I was born and raised in Orlando, FL which is now (for the most part) a modern and accepting city. It is, however, still in the south and struggles with conservative views on things like homosexuality. When I reached adolescence I realized I was different or, “queer” if you will. Truthfully, I had always known I liked guys…I just couldn’t put a title on it until I met other people like me.
Middle and high school were tough. I was called ‘faggot,’ and threatened with violence daily. Watching my back, and learning how to survive in hostile surroundings was a part of my day-to-day life. Sadly, that is still the reality for many LGBTQ youth.
My life began to change for the better when my Mother’s then boyfriend told me about a weekly event he heard about called Gay Skate at Semoran Skateway. He would drop me off, give me money for admission, and then pick me up after. We did this every week for many months. This public gathering of gay people was my first real opportunity to be myself. It is also where I made my first lifelong friendships.
When I was old enough, and many times before, my new-found gay family would take me with them to a place where we could all be ourselves…gay clubs called Parliament House, and Southern Nights. This is where I found my tribe. I found acceptance. I was able to be un-apologetically myself, without fear of judgement, or violence. All I felt in these places was love. Period.
I share this story because I am seeing a lot of people outside the LGBTQ community expressing a lack of understanding of why a gay club is so important to our community. The reality is, since the days before the Stonewall riots gay people have faced discrimination and violence everywhere, can you imagine that? The gay bars were our only solace, the only place in the world where we could be ourselves without fear of violence or even death.
In 2016 the world is a much safer place for LGBT people, but not necessarily for our transgender brothers and sisters. Places like Pulse in Orlando, and Faces, Badlands, Sidetrax, Bolt, and The Depot in Sacramento are still crucial to the happiness and safety of our community. That is why what happened in Orlando is so poignant and horrific. This wasn’t just an attack on us, it was an attack on our innocence, our very security as a people.
Sunday morning I found myself suddenly and inexplicably awake. I rolled over, and tapped my phone to check the time. It was 6 AM. I had several CNN alerts and the following leapt out at me:
Having grown up in Orlando, and having just returned from a vacation to Orlando exactly a week ago, these alerts hit me HARD. I flew up out of bed, ran to the living room, turned on CBSN and the news quickly began to sink in. A gay bar, that my friends frequent, in my hometown, was the scene of the largest mass shooting in US history. 53 injured, 50 dead. I mean let that process for a second…50 people…gone. It’s a terrible visual. I honestly spent most of the morning in tears.
After 5 hours staring at the TV and absorbing the atrocities of that fateful Sunday morning I had to get out of the house. My boyfriend and I went to a pickup softball game…a gay pickup softball game. Another stark reminder of the places where we are able to be un-apologetically ourselves. The softball game was a great distraction, but it was just that. A distraction from the emotions that were becoming stronger as the hours went by.
I cancelled my plans for the afternoon, I just did not feel up to going on with life as usual. I felt like I was bleeding. The LGBT Community Center of Sacramento organized a rally at 20th and K…my boyfriend and I knew we had to be there. We headed to Midtown to join in solidarity with our queer brothers and sisters in Orlando and beyond.
When we arrived at the #SacStandsWithOrlando rally, we witnessed and participated in a moving tribute to the 50 people who were murdered at Pulse. Volunteers were taking turns laying on the scalding hot pavement and being outlined in chalk…the way our now deceased brothers and sisters were outlined inside that nightclub. I volunteered:
The visual brought me to tears, and will probably never leave me. Take a look:
Try to imagine each of those chalk outlines representing your loved ones, your children, your friends…it’s absolutely gut-wrenching. I saw a post from Andy Carvin on Facebook that will probably stick alongside this visual in my head forever:
“RE: the Orlando shooting, CNN just described something I’ve never thought of – as investigators are inside the nightclub, where many of the bodies are still where they fell, they have to tune out the nightmarish sound of all of the deceased phones’ ringing constantly as loved ones try to reach them. #shudder“
Close your eyes and imagine that sound. That is a perfect representation of the gravity of this violent attack on the LGBT community. That is exactly what this was, an attack on our community. This was anti-gay domestic terrorism it was not “Islamic terrorism.” This was a sick, twisted, and deranged homophobic American man who at the last minute decided to proclaim allegiance to ISIS to add weight to his crime. The mainstream media is feeding right into that narrative, but many are missing the real issue.
Pulse was targeted because it was full of hundreds of members of the LGBT community. Period. Do not blame Islam, blame hatred, anger, bigotry and easy access to assault rifles. Our Muslim brothers and sisters stood by our side in midtown last night, held our hands, and mourned alongside us. This was an attack on the LGBT community, but it was also an attack on Islam. Muslims will continue to face undue discrimination as long as people continue to kill in the name of their religion.
As the names of the dead continue to be released, I sit paralyzed reading each one…hopeful that no one I was close to is on the list. But the reality is, we are ALL on the list. That man took 50 people from our community, but in reality he took our collective innocence, and our sense of safety. But what he failed to take, was our sense of community. That is absolutely unbreakable.
I am numb. My LGBT family in Orlando was attacked, and 50 lives were violently taken. Solidarity with other mourners in Sacramento helped, But my heart is truly broken. As the first mass attack on LGBT people in my lifetime, this has affected me deeply. None of us are safe, until we are ALL safe. We will never be safe as long as hate and violence are taught by our religious leaders, perpetuated by our culture, and legislated by our politicians.
Prayers are no longer enough, it’s time for action. In the words of Sacramento’s mayor elect Darrell Steinberg during the #SacStandsWithOrlando rally, “You win by living your life out loud!” That is what I will continue to do, my heart is broken but my resolve is not.
If you would like to donate to help the victims of the Pulse shooting, there is a GoFundMe here.