I haven’t really been able to think about much of anything else over the past few days, which I suspect is probably an experience I share with plenty of other queer people and our allies.
Each and every mass shooting is a tragedy, but this one in particular was personal.
It feels selfish (or maybe millennial?) to bring up myself when something like this happens, but it’s hard not to feel affected by, and invested in, what happened at Pulse in Orlando. After all, this was an act of terror specifically targeting the LGBTQ community.
As it were, I was out at a Latin night at a gay club in Hell’s Kitchen dancing and drinking with my friends on Saturday night too. We were all patted down by the doormen before entering the building that night. I remember feeling put off by this extra layer of security, which isn’t required anywhere else in the NYC gay club scene. (I suspect this may change, at least for now.)
The next morning, I woke up to the headlines on Twitter; each story more horrific than the next. The final texts from victims. The aching pleas from mothers looking for their children. The names and faces and ages. And as I processed the heaviness and darkness, all I could think was “It could have been us.”
I love music. It profoundly moves me and informs everything I’ve done with my life, personally and professionally speaking. The fact that this happened in a place where music is celebrated by people like me feels like an invasion on the deepest level. It is as much a place of worship to me as a synagogue. Only when I’m dancing can I feel this free…
But that is exactly what an attack of terror like this — a hate crime against the gay community, and don’t let the mainstream media downplay the fact that this was a gay club — is designed to do: Threaten. Terrorize. Panic. And we must reject that fear.
I stood outside Stonewall on Monday evening for the Orlando vigil with two people I love. We hugged. Chants swirled through the air. “New York loves Orlando!” “Gun control now!” “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re fabulous, don’t fuck with us!” Politicians, activists and Nick Jonas shared their condolences and frustration to the hundreds of us on the streets. (I saw that Nick’s appearance was criticized afterward online, and I get it, but I also feel that anyone is welcome to mourn if their grief is sincere.)
At a certain point, the crowd grew restless with all the speeches and began to chant in unison: “SAY THEIR NAMES! SAY THEIR NAMES! SAY THEIR NAMES!” (and, occasionally, “los nombres, por favor!“), drowning out the final few speakers until, at last, the organizers read the name and age of each victim aloud. We held up our candles, lit up our phone lights and cried. The sheer number of names booming through the air on the nearly silent streets was haunting enough, but hearing the ages — “22 years old…20 years old…19 years old” — elicited the most painful sobs and shrieks. “Not one more!” they chanted. “Not one more!”
As many have already pointed out, this is why we Pride. Intolerance and hatred is why we Pride. There is no Straight Pride because a man and a woman kissing in public does not carry the same possibility of awakening something as dark and sinister in someone that two men kissing still does.
It is heartening to see that the queer community is strengthened and buoyed and connected under one unified rainbow in a time of tragedy like this, and that the petty differences and in-fighting that often distract us are cast aside when our freedom is threatened and our own are wounded.
But we should get mad. We should demand common fucking sense gun control. We should never allow someone on the FBI watch list to have access to weapons, especially those of mass destruction. We shouldn’t have legal access to a weapon that can level scores of people within seconds designed for military use. We should not be banned from donating blood for having sex. We should demand that the media recognizes that this was not just a nightclub, but a gay club. We should hold these fucking politicians accountable for their empty promises, campaign donations from the NRA and useless “thoughts and prayers” tweets.
Don’t stop talking about it, because our society is desensitized enough to move on to another Kardashian headline within hours. Many already have. Some have yet to even say a word.
There are immediate courses of action to take: donating to the Pulse GoFundMe, writing to your local representatives and donating blood, if you’re even allowed — all of which are positive steps. I have faith, though, that we as a community will take this to the next level. We’re the LGBTQ community. We get shit done.
Last night, I went to see Grimes and Florence + The Machine in Brooklyn. Both put on a fabulous show, even though I still felt somewhat distracted from the weekend’s events.
And then out came Florence with a rainbow flag to perform “Spectrum,” grasping it tight as she sang those words: “Say my name as every color illuminates / We are shining, and we will never be afraid again.” Later on, she led the crowd in a chant of “Love is love!” Tears again.
Without trying to give the weekend’s events a positive spin, I will simply say this: After Saturday, I am reminded now more than ever to live each day with intention, love fiercely, live proudly, feel more compassion and to try not to make anyone else’s life more painful. Life is hard enough as it is.
Let the colors illuminate.
Photo credit: R.O.B. Love you.