My heart has been pretty heavy since the news hit about yet another massacre in the States. I have been quiet and reflective; not sure I was going to say much of anything publicly. After all, I did not know any of the victims and we all already know that it’s a horrible tragedy.
However, I reconsidered that because there is no part of my life that isn’t touched by this. I live in the bay area of California, where Harvey Milk served when he became the first openly gay politician before he himself was massacred. There has never been a single time in my life that I have not had at least one gay friend. At various points throughout the last couple of decades, I have worked at nightclubs – both gay and straight. My sometimes boss was (is) a flamboyant and wonderful gay man. Last year I took my six-year-old faery goddaughter to the Gay Pride parade in San Francisco right after gay marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court so she could witness a happy moment in history. A little over a month ago I attended a lesbian wedding. Last week I spent time talking to a friend about whether or not she wanted to explore a same-sex relationship. And last night my heart broke as I held up a candle, raised my voice in song and marched with thousands of others through the streets of San Francisco.
Hundreds of thousands of people took part in similar vigils and marches across the world.
City buildings all over the planet sent rainbow lights out into the darkness and the outpouring of support and sorrow showed that decent people outnumber the bad by a huge margin. This is another time when the world gets to stand together in support and grief, remembering for one second that indeed, We Are All Orlando.
The trick is to remember that feeling, that overwhelming empathy, that universal connection when things are going well too…and so far the world sucks at that. Here in America, some didn’t even finish reading that first headline before saying something murderous and intolerant – and that includes the man who hopes to lead the country. It is heartbreaking and tragic that this type of thing can be at once so uniting and so divisive. Our attention spans are about as short as our tempers and reaction times, which means that we have a lot left to learn and need a lot of time to learn it. But there’s the rub – these things are happening more and more frequently, and not just in the US but throughout the entire world. We never seem to have enough time to learn or change between them.
This shooter was disturbed. This is a case of domestic terrorism and the leap many took to immediately blame ISIS so they could justify killing thousands of others was disheartening, and a clear indication that this country really needs to shift away from hate and fear. The media is reporting that this awful man (who I will never name because he doesn’t deserve the press) was ‘self-radicalized’. This much is true but we radicalized him, not some Islamic group around the world. The constant barrage of racism and hateful rhetoric, anti-gay legislation, right-wing preaching, and the fear and paranoia spread by politicians and the media in this nation fueled his mentally unstable and hateful mind. He couldn’t even figure out which extremist group he was going to try to claim and blame, so he chose two different ones that are fundamentally opposed to each other. This man was a frustrated (and almost certainly gay) man who tried to use religious fundamentalism to justify murdering fifty people. We cannot let him get away with that. He was not a real member of a foreign terrorist group. He was born and raised right here, in the good old US of A and nowhere else. We must own that and hold only that man accountable, not anyone else. We must not give into the xenophobic fear that we are fed every day, nor can we allow others to keep blaming Muslims or faraway extremist groups for our own problems. Until we break the cycle of bias, hate and fear, these things will escalate. We need to stop looking outward for the cause and admit that we must take responsibility for our own.
After people learned about this latest attack, many began talking about staying home during the Pride celebrations this year, or changing where they go, not holding hands in public, or not going out to dance clubs anymore. These are not the legacies anyone would want. By doing any of these things we let the bad guys win. By continuing the fear based culture, we surrender to them. Instead, might I suggest going to Pride, if only to support the community and honor the memories of those lost. Pride is an amazing experience no matter where you are, and an excellent opportunity to learn and/or teach. Support your local LGBTQ communities, and dance your butt off in a club just because you can. Throw caution and kisses to the wind and donate blood before it’s needed. Join organizations that help others and preach tolerance and don’t allow unbridled (and unhinged) rhetoric in your lives. Teach your children how to protect themselves but also how to forgive and empathize with those that aren’t like them. Show them that they can be and love whoever they want and that while they do need to be strong, they also need to be gentle. They may need to know how to protect themselves, but if we raise them right they might not have to. It will go a long way in the grand scheme of things – and would certainly produce less violent humans with hate so strong that they murder mass groups of people. We must start somewhere.
I don’t have many answers, but obviously we need some massive change. It doesn’t happen overnight so in the meantime, I’ll settle for a greater empathy. There is always common ground – and we owe it to those who are no longer with us to search for it. Be better. Laugh, dance, sing, embrace others, and make life a party, instead of a furtive and fearful thing. Only then can we honor the memories of those we’ve lost and truly proclaim that We Are Orlando. (Or the Ivory Coast, Paris, Kenya, Bali, Norway, Virginia, ad nauseam.)
I leave you with a clip I recorded at the Castro vigil in San Francisco. Listen to the words we are singing and know that if we do come together, then we shall overcome.