Parkland, Florida made national headlines in 2018 after a 19-year-old marched into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14 and opened fire on students and teachers, killing 17 people. One of those survivors, David Hogg, became one of the most recognizable faces in the call to action for gun reform, and on Wednesday, Hogg spoke to UNC Chapel Hill students who went through an active shooter situation on August 28.
Qnotes caught up with Hogg in a brief, exclusive interview after the This is Our Reality Rally at UNC.
Taylor Heeden: It’s an honor to meet you, David. We wanted to talk to you about a point that a lot of speakers made, which was that a lot of people who are disproportionately affected by gun violence are marginalized people — people of color, queer people, etc. Could you elaborate more on that point and why it’s important to stand up for those people?
David Hogg: As a country has so many different people, when one of our communities is under attack, if we don’t come to their defense, it could mean that your community is next. We should be protecting everybody, no matter if they love people of the same sex or not. At the end of the day, we all share the identity as being people in the first place that deserve protection, community and safety. I think the reason why I brought it up is because it’s not brought up and the media pays a disproportionate amount of attention to things like the shooting in Parkland. I’m obviously thankful they paid attention to what happened there, but it’s not to say that Parkland shouldn’t have gotten the response it got. It’s to say every community should get the response [Parkland] got.
TH: You also talked about separating mental health from the issue around gun reform. Could you explain that?
DH: I have PTSD, so technically I have a mental illness. I am far more likely to be a danger to myself than anybody else, and two thirds of gun deaths in this country are suicides. It is important that we talk about mental health in that respect, and the respect of the collective trauma that a lot of these marginalized communities have from gun violence, either by the state, or by individual perpetrators. But it should not be used as an excuse to not talk about the fact the shooter in my high school, for example, had drawn swastikas in the past, had a history of horrible comments against Black and Brown people and different marginalized groups in the first place. We shouldn’t be using mental health as one, to stigmatize it (mental health) more, and two, as a scapegoat to avoid talking about hatred. Hatred is not a mental illness.
TH: Back to the point on mental health, people during the rally kept saying the media is missing the real tragedy of the story: not only did one person die, but 30,000 students have now experienced a real, traumatic event that will impact their lives forever. Can you talk about how this issue goes beyond the death toll?
DH: All the American students are somehow, somewhat calm, because in some ways, they’d expected something like this to happen, but the international students were understandably pretty distraught by this, and it attests to the desensitization that we have. I can tell you, from my experience, you don’t know if there are multiple shooters on campus. You don’t know what’s rumor, and what’s reality. I think too often there’s a comparison of traumas where people say, ‘Well, I was in the next building so therefore, I feel this way,’ or ‘I was in my dorm, so I feel this way.’ I think this happens a lot in movements, but the reality is nobody should have gone through what they went through. No matter if they were in that building, or whether or not they had a loved one on the campus, because everybody had different amounts of fear. I think there’s a certain amount of grace that communities have to provide to each other to understand that we’ve all experienced different things, but at the end of the day, none of us should have gone through the shooting here, Sandy Hook, and the shootings that happen all the time.
TH: The majority of our readers at Qnotes are LGBTQ+ identifying, and this event leaves them even more intimidated. Can you speak directly to our readers about what they can do in their own communities to support change?
DH: The first thing is to take care of each other before you do anything political, because I think the most powerful force is not political, it’s cultural. Culture comes from people being able to freely express themselves, and that starts with safety. I think being able to be there for each other is the first step. When the state is going to war on queer people, being able to galvanize and come together in the face of something that should not be happening and acknowledging that we still have each other, that’s the first thing. This stuff is exhausting, but I feel like in some ways, being in movements, generally, we can see this pattern over and over again of people exhausting themselves because of the trauma that drives them. I think universally speaking, the most powerful asset that humans have, is also their greatest liability, trauma, because it’s what drives events like today. It’s what drives people to go and demand change. It’s what drove those young people in Greensboro in the ’60s to go and protest segregation when they were college students. If you want to get politically involved, voting is the first part, although that can feel tone deaf in a state where a lot of people are gerrymandered out of power. But it’s about using all the tools in our toolbox at our disposal in the first place. If you really want to get very political, try to run for office. Maybe you won’t win, maybe you run against a homophobic incumbent, but even if it’s in a primary where Democrats could be better on this issue, even if you don’t win, you still push them to be better.
TH: What inspires you to keep going, despite challenges like that, or any road blocks in the way?
DH: I think I can tell you from my own experience, the inspiration that I have in creating change a lot of the time comes from looking at many of the queer movements of the 20th century. Whether it was people like Harvey Milk, or whether it was people you know, in the HIV/AIDS protests, where they lead so much of that charge. From my own experience, the best organizers that I’ve seen almost are always queer women — if it wasn’t for queer women, March for our Lives would not exist, period. They’ve never gotten the credit that they deserve, they rarely do, and I think it’s important to set up the fact that they’re almost always at the center of these movements, and not to leave them out of that conversation.
TH: What do you think is the most important lesson you’ve learned on this journey, something that you want to share with the front liners, the other activists?
DH: I would say universally, whether or not it’s queer people, or just any human being in general, know that if you’re in a movement, it’s not all reliant on you. Know that you can take a break, because there are other people doing the work at the same time as you, and if they need to take a break, they know that you’re doing the work. It’s not all on one of us because what they [the opposition] need us to do is believe this is going to be solved in one election cycle, burn ourselves out and we give up. This is a marathon, not a sprint.