The power of celebrity is unprecedented in the United States. With one opinion or sentence, a beloved actor, musician, or writer has the power to change the American landscape. One memorable character, hit song, or popular book integrates these people into the fabric of our lives, revealing the breadth and outreach the arts can create. LGBT artists, in addition to entertaining us with their work, promote acceptance of other LGBT individuals in the United States. Their work and outreach are critical to the advancements in LGBT rights and changes in legislation because of how much they are revered.
In the wake of the Orlando shootings, these artists are needed more than ever. Not only do they show that it is possible to be loved as an LGBT individual, their voices are imperative to bringing about change. Whether it is through showing vulnerable emotionality, or using decades-old influence to further push legislature for gun control, LGBT artists are standing up for themselves and the community they love. Multiple examples may be chosen to prove this effort, but two that have stood are George Takei and Willam Belli. Their responses to the Orlando shooting are radically different, but they touch different points that are needed to understand the gravity of this attack against the LGBT community.
Takei’s initial tweet, “Devastated by the news of FL. Whatever the madness behind this, let us come together first to support victims & loved ones”, has transformed into support via efforts to make our country safer. Such effort may be found in his article on The Elite Daily, “How the LGBT Community Can Lead Us to a Sane Gun Policy.” Having won our hearts as Sulu on Star Trek, along with his many hilarious posts on Facebook, Takei has the power to present arguments that would otherwise be dismissed by his fan base. For instance, amid ignorant voices of those fearing their second amendment rights, Takei raises a necessary point about those of the first amendment:
“It is the First Amendment that articulates many of our most basic and fundamental civil rights: freedom of speech and of worship, but also of assembly and association…The latter two rights came under direct assault for the LGBT community…[The Killer] intended to strike not just at people, but at a closely-knit community.
While it is our right to own a gun, Takei points out that it is also our right to congregate and associate for a greater good. Pulse was a place for people to come together to dance, drink, and safely express the love in their hearts—a much needed good within a transphobic and homophobic society. With the pull of a trigger, 49 beloved LGBT individuals were stripped of their right to congregate over a collective love and live freely within a culture of pride. As legislature is made to enact gun control and create greater protections of LGBT rights, we much remember this argument. Who better to put into our heads than one of the most beloved individuals in American culture? With every performance that makes us smile, Takei also offers political discourse that spreads to billions in seconds.
Heroes, however, can sometimes change the view of an event with something as simple as a deviation from their norm. Willam, a queen often quotes from RuPaul’s Drag Race as saying, “I tend to think emotions are for ugly people”, dared to be “ugly” by sharing an emotional post after the pulse shooting. A queen who is loved by millions for major televisions appearances, comedic videos, and breaking the rules, Willam certainly broke one of his own by offering us an insight into how the biggest cost in a hate crime is not always your life. Showing his heart from under the weave and designer shoes, Willam’s post summarizes how the reach of a hate crime can extend beyond LGBT individuals to the people they love the most:
A killer does not have to point a gun at someone’s head to destroy a life; irreparable damage can be done by taking away the people who offer unconditional support. Unlike many LGBT individuals, who are disowned by family after coming out, Willam has the love and following of his family. One change in a performance date and one bullet from the killer could have taken that away in seconds. In a world dominated by homophobia and transphobia, the possibility of destroying supportive family is especially heinous. Support is critical in surviving and thriving as an LGBT individual and as an artist. Loss of it in a terroristic attack, especially from a loved one, is a theft for the LGBT community that can never be undone. With one instance of bad timing, Willam could have just as easily lost his family, as well as his life, to the shooter at Pulse.
Beyond Willam Belli and George Takei, there are more LGBT artists speaking their minds and representing the people to whom they bring the most joy. To combat the damage and terror from the Orlando shootings, they are banding together to help promote the same cause. For the pleasure they bring with their work and their willingness to advocate for the injured and grieving, these artists are the heroes needed to push our culture and legislature forward.