Yesterday morning I woke up and stared at the ceiling while tears formed. Then reached for the phone and posted to Facebook:
Woke up and it is cloudy, darker than usual. Listening to a soft rain shower hit the roof and weeping with the skies remembering it is one week later. #OrlandoUnited #OneOrlando #OrlandoPulse
Will never forget waking up Sunday, June 12, 2016, and shuffling over to my phone. The first thing I saw was an alert pop up from a friend’s nephew messaging me, “Did you see what happened in Orlando?… Holy shit! At Pulse!” I flew to my computer and between that and my phone I was messaging, checking social media profiles, and emailing any potential friends who might have been there or who I know work there.
It’s hard to describe the power of the mixed feelings that happen when one by one you find your friends are alive, but the death toll climbs to a staggering 49 people. I did not know any of the people murdered but as the week has gone on the devastation is being seen further and further; deeper and deeper. I know two friends who lost cousins in the attack. Another friend who lost a good friend and had a co-worker wounded as she fled the scene. As well as many other friends and acquaintances who lost someone or knows someone who was injured and trying to heal. I met a man at one of the vigils who lost three of his friends, and another one was in the hospital fighting for his life. And at every event and meeting, I went to; I saw the haunted eyes of people who had seen horror and felt the loss in ways that words cannot encapsulate.
Plus, we are still learning the details and hearing the stories. These are my neighbors, people I may have danced next to at one time or another on a crowded dance floor, or seen at various events … the ripples and pain from the stories and aftermath keep flowing.
As I left the big downtown vigil on Monday night 6/13, I was taking a picture of the huge memorial area where we all were leaving flowers. While I was there, a young man and his boyfriend walked up with tears pouring down their faces. Then the taller of the two peeked up over the crowd to see and immediately collapsed to the ground in mourning. Understandably he couldn’t be consoled, and his boyfriend joined him on the ground, scooped him up, held him tight.
Then those of us around them gathered and placed our hands on their shoulders and arms. Smartphones and cameras disappeared, the unfiltered beauty of humanity emerged, our tears fell as whispered words of comfort and love flowed forward to the grieving couple.
One Orlando, One World, One Voice
Within 24-48 hours it was evident that the impact had devastated Orlando and the ripples created virtual tsunamis through the Internet and social media. I couldn’t stop crying with all the videos and messages streaming in from around the world. Paris lighting up the Eiffel Tower in Rainbow colors, Tel Aviv’s City Hall doing the same, tens of thousands in the streets of London singing, LA Pride and London Pride (and many others) stopping the parades for moments of silence, all the cities across the country doing magnificent memorials and outpouring of love.
In February/March I started the process of trying to learn more about, engage and serve the local community. I have done some volunteer work for HRC Orlando (Human Rights Campaign) and shared my story at an event for them the Friday night before the tragedy. All that to say, I am a newbie and don’t know all that I need to know, and don’t know what I don’t know, yet. Even so, I was able to join my HRC Orlando friends at one of their houses that horrible Sunday morning. There were tears, and that is where I learned that the death toll had jumped from 20 to 49, it was crushing news, and I am glad I was not alone.
Later in the morning, there was a conference call of a lot of different leaders, local and national, and I listened in. It was comforting listening to these folks keeping proper perspective and priorities while operating in selflessness and wisdom. I was deeply touched and inspired by the heart of our community leaders and volunteers. I am amazed by the fact they know how to get mobilized, rapidly, in an efficient and comprehensive way. It was truly a community, at every level, in “one accord” and beautiful. I have never seen anything like what unfolded that day. It is a comfort that there is a genuinely loving community we can turn to and rely on.
As my friend Mella once said to me when I was a homeless gay 19-year-old
When the world treats us badly, WE have to love each other. WE have to be there for each other. WE are family.
Many in the local LGBTQ community and the community(ies) at large are saying this is a historic turning point for us. Many, and I do mean many, of my personal friends and acquaintances are saying that it is a personal turning point for them as well. I agree. We all have our process of course so I will be interested to see how they adapt and grow beyond this. I know for me it is an unhindered passion for our community. To do what I can to carefully confront and hopefully, end destructive religious bias and bigotry against God’s gay children. That last sentence encompasses a lot, and while it is clear in my head, I will explore all of that in subsequent posts.
While I can only speak for myself, I believe the LGBTQ community has had enough. We have been beaten/bullied as children, mocked as teens, pressured, discriminated against, turned away, disenfranchised, and violently attacked as adults. We face rampant, and widespread discrimination in every sector of society and a large majority of LGBTQ people still live in secrecy and fear. All because of our natural relational state of being; for who we are.
No more. Simply put, no more. This will end. It will stop. Love is winning and will overcome hatred. There is no other option. Others may choose to be silent. Your silence is noted but will not discourage us. Some will decide to oppose full LGBTQ equality, but as they seek to reinforce institutionalized/generationally reinforced closets of shame and condemnation, we will be selflessly serving and sacrificially giving toward the good of all and not lost in the myopic concerns of a few.
Last Saturday night I joined 19 other of my brothers and sisters as we took part in the Orlando City Soccer Club pregame show. We were lifting up the massive circular Orlando Lions logo flag. As we walked on the field in five lines of four, we proudly held each other’s hands. I was on the end of the fourth row and holding Chris’ hand (another former Exodus staff person). When the crowd roared as they noticed our group, the volume tripled as we then raised our held hands in the air. I looked around at our crew’s huge, broad smiles, lots of emotion in our eyes … lots of healthy affirmation.
We will always grieve the loss of our brothers and sisters who were killed. We will take care of their families. We will unite as a city and nation. We are here with the rest of the world’s love pouring in and echoing through our hearts and streets. Love is winning; as it always does.
It’s a new era for LGBTQ people. I look forward to our future.