Two days ago I walked into my regular day job wearing my rainbow Pulse ribbon as a way to honor the 49 who were murdered at Pulse nightclub two years ago. While the scale of destruction didn’t rise to the level of 9/11 in New York City, in Orlando and the LGBT+ community at large, that morning felt almost as bad as 9/11. For many it felt worse as they learned they had lost a family member or beloved friend.
I will not forget waking up to the frantic calls and texts from loved ones around the country. I will never forget not being able to eat because my stomach was in knots worried for my friends I hadn’t heard from. My phone never left my hand waiting for them to check in and tell us that they were ok. Later that morning, the memory of joining friends at one of their homes and mourning with them as the death toll climbed to 49 is still seared into my mind. It was a stark reminder of why calling this domestic terrorism is accurate.
I didn’t know any of the victims directly. Over the days that followed, I learned of some friends who were directly impacted by the loss of a loved one. I listened to their pain and their stories about those relationships and grieved with those who grieve.
You know what I will never forget, though? Watching the Orlando community spring into action. Watching downtown, and famous landmarks around the world, light up with rainbow colors. Everyone is recognizing that this was a direct attack against the Latinx and LGBT+ community. It felt like the world had rallied to our side. It was evidence of love, pride, community I have never experienced in my 50 years so far. In the midst of tragedy, love showed its strength to defeat hate through symbolic gestures and a lot of *really* hard work by incredibly brave women and men in the aftermath and recovery.
Unfortunately, as it turns out, our political leadership at the state and federal level did absolutely nothing to prevent further mass murder by enacting sensible gun control policies. Their thoughts and prayers didn’t stop Las Vegas, or Parkland or the dozens of mass murders over the past two years. Plus the political climate today where a President and the federal government decided to break with tradition and refuse to recognize gay pride month, says it’s ok to ban honorable trans people from the military, and places anti-gay people in some of the highest offices in the land, only facilitates an environment of abuse and violence against LGBT+ people. We also have religious leaders who still say it’s ok to call being LGBT+ sinful and deny us full equality in public policy, business, and churches. We have religious activists who use “Love the sinner. Hate the sin” as an excuse to “dehumanize your neighbor, stigmatize their love, life, and personhood.”
Within this kind of climate it’s not hard to see where a mentally disturbed allegedly religious man with easy access to military grade weapons would think that walking into a bar and brutally murdering 49 people is justifiable.
I used to be a part of the systemic oppression against my own community as an ex-gay ministry leader. I once smiled and convinced myself that “at least I am not as bad as…” those who purposefully and overtly shame and stigmatize people. I was wrong. Not speaking out against religious and social stigma against LGBT+ people is as bad as. Supporting and/or working with religious and political leadership that fosters that type of environment is as bad as. A religion that teaches LGBT+ people to hate and to even kill themselves figuratively (which some take as literal) is as bad as a religion that told the Pulse shooter it was justifiable to kill us and himself. But, now that I know better I have plans to do better.
As Dr. King often said, it takes intentional action to end bigotry and hatred. You are either helping to foster an affirming, equal, and loving society or not. It’s simple.
Today I seek to help end that systemic oppression through investments of time, resources, and volunteering here at Thrive. Some large investments and some small ones like being the only person at work wearing a rainbow ribbon in a building housing hundreds of people. As I shared my experience of that fateful day with co-workers who asked about the ribbon, it was a small way to honor the 49 fallen. Yet it is an important way to replace stigmatization with humanization; to replace misunderstanding with empathy. Love is most powerfully expressed through person to person relationship.
Love has already conquered hate. It’s time to live in that love.
Be authentically you, be free,