I awakened this morning, picked up my phone, and noticed I had several friends ‘marked safe’ on Facebook, during “the Orlando Shooting”. I quickly unlocked my phone and pulled up CNN to figure out what was happening. One of my best friends lives in Orlando and isn’t on Facebook, and she was my main concern. I texted her and found her safe, heading to donate blood, and her friend who works at the club where the shooting was happened to not be working last night.
And then I saw it happened at a ‘gay club’, and I read the words ‘deadliest mass shooting in US history’ and my face began to scrunch. I’m not gay, I’m not transgender, I am none of the letters in the acronyms used to describe the community. But I am their friend. A large portion of my friends here just happen to be gay, all because my kid’s best friend has two moms and I’ve been lucky enough to be allowed into their circle. We joke I am their ‘token straight friend’, since I’m often the minority at our gatherings. As a straight, white person, “the minority” is not something I am very often and it is a humbling place to sit.
Have you ever been to a gay club? I can distinctly remember the first time I walked into the gay nightclub here with my friends. Born and raised in the south, I’m familiar with the level of intolerance my LGBT friends face, but it’s only a surface awareness. I will never be able to understand it deeper than seeing it and acknowledging it, because I am not LGBT and I don’t know what it’s like to have my very existence questioned. But upon walking into this night club in south Louisiana, my first thought was “Well, this is incredibly gay.” Because it absolutely was. Because in this element, all these people were completely free to be exactly who they were. Unashamed of their uniqueness, unapologetic, uninhibited, unbound of society’s expectations, rules, definitions. Here they were just them. Completely them. I watched men kiss other men, women kiss women. Outfits that would make heads spin outside the doors strutted confidently past me. I stared in awe as adult men pulled off Beyonce’s moves almost as well as Queen Bey herself. One of my favorite activities at the gay club is to go at “back to school” time, when the college freshman invade this college town and I sit at the bar and watch young, fresh faces walk sheepishly into this environment, unsure about what they are getting into, only to later discover these same people, barely even adults, cutting completely loose for possibly the first time in their lives, confidently and freely themselves. Something I have never admitted to my friends here because I’m not sure how you work this into conversation (but apparently I can work it into a blog post) is I often find myself on the verge of tears any time I go to a gay club or Pride event with them, because I am simply struck by the beauty of people just being themselves so freely, and also so heartbroken that it takes a separate place, a separate building with it’s own label, a separate event, for them to feel comfortable. It’s 2016. Until meeting this group of beautiful people, I never really understood how much I took for granted the fact that I can hold hands with my husband and NO ONE will ever question our value. My LGBT friends don’t have any desires that are outside what those of us who aren’t LGBT have. They want to be accepted as “normal”, not seen as “other”. I want so badly for my friends to feel okay, to feel safe when they hold their legally wedded spouse’s hand, or want to kiss their boyfriend at the river, or God help us all, go to the bathroom wherever they feel most comfortable.
So when I pulled up the news articles and see that a gunman has killed at least 50 people and injured 50+ more inside a gay night club, my heart broke. Much in a similar way it broke after Sandy Hook. The Sandy Hook children walked into their school that December morning, without fear of the big outside world. That was their haven. And when that shooter violated their haven, so many of us felt like our insides were ripped out. Gay clubs, Pride events…these are havens for people. They are sanctuaries for LGBT people. Humans with desires to be accepted, to be loved, to be free to be themselves without a continual need to prove their worth to the “outside world”. And this shooter violated their safe haven. The outside world, with it’s hate and it’s intolerance, came blazing into their sanctuary. This should rip out your insides in a similar way.
I don’t want to debate gun laws here. I don’t want to hear your biblical passages. I don’t want to discuss Islamic radicalism. I don’t want to discuss anything other than a radical need to bring more kindness, more acceptance, more love to this world. We cannot let intolerance fester. Intolerance breeds hate and hate breeds violence, it spawns evil, it creates villains. Ignoring the creeping darkness does no one any favors. Indifference to our problems only further enables them to grow. The only way to combat darkness is with light. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it. Dumbledore reminded us of it. Anne Frank scribbled it in her diary. We cannot count on “someone” to do something, to be the light, but rather we have to see it as our duty as fellow humans on this big planet to be each other’s lights. The world cannot have enough sunshine. This is a storm. We need enough light to see the rainbows.
To my friends, the boys who kiss other boys and share my appreciation for JJ Watt’s chiseled face, the girls I’ve stood beside as they marry another girl under big magnolia trees, the pretty men who can work a pair of heels better than I will ever be capable of doing, the women who “don’t look like a lesbian”, the people who my children see as family and with whom we have spent holidays celebrating & cooking & laughing together, the people who have such beauty and strength in their souls and I feel lucky to call my friends…I love you. I see you. I know your worth and I value your life, your existence, your being. Know that you have love on your side and there are people who are willing to stand behind you, beside you, and in front of you to keep shouting to the world that we are all worth a little more sunshine.