As I scrolled through all of the stories on NPR last night about the tragic events in Orlando that occurred early Sunday morning, I felt a range of emotions.
At first, anger and fear crept in.
Anger because people like me were targeted.
Fear because people like me were targeted.
Anger because it’s something that I have to worry about, even though the chances are teeny-tiny that anything would ever happen to me or my family.
Fear because it’s something that I have to worry about, even though the chances are teeny tiny that anything would ever happen to me or my family.
Anger because there are people out there that don’t understand and feel as though “we” are making a terrorist attack all about “us” and should leave the fact that the victims were LGBTQ individuals or allies enjoying a night out at a Gay club. In fact, the governor of Florida (the last time I checked) wouldn’t even publicly acknowledge that this attack was directly targeted towards the LGBTQ community. In fact, he specifically left out the words “hate crime” in the statement that I listened to.
However, the attack in Orlando was a hate crime towards the LGBTQ community and it does deserve to be treated as such.
It was done at a place where those in Orlando’s LGBTQ community were supposed to feel free and safe. It was done during Pride Month, as President Obama declared it to be just a few weeks ago, a month where those of us who are LGBTQ, and our many allies, celebrate our community and who we are across the country, and it was done after Omar Mateen’s father witnessed his outrage when he saw two men kissing just a short time before the attack occurred.
Yes, I get that we shouldn’t be so focused on labels. In fact, I know plenty of people in the community that would rather not even be labeled and I think we would all like to be thought of as no different than anybody else.
Yes, I know this should be considered an attack on all Americans, and yes, I know it was also an act of domestic terrorism.
However, you cannot trivialize the fact that the individuals killed were members of the LGBTQ community, if not allies. The undeniable fact is, that “we” are still different than the norm. We are a community and culture that is still not commonplace and we are still misunderstood by many, though we have made incredible strides in the past few decades.
The fact of the matter is that the LGBTQ community was directly targeted, whether this was part of a larger plan against the general American population, or not.
It was hard to control my anxiety last night, I will admit, as I thought about all of the opportunities there are for people like Mateen to take innocent lives, specifically LGBTQ lives.
I thought about the fact that it could easily happen at any one of the thousands of Gay clubs across the country, how it could easily happen at the various Pride events going on across the country right now, or at any other event or community gathering place, including those that I’ve attended in my state. We all know that hate crimes against the LGBTQ community are nothing new, but this particular hate crime, which is now the deadliest mass shooting in US history, IS new and it does further add to my own fear that I could potentially be harmed or killed because of who I choose to love, though it may be an incredibly small chance.
I can vouch for this because for most of my life, I thought I understood what hate crimes were and though I felt some of them pretty deep as a closeted Gay person, I didn’t feel them nearly as deeply as I do now. You see, I wasn’t ever a target because of who I was and what community I belonged to like I am now. And it’s not paranoia. It’s reality.
I personally believe that any hate crime is not just an attack on an individual or small group of people. It’s an attack on that entire community and it is felt deep within that community, much deeper than it is felt by those who are not part of the community. Therefore, please excuse “us” for using this particular tragedy “to further our agenda”, as one comment on Facebook that I read stated, because the only agenda that we have right now is that it be recognized for what it is, so that we can learn from it and come together to try to prevent these things from happening to ANY specific culture or community, not just the LGBTQ community.
I spent the last few minutes of last night in this anger and fear before I drifted off to sleep.
However, I woke up this morning and made a choice. I decided that anger and fear are not the way that I want to deal with this. They will only take some of my personal freedom away and I don’t want to lose that freedom. I don’t want to lose the freedom to be myself because I am too scared to hold hands in public, or too nervous to go to future pride events. I went through years of hell to gain the freedom to be who I am and I’m not going to let some asshole take that away from me. I’m not going to live in fear of another tragedy and I’m not going to live in anger.
I’m going to live in pride and I’m going to live in love.
I’m going to live in pride by continuing to be proud of who I am and I’m going to continue to be proud of the fact that I am a braver person because I conquered my biggest fear almost two years ago when I sat down at my computer and decided to stop living in it by revealing my true self. I’m going to live in pride because I am living authentically, despite the fact that there are people out there that might wish harm towards me.
I’m going to live in love by continuing to love my community and my country. I’m going to live in love by remembering that random citizens were waiting in line for hours to give blood to the victims in Florida and I’m going to live in love by being grateful for the outpouring of love from others coming both from within the community and outside of the community. I’m going to live in love, despite the fact that there is a lot to be angry about.
I refuse to live in fear and hate. Fear and hate is what led a man to make a decision to enter the Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning and begin taking innocent lives. Fear and hate is what is at the root of so many terrible tragedies, like the one in Orlando. Fear and hate is what keeps us from enjoying our full freedom as individuals.
I refuse to give up one ounce of my individual freedom to fear.
I refuse to bear the burden of hate.
I choose love.