48 hours after the tragic murder of 49 of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters I was heading into work noticing that a sense of normalcy had begun to take shape.
The world continues to move. Nothing has stopped. Everything I knew yesterday I know today, except today something is slightly different.
I sit in my car, knowing 49 of my community will no longer drive to work, attend a class, laugh with their friends, or sing a song at a red light. These things seem banal; yet make up the fabric of our daily lives. These things are what I experience every day, and I continuously take them for granted.
I did not know the victims. I did not go to Pulse. I do live in the area and I have met those affected by this tragedy. My heart hurts and an overwhelming sense of sadness washes over me when I think of the victims, their friends, and their loved ones. Why? The only answer that comes to mind is community. I’ve been talking with many of my friends, family, and colleagues about this and the same question comes up when I express my sorrow “but you didn’t know anyone there. How can this affect you?”
This is true, yet not at the same time. I didn’t physically know them, but what many outside the LGBTQ community don’t understand is that we don't have to hang out, grab drinks, or physically be in the same space to know and understand someone. The LGBTQ community is unique. A club isn’t just a place to get drunk, be promiscuous, or dance your cares away. A club is a safe space, a haven, where we can be ourselves, hold our partner’s hand, or give a peck on the cheek without fear of retribution. For many of us, childhood was difficult. Gym class was scary, trying to figure out how to date was nerve-racking, and finding like-minded friends wasn’t always easy. We constantly need to come-out so others understand who we are. At a club, this isn’t the case. We are all one, there to have fun and feel safe.
My sadness and my pain cannot be compared to those that lost a loved one Sunday morning. I hurt and mourn for them. I want to do what I can to help ease their pain, but know there is little I can do. This morning I met a man while waiting to visit my doctor. He works behind the counter less than a block from Pulse. We both looked out the window at the sea of news vans parked out front and police tape marking off where people could and could not go. The windows were lined with rainbow flags, a small token of their solidarity to the LGBTQ community. He told me he left the club minutes before the shooting occurred and that he lost four friends in the attack. I wanted to give him a hug and let him know he wasn’t alone. There was pain and guilt in his eyes, yet he was back at work, steps away from where the murders took place. The window facing his workstation a constant reminder of what could have been. In that moment though, I saw strength. This young man came to work to help others heal and be there for his community, when 48 hours earlier four lives he once knew were cut short.
I don’t know where one finds the strength.
To my straight friends and family, allies and otherwise, please know that those in our community who may be crying over the loss of our 49 brothers and sisters, do so not because they “knew” them. They do so because we are them. We’ve spent time in clubs and bars, seeking refuge from the outside world, looking for a place where we won’t be judged and where we might feel normal for a small sliver of time.
While this horrible tragedy occurred at Pulse here in Orlando, Florida, it could have occurred anywhere. This is the point I am trying to make. Whether it is a dance club here in Orlando, a drag show in Savannah, a small town gay bar in Alabama, or an event at a West Hollywood bar, they all represent the same thing; a safe space. These are the places where we can hold the hands of our loved ones or sneak a quick kiss before hitting the dance floor without looking over our shoulders. We are a family. We dance together, we laugh together, we hurt together, and we love together. When one of us is hurt, in some way, we all feel it.
Think about the last time you kissed your loved one. Think about the last time you went on a date, held their hand, or put your arm around them and looked over your shoulder because you were scared of what others might think or even do. Chances are you didn’t. Pulse was one such place for the LGBTQ community and those that attended that night did so because this was their safe space.
At 2:00AM on Sunday morning, that safe space, and others like it, was ripped away because of hatred felt toward the LGBTQ community. I know we are loved and I know that the majority of people out there don’t fear us, and that many consider themselves allies. I know a sense of normalcy will return and overtime many will forget, but for us, our safe spaces, have been taken away, because although this happened at Pulse here in Orlando, Florida, it could’ve happened anywhere.