I first heard the phrase “our thoughts are with Orlando” on Sunday morning while on assignment, covering the Comcast and NBCUniversal Pride luncheon in the Gayborhood. I’d gone to bed early to get up at 8 a.m. I didn’t get to Google “shooting in Florida” until after I’d left Locust Street and the parade behind. It was probably for the better.
If I’d read about 49 brothers and sisters murdered and another 53 in emergency and operating rooms, I’m not sure I would have heard the company leadership with an open heart and generous spirit. Even as I sat on my boyfriend’s couch later that day, gasping in awe and slack-jawed, reading details on my smart phone, I wasn’t prepared for the deluge of politicizing and armchair analysis that were about to dominate Monday. (We have a tendency, in 2016, to make national tragedies about ourselves. It’s not a cute look.)
As for so many others, the last three days have been a swirl of brutal emotions for me — chief among them sadness, grief, and loss. I have no personal connection to anyone in Florida, but these victims were family.
What slowly emerged most clearly in my mind was resentment. Omar Mateen was able to single-handedly highjack Pride in Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles and elsewhere, turning what should be celebratory joy and fraternal camaraderie into devastation — something queers like me are all too familiar with. Philadelphia’s Pride parade and celebrations continued, despite and perhaps because of the tragedy. For some, their determined participation was an act of protest: This tragedy will not keep me in the shadows.
But Pride isn’t one day. It isn’t just a parade. It’s a month-long communing with the forefathers and trailblazing mothers of the LGBT rights movements. And they know a thing or two about getting battered and bruised. Violence in our LGBT communities is not new. The mass murder at Pulse was certainly momentous, an incident that we’ll remember forever — yet I don’t want Omar Mateen to overshadow the humans who were revolutionary, who inspired with their boldness, who lived out, loud, and exquisite lives in the hopes that ours could be safer, relatively, from harm.
Last Thursday I saw R. Eric Thomas’ play “Time Is On Our Side.” Artists from West Philly known as superOBJECT have created a unique installation in the lobby for the play’s run. It’s a set of dressers, a desk, a fold-up wardrobe, suitcases, all meticulously littered with ephemera and memorabilia from the LGBT past: flyers for a jock strap contest; pamphlets from the East Coast Homophile Organization’s convening at that same Drake Hotel where the play is being performed; pictures of heroes Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny, Clark Polak, and others. It all felt so powerful. Flashes of history, lives lived boldly and politically, filled my heart with the pride that Sunday’s massacre won’t erase.
My tribe has been attacked, beaten, murdered, ignored, and worse for decades. When fear was so powerful, when getting “found out” meant excommunication from your church, expulsion from your home, termination from your job, we met underground — often literally. My forebears organized in secret. They methodically planned the dismantling of the many ways in which we were considered sick or criminal.
We’ve lost hundreds of thousands of LGBT family to violence and homophobia. Add 49 more, victims of a fragile masculinity, a coward with access to a gun.
Our aunts and uncles have seen entire circles of friends wiped out by AIDS while they screamed at the top of their lungs for help in vain. Our grandparents were raped and left for dead by the earliest homophobes, heartless people who thought they were less than dirt and didn’t deserve life. They always pushed on. We have always held tight to that will to survive and thrive despite constant fear and threats of violence. That won’t stop now.
While everyone from our friends and neighbors to pundits and politicians search for a reason why this happened or hunt for someone or something to blame, we must continue to remember that we are but mere specks on the timeline of humanity. We are alive at a time when gay men and women are just short of full protection under the law. As Michael Cox, a Comcast VP reminded the room full of LGBT families, allies, and their loved ones on Sunday morning, we’re not done fighting. Same-sex love is punishable by prison in 80 countries and, right here in the U.S., 25 states vilify LGBT love by law. This tragedy can be a reminder to press on.
Pretending like this unimaginable act of violence is simply a matter of gun access or Islamic terrorism is dishonest. This was an attack at a gay nightclub during a month of Pride celebrations. The victims were largely Latino/Latina and African American. So this is also a moment to remember the intersection of disadvantages for people who are neither white nor straight. Every life is precious but some hateful people will live their whole lives protesting otherwise.
The tide has already turned, and there’s no going back. Bigots are watching as pro-LGBT attitudes are embraced by corporations, popular culture, and the president of the United States of America. That’s likely the ultimate source of so much of this hysteria surrounding Pulse — the precious male ego that turns to guns and violence as two men or two women hold hands and kiss on the lips. We will continue rich and loving lives, through every mass shooting and act of violence.
The loudest and most ferocious defenders of the 2nd Amendment are typically straight white males. Straight white males are the ones offering thoughts and prayers that are empty and unwelcome. The governor of Florida actually told CNN that the best thing anyone can do who wants to help is pray. That’s a lie.
You can absolutely do more. You can give blood (unless you’re a gay or bisexual man in most situations). You can defend the validity of our lives to your co-workers and friends who toss out slurs and jokes as freely as we threw beads at the parade on Sunday morning. You can write to your city council, your state representative, your senator, your governor — to demand comprehensive LGBT protections and restriction of gun access. You can vote against a racist, bigoted presidential candidate who might very well try to undo the progress that has been so courageously fought for over the last 50 years. You can choose love over hate. You can try to block Omar Mateen’s actions from your mind and heart and welcome the legacies of living and lost legends whose lives foisted modern gayness to a place of acceptance and celebration.