent the movement, what stories are told about the movement, who is important and who is not.”
There is a divide in who feels adequately pictured in the queer movement–most notably gay white men.
“It’s acceptable, well more acceptable now, to be two white gay men in a same-sex marriage, but it’s not as acceptable to be two transwomen of color in an open relationship,” Crunelle said. “There are ways that the cisgender, heteronormative, white, bourgeois power structures reach into our community and really mangle how we can even see ourselves,”
This hierarchy within the queer community that highlights certain types of people further divides the community and hinders them from focusing on the larger issue of liberation and safety in heteronormative society.
“It’s more about the public,” Allen said, “about where change must come from.” There is only so much legislation that cane be passed and only so much that the government can do to protect the queer community. At some point, it must be the duty of every citizen to safeguard the status of the queer community in Charleston.
“As people who possess politicized identities, we should always be pushing back against oppressive governmental structures,” Crunelle said. “Each of us is a resistor and that is our calling as queer people who are interested in queer liberation.”
While Charleston may be a safe haven for many queer individuals, it still has a long road to travel before everyone feels comfortable to be who they are.
“There will never be ‘an enough,’” Crunelle said “We will always and should always be fighting from better from all fronts we can manage.”