As I write this, it’s been three days since Orlando. There has not been a day that I haven’t had to fight back tears. On Sunday, I bawled. I don’t bawl. Usually the only time I cry is when I watch “The Iron Giant.” But Sunday, I held on to my husband and cried.
Usually, in tough times, I go numb. I go numb and do what I need to do. That particular day it was watching the media, sharing information and updating the website. Then I saw a video a friend shared. It was a mother, going through the last texts her son sent while he was trapped at Pulse. His last two texts were “I love you mommy” and “I’m gonna die here.” He didn’t make it out.
Like everyone in the community, I’ve had so many emotions rushing through me. Grief and anger are at the top. I’m lucky. I didn’t know anyone there. Most of the friends I have in Florida live in the Ft. Lauderdale area. But I have friends who weren’t lucky. And I keep thinking how easily it could have been any other city and bar.
I’ve had so many thoughts wanting to get out. I wanted to wait until I could get a handle on it before I really wrote about it, but I won’t get to that point for a while. So, here’s what you get.
“Pray for Orlando.” If you pray for Orlando, here’s what you DON’T get to do anymore:
You don’t get to say “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
You don’t get to support “bathroom bills” to “protect” women and girls.
You don’t get to support “religious freedom” laws that legalize discrimination.
You don’t get to say “gay marriage” is ruining the country.
You don’t get to turn a blind eye to the trans, bi, gay and lesbian people who are discriminated, attacked, insulted and killed every day.
You don’t get to hide behind your religion or the second amendment or any of the other illusions you have so you don’t have to deal with real people.
If you did ANY of that before Orlando, then don’t “pray” for those people. You didn’t care about them before they died. Don’t pretend to care for them now. You are part of the reason it was okay for the shooter to go into a gay bar and open fire. You helped create the world were people who are different are “less than.” You don’t get to grieve for people you never thought were really people.
If you are truly with us, then you really need to stand with us. No more “some of my best friends are gay” or “just don’t be in our face about it.” You need to acknowledge that even before Orlando, we still had battles to fight. We have marriage equality, but can still be denied services or jobs for being gay. We can still be denied adoption. We are still bleeding. We are still seen as “less than.”
That doesn’t mean us in the community don’t need to step up. After marriage equality, many of us, especially in the liberal areas, thought we’d won. Everything else was details. But we haven’t won, not yet. A friend of mine pointed out that just so far this year, 12 transgender people have been killed. The same weekend as Orlando, 47 people in Chicago were shot, five died. We didn’t have peace or had truly won. We were in a lull. The lull is over.
None of us can be complacent. Not anymore. We all, me included, ignored or hoped the problems would go away eventually. We can’t. We need to keep fighting. We need to do it for all of us. Trans, bi, lesbian, gay, black, latinx, white, all of us. Until we get equality and justice for all of us, we’ll never achieve for any of us. We need to make our communities safe, not a neverending siege.
Someone who described herself as a “middle-age dyke” wrote a story on Twitter. She said that this was never supposed to happen. And she was right. It wasn’t. We are supposed to be past this. The current generation, the majority of those killed and injured in Orlando, grew up in a world where gay and lesbian characters were regulars on TV. Marriage equality was a “when” for them, not “if.” For eight years, they’ve only known a president who openly supports our rights. They never experienced hearing about the death of Matthew Shepherd. They never lived through the worst of the AIDS epidemic. They never saw Stonewall. And they shouldn’t have. As much as we fight for rights now, the ones who truly benefit from those efforts are those who follow us. We fought so they don’t have to. But they do.
But you all…dammit, you’ve never had to worry about it, not collectively. We never wanted this for you. We thought we had protected you.
— supergrover (@fuzzlaw) June 13, 2016
We failed. But so did our society. We still need to change it. We forget this is a marathon, not a sprint. We will keep fighting. We will have victories and losses. This current generation has their turning point, like we had ours. Despite what we may have wanted, they know the stakes now in the way you don’t ever forget. This is for our lives. And their lives. The lives of the generation after them.
And there is that last emotion, which I didn’t really start to think about till just now. Hope. We still have that. That this new generation will learn from what GenX and the Baby Boomers did to get where we are now. And that they will have new things to teach us.
When Matthew Shepherd was killed, the vigils were small. We were lucky to have Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and a few cities that we were sorta safe in.
This time, millions mourned with us. Thousands marched and gathered for our latest dead. And that new generation, the one that people say is self-absorbed and superficial, has already stood up to say, “No, we are not going away.” That hope does help ease that grief and anger. It’s what’s gotten us this far. It can take us the rest of the way as we dive back into the fight.
Ruff Wray is the publisher and founder of Great Lakes Den. He lives in Chicago with his husband Jeff. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.