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.