1. The people targeted in this attack were chosen because of who they love. I find myself pained by how this is easily distilled right down to love. These 49 young men and women were chosen for who they feel they were born to love, and how they wished to live an authentic and honest life. Maybe that feels utterly uncomplicated to you. Perhaps that feels too simplistic and we might find ourselves having conversations about how this is not a hate crime, but rather an act of terrorism. And to that I would say that these men and women were joining together, on a night that began their city’s Pride celebrations, in hopes of finding connection and togetherness. Hoping to find solidarity and comfort. In a world where many in our community feel unsafe at best, and threatened at worst for expressing love for their partners in public, we have created gay clubs as places of sanctuary and togetherness. Violence has entered our sanctuary and it feels the small place we have historically had for safely joining and living openly and authentically is fractured. This incredible violence was about hate. Please hold space or try your best to remain open to hearing that our community needs voices of resonance that this is about hate, and violence. Our fright and discomfort is not imagined nor false. If there is one thing I know to be true in this world it is that love and compassion are always the right answer. Always. My hope is that my straight friends and allies find ways to offer compassion and validation to a community they do not exist within, but stand behind.
2. I’m stuck wondering about all the victims who were estranged from their family, or cut off due to their sexuality. How many were not in connection with their family or loved ones as they could not find their way to common ground? How many of these men and women lay dying and were thinking of people they loved they would have wanted time and healing to happen with? Friends and allies if ever there was a call for me to push for open heartedness and acceptance now is it. Perhaps you already know the incredible statistics surrounding homeless youth, and that the vast majority of homeless kids were kicked out of their home due to their sexuality. Perhaps you also know the staggering numbers related to suicide among LGBTQ youth, maybe you are aware that the suicide completion rate for kids in the community is 400% higher than same aged heterosexual peers. Are there ways you have distanced members of the LGBTQ community from your life due to who or how they love? If so, is it worth it? Is it worth knowing they could have met terror or tragedy and you had left this connection broken? I wish for friends and allies to be curious about why they disconnect from people in their life who love differently. My life is so boringly mundane, when I meet folks who learn I’m gay I often feel like I’m a disappointment. No we don’t go out dancing all the time. No I don’t know Ellen (but, yes, I seriously wish I did). No I haven’t fallen into a life of loneliness and addiction. I cook dinner, I grocery shop, I beg my kids to sleep at a reasonable hour, my partner and I bicker about who takes up more room in bed. Boring, typical long-term relationship type stuff. We are not different, or rare or threatening. We simply fell in love and deeply know we are meant to be living together. I hope if nothing else comes from this tragedy that healing and disconnection among loved ones ends and families (chosen or biological) find their way back together.
3. Go to the rallies. Show solidarity on social media. Elevate voices from the LGBTQ community of color. Quietly supporting our community is a wonderful choice, but holding public space is radical and visible. I have sourced my social media almost everyday quietly hoping that my friends and family speak about what has happened. Maybe you have no idea what to say, and that is completely okay, say that. Say you’re thinking about what happened and your heart is broken too. Check in on friends and loved ones, text, email, call. It matters to hear from people I love that they are aware this is heavy and painful. In the past week I have heard from almost all my friends of color, who are indeed some of the most compassionate and open hearted folks I know. They are also part of a community familiar with heartache and violence in the name of hate. I’m grateful for their voice, and also aware that there is noticeable silence from other friends and loved ones. Reach out. Even if you’re not sure what to say, trust that the act of connection will not be wasted. I cannot imagine that efforts at joining or togetherness in the face of tragedy and violence are ever a wasted effort.
4. This is an everyday act of bravery and important enough to mention here: be intolerant of homophobic language and micro-aggressions. It’s easy to roll over the use of gay as lame or weird. I understand the wish to allow homophobic jokes to slide past or to condone with silence. And yet it is exactly these small moments which create larger contexts of hatred and violence. A phrase I used frequently with older kiddos we would foster was “speak your truth even if your voice shakes”. Folks in places of privilege (often meaning white, straight adults) I’m asking you to speak up and express intolerance for homophobic actions and language even when it feels harmless. I assure you sentiments of intolerance or hatred are never harmless. I could give you a dozen examples of incidents in the past month where I overheard offensive or homophobic language directed at my family. It’s not surprising anymore, and yet it still hurts and on bad days makes me feel despair. I could tell you about the adult man speaking to his kids who said “No Daddy there kids, those kids are never going to be okay.” Or the woman watching my partner with our boys on the playground who said “Who do they think they are taking those poor kids and trying to make them into a freak family?” My kids are listening people of our world. Let’s do better than this for them. For all of us. Be a shaky voice speaking up and naming this as homophobic and unfair. Stand with our community by choosing to be intolerant of biased and hateful language.
Her wife Artist Mom shares her own perspective:
When you are born LGBTQI, you unwittingly sign up for a lifetime of potential danger & oppression. This reality hits people at different times and in different ways and sometimes the weight becomes too heavy to bear and it ends your life. But you make choices because you are a person in this world with hopes, dreams, ambitions and a vision for yourself and the life you wish to build. You are just as American as your straight counterparts but you are not privileged in the ways that they are.
When you are born gay, or perhaps when you live and look gay to the outside world, you’re subjected to a life of taking risks. Risks that are big and small and expected and unexpected. However subtle or overt, much of your life is bound to some phase in the grief cycle, traversing from anger to acceptance, shock & denial, as this reality of ubiquitous danger from overhead and all sides is no great way to live.
I was born & raised in Michigan to a family of steelworkers. My father and his blue-collared, conservative democrat tribe looked after our neighbors, cared for the elderly, stuck together and stuck it to the man. There was no room for errors, not much crying and no gays. Definitely no gays. I was the artist in a family of linebackers and when I came out, they abandoned me for fear I would return home with megaphones and rainbow flags.
So when I left Michigan for bigger things, it was not about running away, it was fully about running toward something. It was my pilgrimage.
It’s been nearly 20 years since I left. These days I am homeowner. Parent. Professional. A person in the world doing good things & raising compassionate children. But before I got here, while I was figuring out how to get here, I discovered my own tribe in college, at gay pride & all of my city’s gay nightclubs. I worked in them and I played in them. For all of my 20’s, we had the sanctuary of the nightlife where we were free to hold hands, fall in love and celebrate who we were on the path to becoming the people we were meant to be.
So here’s what I want my straight friends and family to know:
In doses, I can handle being stared at everywhere I go. I look gay & I’m covered in tattoos – I get it. I can do the rude comments, the fear of hate crimes, the homophobia, being accosted in the bathroom. These are not new challenges. The thing I’m struggling with most is your silence.
This is bigger than me and I’m searching deep to understand it. And while I did sign up for a life of uncertainty in choosing to live openly gay, all that scary stuff is easier to manage when I know you got my back. In a text. A picture. A message. A phone call. Relationships are not static. They require contact and I think I need you now more than I ever knew I would in a way I never saw coming. Maybe you don’t know what to say and that’s totally and completely okay. Honestly I don’t either. But saying nothing is not an option for any of us. Stand with us. Reach out. I need you with me.