#PulseOrlandoSyllabus: A Resource To Understand And Heal
After the shooting in Orlando last week, a group of queer and trans librarians and educators came together on Twitter around the hashtag #PulseOrlandoSyllabus.
Within 72 hours, that idea matured into a sweeping Google document with hundreds of contributors, offering everything from meditation techniques and LGBTQ archives to music and zines.
The idea behind it was to compile and organize—as librarians do—media that might help people begin to understand, learn and heal in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting.
The syllabus also soon sparked sharp rejoinders on the forum where it came to be:
“The #PulseOrlandoSyllabus should only have work by TRANS AND QUEER PEOPLE OF COLOR,” wrote the black trans poet Venus Selenite on Twitter Friday. “No white people.”
Of the 49 people gunned down in the Pulse nightclub early on June 12, the majority—reportedly 90 percent—were Latino, striking at the heart of a doubly marginalized community gathered for the club’s “Latin Night.”
@ohbendorf & @Willoughbrarian believe those specifically affected won't find comfort in works by white people here & they should be removed.— 𝐯𝐞𝐧𝐮𝐬 𝐝𝐢’𝐤𝐡𝐚𝐝𝐢𝐣𝐚𝐡 𝐬𝐞𝐥𝐞𝐧𝐢𝐭𝐞 (@venusselenite) June 17, 2016
We “firmly believe those specifically affected won't find comfort in works by white people here & they should be removed,” Selenite continued on Twitter, referring to herself and Jamie Berrout, a trans Mexican writer who had also been adding work by trans and queer people of color (TQP) to the document.
Oliver Bendorf and Lydia Willoughby, librarians who got the #PulseOrlandoSyllabus started, were quick to respond, hoping to correct what Bendorf called the “whitewashing” of the syllabus.
WLRN spoke with Bendorf, a trans poet and librarian with the Digital Library Federation, and Willoughby, a librarian at the State University of New York at New Paltz, last week. You can listen to our interview here:
Selenite and Berrout also responded to a series of questions via email over the weekend.
We have compiled the answers of these four participants here. The answers were edited and condensed for clarity.
WLRN: What is the #PulseOrlandoSyllabus?
Bendorf: The #PulseOrlandoSyllabus is a crowd-sourced, collaborative resource guide—currently 61 pages long. I was just checking the last page length before we got on the phone because it keeps growing every time I check.
I don’t know that anything other than a resource guide such as the #PulseOrlandoSyllabus would have, for example, a category such as Gay Bars and Nightlife alongside young adult books featuring people of color and the history of gun-control policy.
One unique thing that this syllabus does is bring those resources from those individual categories into conversation with one another and suggests that they have something to say to each other.
Selenite: The syllabus is a declaration of our existences, the existences of TQPOC (Trans and Queer People Of Color), and a guide for our community to understand the Orlando terrorist attacks.
Our intention is to make sure this document comforts and disturbs. Those who have been affected deserve every ounce of comfort. Those who oppose us and ignore our fight for liberation deserve to be disturbed. This document is for everyone, but the purpose depends on the individual.
Berrout: It's a response, a form of resistance, by the community to an attack that has hurt all of us and made us feel even more unsafe than before. Together, we're creating this resource to build understanding and help each other heal.
WLRN: How did this come together?
Bendorf: On Monday, or maybe even Sunday yet, I sent out a tweet just asking if anyone in my sphere of librarians and teachers was working on an Orlando syllabus—following the work of similar efforts like the #CharlestonSyllabus, #FergusonSyllabus, #LemonadeSyllabus, #BlackWomenSyllabus.
I want to give a nod to the Black Twitter movement, for example, which has been using Twitter and social media and specifically hashtags to link together conversations from people all over, and maybe conversations that folks are having a hard time finding locally.
Willoughby: Just for me personally, growing up, and coming out, the gay bar was my home, was a place to go. And later in lif, but before I became a librarian, I started doing drag and burlesque, and queer spaces really became like church and a place of fellowship among queers. And so creating a list like this just seemed like a way to get started as something like from the community, to the community.
But again, the list has really grown and it’s its own document. I don’t feel like any of us are really the authors of it. I think it’s about amplifying a voice that needs to be celebrated.
WLRN: People around the country are trying to grapple with the Orlando shootings in different ways. Why do you feel this kind of document is an important part of that response?
Selenite: As a writer, this is my way of taking care of my community. In our community, grieving has always rooted itself through music, rhythm, words, dance, etc. We channel the traditions and customs of our ancestors to honor the deceased and continue fighting for those who remain. Gathering these works also means giving people the opportunity to grieve as long as they need.
Willoughby: This is really about the work of survival for regular queer and trans people of color. And I think it comes from a really authentic place, of wanting to document what knowledge we know and we have. And by we I mean within an LGBTQ community and trying to make that something that’s visible, and present, and that has a legacy.
Bendorf: While we often don’t find the answers that we’re looking for, one thing that we can find is information and context and history, and representation across media.
And so one of the most powerful things, I think, that this syllabus and others like it do is that it pulls that information together, make these terrible events a little bit easier to talk about, learn from, teach from.
You know, my world is a world of librarians and teachers and they have students of all ages asking them about this stuff, and so, it’s a resource guide for the individual as much as it is for someone who’s trying to answer questions about unspeakable and unexplainable things.
WLRN: As your Twitter conversations make clear, this is very much a living document. Could you tell me about how the conversation around it has evolved this week?
Selenite: It was a conversation that needed to happen. We didn't just notice an act of revisionism and whitewashing happening, but also the exclusion of unmentioned works by TQPOC. And because Jamie began to send me titles of poetry books, I realized we needed to make this an accurate syllabus. Since we are both trans women of color it was no question that we had a responsibility.
If the Pulse Orlando Syllabus didn't have our leadership and collaboration, it would have been an inauthentic document for our people, the victims, and our history. If white gay people cannot comprehend why Madonna's "Vogue" or Harvey Milk's "Hope Speech" isn't included, then they still contribute to the problems.
Berrout: There's a line in the syllabus that says, "The intention is not to create another syllabus of gay whiteness," but despite all efforts, that's what the syllabus seemed like when Venus and I first took a look at it.
We've seen this dynamic play out time and time before. Whenever something uniquely affects people of color, we're mysteriously left out of discussions that happen around what to do with us, how to heal us, how to grapple with the reality of violence enacted specifically against us.
To their credit, Lydia and Oliver heard our concerns—among them, that a large number of white writers had been included in the syllabus, while many queer and trans writers of color had been left out—and they've done more than give us a voice. They've made us feel like partners in this effort.