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A senseless murder over Pride flag

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Photo courtesy of Mountain Provisions Cooperative / Facebook
Photo courtesy of Mountain Provisions Cooperative / Facebook

Content warning: death, homophobia

A Southern Californian woman was senselessly killed last week over an argument surrounding the hanging of a Pride flag from her storefront. The shooter, a 27 year-old man, began the altercation by shouting slurs and obscenities at the owner, Laura Ann "Lauri" Carleton. When she confronted him, he repeatedly verbally assaulted her. This eventually escalated into the fatal shooting.

Carleton was described by many close to her, including her daughter, as a defender of LGBTQ people, despite not being Queer herself. The Pride flag she flew in front of her store served as a symbol of that support.
According to coworkers of Carleton, she was adamant on never taking the flag down.

"She would say...this is the hill I'm going to die on. No one is going to make me take down that flag," the wife of a coworker told the Associated Press. In addition, her daughter told CNN that "[Carelton] was so fearless, and any negative reaction she just powered through."

This mindset was displayed the night she died, as she actively pushed back against senseless hatred.

Photo courtesy of Mountain Provisions Cooperative / Facebook  

Anti-LGBTQ+ violence
Carleton's murder is undoubtedly connected to a wider epidemic of violence against LGBTQ+ people and those who support them. Carleton wasn't attacked over a disagreement, but for showing solidarity with a group that is excessively targeted and misunderstood. Simply supporting the Queer community was enough for the shooter to move beyond speech and commit real-world violence.

This wasn't the only incident of deadly violence waged against Queer people this summer, either. Recently, O'Shae Sibley, a 28-year-old professional dancer and Black, Gay man, was killed while voguing — a style of dance invented by Queers of color in the Harlem ballroom scene — in the parking lot of a gas station. A group of men began shouting racist and homophobic insults at the man and his friends before stabbing Sibley, killing him. The only "offense" committed by Sibley and his friends was the mere existence of Queer joy expressed authentically, unafraid of judgment or (God forbid) retaliation.

These and other incidents are reflections of a general trend of fast and slow violence directed toward LGBTQ+ people, part of what the Human Rights Campaign calls a national state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans (https://www.hrc.org/campaigns/national-state-of-emergency-for-lgbtq-americans).

Violence enforced with legislation
It isn't hard to see why violence of this type would be spiking, considering the political landscape of Queer issues today. There is no shortage of legislation targeting LGBTQ people being proposed and passed. Bills proposed by the Christian right are attempting to make it increasingly difficult and illegal to be Queer. This is especially true for Trans people, who have been targeted in particular the past 5-10 years.

All of this reinforces a mentality of disregard and dehumanization. Not to mention, without proper legal protections, isolated incidents of violence become legitimized. Plus, since there currently isn't a consensus on comprehensive, necessary protections for the community, it is easier for non-Queer people to become complacent and ambivalent about violence.

Only when clear stances are taken to protect vulnerable communities do the general public's attitudes shift to outrage about obvious injustices. As unfortunate as it is, these changes are necessary for those who aren't exposed to Queer people's lives and tragedies to understand why legal protections are necessary. While Lauri Carleton understood the need for these protections, those unaffected and unbothered to change their minds often require a larger legislative narrative for them to ostracize antisocial behaviors, like bigotry.

Photo courtesy of Mountain Provisions Cooperative / Facebook  

An exemplary ally
However, in the wake of all of this bad news and heartbreak, there are some good takeaways from this story. LGBTQ people online expressed love, gratitude, and support for Carleton and her family. Carleton was an exemplary ally, someone who despite not facing oppression directly, was clued in enough to express support in ways many turn a blind eye to. The Queer community at large is lucky to have been graced with her courage. We can only hope her bravery and kindness can send the message that we aren't alone. Additionally, we can hope that the message that supporting Queer people is righteous will be received.