Several years ago, before I was fully out with my identity, my twin brother confronted me about my sexual orientation while we were out at a straight nightclub in our hometown of Washington, D.C.
With the smell of Hennessey on his breath, that confrontation quickly turned aggressive and would had soon turn violent had I not pushed him off, walked away from the situation and left that club. I couldn't engage in a respectful conversation with my twin about my lifestyle at that moment and in that space, so I left and walked three blocks over to my favorite Sunday event -- a weekly black gay party at the Eye Bar.
In my community, and in most inner city communities of color, there aren't many places that provide sanctuary for us to live, love and celebrate. In our communities, most of the LGBT-specific programing that targets youth of color are centered around HIV treatment and prevention. So for me and many other LGBTQ people, the clubs are the only spaces where we are able to commune, celebrate and be affirmed. The clubs become one of the few or sole spaces that we have where we can truly feel safe and protected from the hatred, bigotry and scorn of this world. Safe to be whoever we wanted to be. Safe for us to dance and sing, to kiss and to love, and to live free and unafraid.
Once I walked into the club, gave hugs and exchanged pleasantries with my friends and fellow club kids, my brother was calling and texting my phone demanding that we talk. I only responded with a text saying that if he wanted to talk with me about my sexual orientation that he would have to do it here in the place where I felt safe -- the club.
He didn't want to come in. His masculinity didn't feel safe there, so he refused. But I felt safe there. I always have.
A year prior to this encounter with my twin, I was diagnosed with HIV. I was coming into my queer self at the same time I was coming to terms with my status. But my HIV status wasn't an identity that I wanted to celebrate (I learned how to be proud of that part of my identity later). It was my queer self that I want to explore, but there weren't many places for me to go to where I could just be myself and celebrate this identity.
The purity of our clubs suddenly changed Sunday morning, when Omar Mateen walked into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and slaughtered 49 black and brown bodies and injured 53 more. Our clubs, our places of solace have now been tainted with the blood of our friends and loved ones, after one of our our beloved, beautiful sanctuaries turned into a dark, grim tomb.
This week, our story has been marked by the pains of their loss. But I too know that our story is also one of resilience. Nearly 50 years ago, when police officers raided the Stonewall Inn, it was two transwomen of color, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, who led the fight to protect our bodies from further violence and to restore our place of sanctuary. It is in this same spirit of resilience and resistance that we must embrace and fight.
I've slowed down and there's been less going to the club before this heartbreaking incident. But this weekend, as I head home to DC for my mother's birthday, I will go to my favorite spot to sing, dance and celebrate as I have done before -- and as they did on Saturday night in Orlando. This time my twin will be there, and together we will celebrate and affirm each other and my community's freedom to be, to live and to love.
Jason Walker is the HIV/AIDS community organizer at VOCAL-NY. He is a Washington, D.C., native and currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.