I feel so utterly deflated and numb by the hateful and horrendous events that have unfolded in Orlando. I am in pain. The wind has been taken out of my sails. I am angry. I am depressed. On an emotional level, it brings front and center the same array of feelings I experienced when I was working in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. At its best, it is disturbing; at its worst paralyzing.
Innocent, vibrant lives were taken far too early. Bright lights of hope for a better, more loving tomorrow snuffed out in the blink of an eye and in the muzzle flash of an AR-15. One hundred and two families forever changed by the horror of that night seared into their memory. As I write this, there are some parents that still do not know the whereabouts of their children. I pray for them. I pray with them.
This was not ISIS; this was not some quasi-radicalized terrorist. Quite the contrary. This was an act of pure, unadulterated hate. The kind of hate that blinds and eviscerates the soul of the person who embodies it. That was Omar Mateen. By all accounts thus far, he calmly and unemotionally stalked his prey and carried out his perverse plan, unaffected and unmoved by the cries and pleadings of his victims.
When I woke up Sunday morning, the news had broken, but the extent of the carnage had yet to be revealed. It wasn’t until I reached the park in Brooklyn where I was being taped for a Logo series that I found out from the production team that 50 people (50 people!!!!) had perished. My heart immediately sank, and I suspect it will remain heavy for a very long time. Tears come rather easily.
Because you see, I may not have actually met – in person – the patrons of The Pulse nightclub, but I am intrinsically connected to them. They are, for all practical purposes, my brothers and sisters. They are, in a very real way, a part of my family. We share a common bond, a common thread – we are all unique. In one form or another, we have let our freak flags fly high and wide.
We have suffered the indignities of those who choose hate over love and throw their version of the Bible at us at every turn. We have felt the loss of loved ones and friends who either could not, or would not, see past what they did not understand to the loving human being that lies within. We have struggled with that strange brew of excitement and sheer terror that comes with – finally – revealing our true selves to our co-workers and hoping we won’t be fired on the spot. We felt the exhilaration of the immense weight lifting off of our shoulders when we weren’t. We all have slowly opened up the door of our very dark closet to embrace the light of day that was always waiting outside – for all those years.
The South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls this connectedness Ubuntu. He describes it this way, “‘It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. . . They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are.”
Make no mistake . . . there is a disturbance in the force.
But lest we forget, this is Pride Month – it is our time to hold up our heads proudly and demand that we take our rightful place in society. Our voices, though perhaps temporarily weakened by the tears we shed and the cries of justice we shout for our brothers and sisters who perished in this horrific act of hate, must never be silenced. In fact, we must be louder and prouder and queer-er than ever.
We must be seen. We must be heard. We must be strong.
We must be fearless.
Sure, do it for yourself and for those closest to you – the ones that love you unconditionally and celebrate the awesome person you are. But more importantly, do it for your brothers and sisters in Orlando – both the perished and the survivors – because they are an elemental part of your family.
We need to hold on tightly to each other and our allies and love each other like we never have before. We do so to honor and celebrate the lives of the fallen and to remind ourselves that we are amazing points of light that will never allow our collective flame to be extinguished.
We stand in solidarity with Orlando, because we are all Orlando.
Where to begin? Over the course of a mere three days in this lovely city I experienced the warm embrace and graciousness of an LGBT community that has redefined the term “togetherness.” Without exception, every person I met at every event I spoke at, every reception I attended, every media appearance or interview – and yes – even at the drag shows – made me feel so welcomed and included. From the very first time I was approached to participate by the Capital Pride committee to be a part of this year’s events oh-so many months ago, I have said it is truly an honor to contribute to the amazing undertaking that is Capital Pride.
To Jennifer and the entire staff at the U.S. Embassy, I thank you for your sponsorship and I am profoundly appreciative of all your efforts in shaping what was an incredible 72 hours.
To Brodie, Stephanie, Andrea, Giselle, Dixie, Hannah, Rob, Alex and everyone at Capital Pride, from the bottom of my heart I thank you for your tireless efforts and your commitment to the LGBT community of Ottawa and beyond. You have so much to be proud of.
