Emma González: Bi Heroine and Voice of Hope

3/3/2018

Courtesy of CNN

We’ve all seen the mind-numbing, soul-scathing stories about the terrifying school shootings that have plagued the United States. We’ve seen the pictures of students sobbing as they process what they’ve just survived and what their classmates did not survive.  We’ve spent countless infuriating hours trying to talk sense into those who turn every conversation about the massacre of our children into political diatribes about Second Amendment absolutism.  It seems the same, each time — the same shooters (usually angry, white boys using legally obtained guns), the same expressions of disbelief from those who knew the shooter, the same outpouring of horror and grief from the survivors and the victims’ loved ones.

And the story always seems to end the same way: after every school shooting, the furor eventually withers away into deflated hopelessness as it becomes increasingly apparent that once again, nothing will be done to stop the epidemic of mass shootings in this country.

And yet, maybe, just maybe, this time, the script has flipped and the moment will finally turn to a sustainable movement. Not yielding to those who try to stop it in its tracks, this time the dialogue is plowing forward, its engine fueled by the children who survived the latest mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  This time, there will be no slowing of the momentum, if our young leaders have their way.

Already, less than two weeks after the shooting, there have been actions organized across the country, including a National School Walk-out on March 14 and a national March for Our Lives on March 24. In the aftermath of the shooting, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas challenged Florida Senator Marco Rubio in a CNN-sponsored town hall meeting, President Trump at the White House, members of their state legislature, and the rest of the country in powerfully poignant calls for us to finally engage in real gun reform.  And, for once, rather than just changing the subject, even Republican politicians are considering at least minimal gun reform, such as bump stock bans and new minimum ages for gun purchases.

What’s the difference this time?  The credit goes to the student survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas, including the power of a resonant voice heard across the world in the immediate aftermath of the shooting: that of eighteen-year-old Emma González.

Two days after losing seventeen of her classmates to the massacre (including, as she described on the Ellen show, one of her closest friends), Emma became an inspiring national icon as she spoke out in a forceful eleven-minute speech at an anti-gun rally she helped organize. In her speech, widely republished in articles and internet postings in the days that followed, Emma eloquently and unwaveringly “CALLED BS” – a refrain in her speech — on the refusal of NRA-pandering politicians to consider gun reform policies that could prevent school shootings.

In her speech, Emma, on behalf the surviving students at her school, demanded that they not be relegated to just “another statistic about mass shooting in America,” and instead proclaimed, “we are going to be the last mass shooting.

With that speech, Emma was just getting started. Days later, at the CNN town hall, Emma directly confronted NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch for Ms. Louesch’s stance on automatic weapons and bump stocks, poignantly pointing out to Ms. Loesch, “I want you to know that we will support your two children in a way that you will not.”  In another statement, Emma said, “What would make the death bearable is if the NRA was destroyed and we were the ones to destroy it, at least for me.”   Emma is also one of the organizers of the upcoming March 24 March for Our Lives national protest.

Emma’s is a voice that has mobilized youth and adults alike, from coast to coast, to join a renewed gun reform movement like never before. Emma’s clear and forceful vision is simply that we not cower from the issue any longer. How can we, in turn, deny her that? After hearing this voice of courage from a young woman who just lived through the most terrifying type of violence, how can the rest of us claim that it’s too hard to take action, to keep pushing for sensible gun reform, just because the NRA lines our elected representatives’ pockets with big money?  If Emma is brave enough to speak truth to power, challenging us with her youthful clarity, how can the rest of us cower in complacency?

We can’t. And we have Emma to thank for inspiring us, as we plan to attend national rallies, as we implore our politicians to find their backbones as well this time. We have Emma to thank for emitting hope that maybe this time, we can stop the next massacre by finally getting our politicians to prioritize innocent lives over NRA money, and enact sensible gun reform (starting, for example, by lifting the funding ban that for years has prohibited the Centers for Disease Control from even studying the issue of gun violence).

For all Emma has given us in this moment, let’s pause to honor Emma, not just for what she has done, but for who she is.  Emma is an 18-year-old Latina bi activist, known for her independent style, including a buzz cut that she wears only because she feels forced to wear some hair, “like an extra sweater I’m forced to wear,” rather than go completely bald.  She is president of her school’s Gay-Straight-Alliance (GSA), of which she has been an active member for three years.

In media accounts, Emma is often described as a passionate, eloquent speaker against gun violence. But too often left out of the description of what makes Emma such a compelling young woman is her bi identity, which she felt important enough to highlight in a Washington Post interview, but which, since then, has primarily been mentioned only by a scattering of LGBT publications.

Russian Facebook and YouTube propaganda trolls, clearly threatened by the likes of Emma, have already tried perpetuating conspiracy theories about Emma being a paid actress, not a real person.  While such trolls would erase Emma altogether as a person, on the other side, mainstream media and even progressives should be more conscientious not to perpetuate another type of erasure:  bi erasure.  From Joan Baez to Marlene Dietrich, after all, there are too many heroes in this world whose bisexuality gets lost as they are celebrated, their characters described in beautiful detail in every aspect except for their bisexuality.

Not every news story about Emma needs to address her sexual orientation, of course. In this moment, the problem of bi erasure is certainly secondary to the horrific epidemic of mass gun violence in our schools.  But just as it would be a shame for the world to appreciate Frida Kahlo’s art without ever acknowledging her bisexuality, let’s do what we can in the course of holding Emma up in her leadership (because this is just the beginning of what will undoubtedly be a brilliant future), to not, in the process, erase what is a core part of her identity as well: her bisexuality.

Emma, contrary to the propaganda of Russian bots, is a real person.  A real powerhouse of a person, even.  And she’s not just real, and brilliant, and inspiring; she’s also one of us.  She’s bi.  Fiercely, beautifully, bi.  Let’s not forget to honor that part of her too.

Nancy Marcus
Nancy Marcus is an out bi lawyer and LGBT rights activist. She is a co-founder of BiLaw, the national organization for bi lawyers, law professors, law students, and their allies, and is the author of "Bridging Bisexual Erasure in LGBT-Rights Discourse and Litigation," published by the University of Michigan Law School's Journal of Gender and Law.