My birthday is on June 12. Unfortunately, that is the same date as the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. On my Facebook page that day, I wrote the following:
"So appreciate the birthday wishes today, but June 12 will most likely be forever known as the day of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, in a place where many sought solace, kinship, a safe haven and acceptance."
A young closeted gay man frequented the D.C. clubs of Tracks and Badlands back in the day, slipping away from unsuspecting friends into worlds of joy and acceptance — even though he didn't know a soul. The clubs were a respite, for a moment, from the desperate fear of who he was and the assumed bleak future that lie ahead. In the end, the guy got the opportunity to come out, survive, fall in love and be himself.
That young man was me, and my birthday will never be the same. Fifty young people will never get the opportunities I have, and that's terribly and crushingly unfair. But, undoubtedly, they are now in the best club of all, where they are dancing, unashamed, with a loving God who is joining in the celebration of their prideful lives.
How many of us celebrated a birthday this weekend? On August 3, perhaps in El Paso, or August 4, maybe in Dayton? Or celebrated a birthday on May 21, somewhere near Virginia Beach? Or November 7, in Thousand Oaks, Calif., or October 27, in my hometown of Pittsburgh?
Mass shootings are taking over the calendar, and days marked with celebrations in towns and cities around the country are now blighted by the horror, stain, and remembrance of the bloody murders of neighbors, friends, and family. These dates now become the 1-year, 5-year, 10-year anniversaries of dreadfulness. Soon, no date will be spared, and we will all mark our special day with a poignant reminder.
Similarly, the dots on a map of the U.S. where these unspeakable tragedies occurred are exploding. It looks as if a measles-like epidemic is infecting the country (it is), touching North, South, East, West, Bible Belt, inner cities and bucolic villages. No one's town or locale is being spared and, more pointedly, people deemed "guests" or "outliers" or "invaders" by white supremacists are increasingly being targeted. Our community was in Orlando, and we’re no different than the Jews in Pittsburgh and Poway, the African-American community in Charlottesville and Charleston, and now the Mexican immigrants in El Paso and elsewhere.
Regardless of where you live, or when your birthday is, this rampant scourge will inevitably touch you, and then dramatically alter the cheerfulness of your special day or the fabric of your community. On June 12, I read the articles about the anniversary of Pulse, and recall the sorrow I felt that day instead of happiness of another year of life. Last year, on the anniversary of The Tree of Life catastrophe, I sensed the sorrow of my fellow Pittsburghers.
This endemic must stop. We know the discriminatory rhetoric has been flying from the top, flung recklessly like the thoughtless paper towel tosses in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, it will take infinitely more than paper towels to clean up this chaos. We know that Congress sits on its hands, legislators only offering those three repeatedly redundant ridiculous words as if they will magically heal. Will it take a supremacist’s loaded rifle to strike on June 14 at a golf club, or on February 20 at a Kentucky race track to personally remind the two people who can most change this to cure this destruction and disease?
We can offer thoughts and prayers that these incidents don’t happen. But, what we need to do, all of us, is to make sure that we protect the sanctity of our birthdays and the peace of our cities and towns and end the hate. We have the power to vote, we have the power to mobilize, and we have the power to band together to create a voice loud enough to drown out the deafening pops and cracks of firearms. We have singular voices too who can plead "not on my birthday" and "not in my town."
Granted, we hear these metaphorical siren songs after every single mass shooting, following every single death from a gun, and on every single day that these calamities happen. Let’s really work — and vote — to spare the rest of the dates left on the calendar, and preserve the empty areas on the map not touched by bloody red dots. Call now to save your birthday and your town and your fellow Americans.
Call the White House: (202) 456-1111
Call Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: (202) 224-2541
John Casey is head of PR for a worldwide digital consultancy, and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City. As a contributing columnist his articles have appeared in The New York Daily News, Pittsburgh Magazine, The Advocate, Ladders, and IndieWire.