When I first heard of the massacre in Orlando, I tried to settle myself by saying it wasn’t something truly new, only the most horrific example of something very old. As an LGBT person, when friends and family called to offer solidarity, I tried to seem unafraid: This is a potential reality, I told them, that we live with every day.
I was lying to myself. Badly.
For an LGBT person, the Orlando massacre strikes deep. I know that I am upset when I start walking and can’t stop. Late Monday night, after going to the vigil outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City, I left my friend’s apartment and headed toward the subway. When I reached the station I just kept going. I turned in the direction of the Hudson and sped through the West Village. It was dark and quiet, and my mind was racing, so I made my legs race even faster. It was as if my mind were telling my body not to slow down; whatever you do, don’t stop. If I paused, I would have to really process what had happened to the victims; I would have to process the reaction I was having deep inside.
When I realized I couldn’t run forever, my mind surrendered to my body and got I on the subway back to Brooklyn. I started to allow myself to feel. Tears welled in my eyes. The massacre was so horrific. It shattered my illusion of safety. It made me realize that, despite my denial, I live with a fear based on my sexuality: a fear of rejection, a fear of judgment, a fear of violence.
I’m sure you would be hard-pressed to find an LGBT person who, on some level, doesn’t. I’m sure most LGBT people would admit there are many situations in which they’re self-conscious. Most queer people I speak to have been called a "faggot" or some other slur at some point in their lives, or they’ve listened in silence while people say heinous things about queer sexuality. Many people have been beaten or shunned; ridiculed and tokenized.
Many LGBT people must deal with racism, classism and sexism in addition to homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia.
For queer people, our sexuality dictates our life decisions. What college is gay-friendly? In what city will I least likely be subjected to harassment or hate crimes? In what career will I find people who are welcoming? What religion won’t require me to condemn myself?
When I finished high school in Syracuse, N.Y., I went to Brown University — a school that has a reputation for being wildly liberal and having a thriving LGBT community. I graduated and moved directly to New York, one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. I aspire to a career in entertainment. None of this is haphazard, a coincidence.
When you look at the great American cultural landscape, you really couldn’t build a life that is more "LGBT-friendly." Yet I am still frightened. How can you not be in a world, in a country, where so many people hate you for your very existence?
We love to point out how Russia violates LGBT rights, but I am afraid here in the United States.
How can you not be afraid in a United States where Marco Rubio, while running for president, threatens to find a way to reverse marriage equality should he take office? How can you not be afraid in a United States where Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal spoke at the National Religious Liberties Conference in Des Moines? That conference was headed up by Kevin Swanson, a man who advocates the execution of gay people based on his interpretation of the Bible; a man who called for mass extermination onstage; a man who has advocated for Christians to make signs that say gay and lesbian couples should be put to death and then bring said signs to queer weddings.
How can you not be afraid in a United States where trans activist Pearl Love said that she didn’t realize that being assaulted by a woman on the subway simply for being trans was bad, because she is so frequently abused? How can you not be afraid by a United States where men who have sex with men are not allowed to donate their blood? Is our blood so dirty? Is it so contaminated?
How can you not be afraid in a United States where a man walks into a gay club and kills 49 people for simply being who they are?
And please, I beg of you, don’t blame Islam for this attack. No, I'm hardly an advocate for Islamic extremism, but I am also in direct opposition to right-wing Christian extremism as well. Only one of those forces has played a much larger part in creating the oppressive and violent culture of homophobia, transphobia, racism, etc. that plagues our country. I’ll give you a clue: It’s not the former.
Forty-nine lives were taken last weekend. Let’s not allow these men and women to die in vain. It is time to rise in power. We can no longer tell LGBT youth that "it gets better" or that "love always wins," because these sentiments are not promised. True? Sure, life can get better for LGBT people, and love can certainly win, but only if we fight.
So yes, let’s push for gun control, and certainly let’s improve and expand our mental health system. But, also let’s fight for the end of homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, etc. Allies, stand up for the LGBT community whenever you can. Not just this week, while the pain of the massacre is fresh in your minds, but forever. Queer brothers and sisters, plant your feet and stand your ground. Whether it’s calling someone out for saying "faggot" or using your vote to keep bigots out of office, whether it’s voicing that you don’t care who uses which bathroom or stepping in when you see hate crimes or harassment on public transportation, every small step will help.
The victims of these shootings are not statistics, and they are not negotiating tools for policy. They were people, with hopes and dreams. They loved and were loved.
Please. Not just this week, but forever: Say their names.
Rest in Peace:
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old
Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old
Kimberly Morris, 37 years old
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old
Amanda Alvear, 25 years old
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old
Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old
Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old