To Sophia, Janne, Amanda, Linda and everyone at Gender Mosaic, what you have created and nurtured over the years is truly inspiring to me. Many transgender organizations in the United States and around the world can learn from your model of togetherness, unconditional acceptance and commitment to the creation of community for each one of its members. I am proud to be your sister.
All of you have successfully shaped – and continue to shape – the narrative for transgender and LGBT rights not only in Ottawa and Ontario, but across all of Canada. As an activist, I am energized by your commitment to equality and human rights for all. I consider it a privilege to have been given the opportunity to contribute to this narrative in my own way. Please know that as I leave Ottawa I will take a little piece of each one of you along with me. I leave a different person than the one that arrived. I am deeply touched by your outpouring of love and support. You have enriched my soul. For that I am eternally grateful.
As someone at the Human Rights Vigil said to me afterward, “this is not goodbye,” and indeed it is not for I know in my heart that our paths will cross again.
Thank you, Merci beaucoup, God Bless . . . and Happy Pride!
Your honorary Ottawan,
As the month of June – Pride Month – comes to a close, I feel compelled to pause and reflect for a few moments on where the transgender community finds itself at this moment in its history. The setting for this missive is the beach at Asbury Park, New Jersey where I am taking a break from the blur of activities, events and speaking engagements that come along for the ride when the calendar turns to June. The warm sun and comfortable breeze make for a delightful afternoon where I can be alone with my thoughts. I am a part of a diverse mix of beachgoers on this day: gay, straight, families, young, and old peacefully coexist in a swirl of laughter, animated conversations, Frisbee and volleyball. That’s why I love coming here. I feel like I am part of a family of sorts. The new season, my favorite – summer, has arrived and everything in the world is in perfect alignment.
Ah, if it were only that simple! Depending on your particular point of view, you might agree with that perspective, or vehemently disagree with it. Put in the context of the equal rights of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, the world seems anything but perfect. While I will acknowledge with deep appreciation the recent strides the community has made: the pending executive order that provides protections for transgender workers with regard to contractors doing business with the federal government, Medicare providing coverage for transition-related healthcare and the Time magazine cover that featured the image of Laverne Cox along with the title “The Transgender Tipping Point – America’s next civil rights frontier.” Well, I’d say that we are making quite a splash – and good for us!
While I am genuinely thrilled by these developments – and how can one not feel just a bit giddy about the “air cover” that the Time coverage provides, I must cop to a more than mild sense of concern about what still must happen for transgender and gender non-conforming people to have a level playing field from which to live their lives. Vast differences remain between my community and the rest of society when it comes to housing, employment and healthcare. You may have seen the numbers, they are frightening, frankly, but what’s more frightening is there are many outside of our community that do not know. You can argue the point that they do not know because they choose not to hear. I have a different perspective: they do not know because they have yet to be reached by us.
That is why I do what I do. It begins with a very simple premise: Education. During this Pride Month I have seen first-hand what the power of education and simply telling your story can have on an audience. It’s about connecting with people on a very human level. It’s about changing hearts and changing minds. What I don’t know is what preconceived notions existed within each person as they enter the room to hear me speak. What I do know is that they left the auditorium with a much different view of what a transgender person is all about. About how human we are, and that we are, in so many respects, no different than they are. Yes, we have our own set of unique challenges, but we are no less human because of them.
How do I know this? Did I suddenly become telepathic? Not at all. I know this because they told me. They told me with their voices when they came to speak with me after I finished my program, and for others they told me with their eyes, their expressions and their smiles as I spoke. Education. It forms a foundation of Understanding. That, in turn, sows the seeds of Acceptance.
It’s about time a wider and brighter national spotlight has been cast on our community. For us to have our voices heard we must step out of the shadows and share our stories. They are so amazingly powerful. But before that can happen we must “own” who we are – individually and collectively. As I was once told by someone a long time ago, “you cannot expect others to accept you, without first accepting yourself.” The conversation must be broadened. The narrative must expand. Tipping point? I’ll buy that, but in my humble opinion it is up to the transgender and gender non-conforming communities to up our game and continue to advocate for what we intrinsically know are ours: our civil – and human – rights. We control our own destiny, we can shape our future, we possess the power to tip the scales in our favor by the power of our Authenticity.