BY NATHAN JAMES
Since I was awakened very early this past Sunday morning, plunged into a horrific real-life nightmare from the tranquil dreams of my slumber, I, like the rest of the LGBT community around the world, have struggled to understand the incomprehensible madness of an act that has come to be known as the worst mass shooting our country has ever seen. One twisted, torn, hideous young man, in the space of just a few hours, visited evil upon a place where people enjoyed themselves and our beloved LGBT life, and changed us all. As the heart-wrenching accounts of terror filled our TV screens and social media, it became manifestly clear that hatred had taken on a truly soul-crushing dimension. A monster with a submachine gun cavalierly ended the lives of 49 beautiful individuals, and grievously wounded 53 more, and struck us all dumb by the utter malice with which he carried out his wanton carnage. As many patrons rushed to escape the fusillade of bullets, others selflessly sacrificed themselves for others' sake, and still others were made to suffer in the cruelest of ways, consumed with the abject terror of wondering whether the gunman would find them, and in a split-second flash of his rifle, they, too would lie lifeless on the blood-soaked floor of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
As we collectively alternate between tears and rage at this mindless slaughter, we've each felt our own blood run cold when the realization hits us, that every bullet the murderer fired in that nightclub, was also aimed directly at each and every one of us, the inevitable outgrowth of words that transformed themselves into deadly, earnest, unstoppable action. Every time one of our religious or political leaders speaks hate against us, each vile utterance that passes their lips becomes a bullet. Each time a state passes a law that relegates us, as a community, to second-class status, the legal verbiage jumps off the legislation and becomes a bullet. Each time a father teaches his son to hate gay people--and sometimes himself as a result, those words morph into bullets aimed in our direction, too. That may yet be borne out as more becomes known about the shooter--and as we discover that this young bringer of death might have actually been closeted, that raises questions so painful we might not dare to examine them in full daylight--we see that there are bullets flying at our community from directions we can hardly guess at. Like so many of those whose lives ended so abruptly in a place where life is celebrated, we never knew what hit us.
Trump speaks hate, and we think that's not going to come back and get us. Pastor Kevin Swanson calls for LGBT people to be summarily executed, three Republican Presidential candidates stand up to publicly support that, and we think that won't come back and get us. A psychopath with a machine gun decides to make us--individually and collectively--the target of his wrath, and we never saw him coming. But in truth, people like him have always been there, speaking hate, speaking evil, speaking death. We can see it in our computer screens, read about it in our newspapers, feel it in everyday life. We know that walking down a city street holding our partner's hand can be a life safety issue. We know that living and expressing ourselves authentically and fearlessly may cause us to lose our homes, our jobs, our families. We also know that too many people in this world will look down on us with unsympathetic eyes, even as we bleed to death in one of our own, presumed "safe" spaces.
Look at how too many public officials on the right side of the aisle have chosen to comment on the tragedy of Pulse--by erasing us from the narrative. To acknowledge us as real, living, breathing human beings with hopes, dreams, fears, and loves, is something antithetical to their privileged notion of how the world should be, a world in which we are both anonymous and invisible. Therefore, we must repudiate this by remembering the words of the late Harvey Milk, an out, gay man who was killed for daring to get elected to high public office in a time when merely being LGBT was a ticket to the penitentiary--or the grave (not much changes in forty years, does it?). Milk said, prophetically, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet break down every closet door in America".
We need to be out without shame or fear. We need to keep on encouraging others to come out, so that those who seek to wound our hearts and our bodies understand that it is their children, their siblings, and their friends who will receive those bullets. We need to continue attending events that make us visible--Pride marches and celebrations--ridiculing those bullets, and removing their power to cut us down. When our brothers and sisters at Pulse fell, our cherished rainbow fell, too. We need to put that colorful band of love and renewal back up in the sky where it belongs, where it tells the world we are here, we are proud, and we aren't going away. That, to me, is how we truly honor the memories of the dead, and the suffering of those who survived. We owe that to them, to ourselves, and to those who are still discovering their sexual or gender identity, and wondering if it's safe to become their true selves. Let love and light claim the final victory over hatred. We ARE Orlando.