Five years after 9/11, I met a Muslim for the first time. He was a young man in my freshman French class. He was shy, bright, and incredibly fascinating.
He introduced himself as Mohammed. Our white teacher called him Mohammed during role call. But every time the other kids in the class spoke to him--first-generation students from Pakistani or Bangladeshi families--they called him a different name. They called him Osama.
A few weeks into term, I finally asked him what his name was--his real name. His real name, the one he answered to, was Osama. He started going by Mohammed once he started high school. He was afraid to go by his real name around white students.
As a class, we made one thing clear: we were going to call him what he wanted to be called. And he went by Osama for the rest of high school.
Today we remember the 15 years since the 9/11 terror attacks--when Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. The legacy of this day is strange. An American feels incredible pain, yet pride. To relive the stories of the first-responders at Ground Zero, or to retell the bravery of the passengers on Flight 93 to overcome their hijackers, is to feel both pain and pride in dizzyingly equal measure.
Every year we remember 9/11, it's not just about the day. It's about the decade, now the decade-and-a-half, of war that followed--that has shaped the world view of hundreds of thousands across American society. Ground campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, drone strikes from the Hindu Kush to the Gulf of Aden, a savage and cratered Levant--terror has made us, and the world, more terrifying.
The terror that was in Osama's eyes when he had to tell his white classmates his real name has gone nowhere. In 15 years, that terror has grown stronger--and this year, the LGBT community is vulnerable to succumbing to that terror.
After the Pulse nightclub shooting this summer, when Omar Mateen pledged loyalty to the so-called Islamic State, some LGBTs reacted with a fear of Muslims that hasn't been seen since the weeks and months after 9/11. If that raises any skepticism, look at the LGBT supporters at this year's Republican convention. Look at the Gays for Trump. Look at Donald Trump touting his support of the LGBT community on the sole assertion that he will "protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology."
Look at the comments on Out news stories on social media and find the calls against "gay-hating Islam" in the feeds.
This day is sacred to us for the lives lost, the lives saved, and the saviors of all races, faiths, and sexualities who banded together to rebuild. Those are the examples we as Americans should bring forth every day of our lives. But the fear of Muslim Americans is not a legacy we can bear repeating--especially among queer people. We are, quite simply, better than this.
If 15 years of a "war on terror" have taught us anything, it's that fear begets fear. Queer people have always lived in a world of fear. Let's not have a hand in creating that fear for another community.