What the Gay community should learn from Orlando

It’s been a year to date since the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that claimed 49 lives and left dozens of families broken. I’ve listed the victims below with a link to an article where you can learn about their stories, courtesy of The Advocate.

Stanley Almodovar III, age 23

Amanda Alvear, 25

Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21

Martin Benitez Torres, 33

Antonio D. Brown, 30

Darryl R. Burt II, 29

Jonathan A. Camuy Vega, 24

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28

Simon A. Carrillo Fernandez, 31

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25

Luis D. Conde, 39

Cory J. Connell, 21

Tevin E. Crosby, 25

Franky J. Dejesus Velazquez, 50

Deonka D. Drayton, 32

Mercedez M. Flores, 26

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22

Juan R. Guerrero, 22

Paul T. Henry, 41

Frank Hernandez, 27

Miguel A. Honorato, 30

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40

Jason B. Josaphat, 19

Eddie J. Justice, 30

Anthony L. Laureano Disla, 25

Christopher A. Leinonen, 32

Brenda L. Marquez McCool, 49

Jean C. Mendez Perez, 35

Akyra Monet Murray, 18

Kimberly Morris, 37

Jean C. Nieves Rodriguez, 27

Luis O. Ocasio-Capo, 20

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25

Eric I. Ortiz-Rivera, 36

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32

Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24

Christopher J. Sanfeliz, 24

Xavier E. Serrano Rosado, 35

Gilberto R. Silva Menendez, 25

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34

Shane E. Tomlinson, 33

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25

Luis S. Vielma, 22

Luis D. Wilson-Leon, 37

Jerald A. Wright, 31

 

No matter what facts gunman Omar Mateen wanted us to believe about his motive in the shooting, he was a closeted man who let microaggression, internalized homophobia, and toxic masculinity lead him to claim the lives of other gay men who freely expressed themselves and burst through the strict constraints of a heteronormative society. Orlando taught me a lot about the world we live in, and as a gay man it has further opened up my eyes to the harsh reality I will continue to face until my time here is done.

I have a friend from New Jersey who moved to Florida and was in attendance at Pulse Nightclub on June 12, 2016. He left before Omar Mateen arrived and opened fire on the dance floor. His loss would have deeply impacted me, as I didn’t get the chance to form a deep connection with him before he moved, but I could tell there was something special about him in the moments we spent together. As a gay man, I realized how important other queer individuals are to me.

You see, we are a family. So many of us are strangers, but we have been linked by this common denominator – our sexuality. Something so simple as a mutual attraction to the same-sex, a natural, instinctual drive, a part of our identity, has evolved to mean so much more. We have this rare opportunity that greatly sets us apart from our heterosexual companions; through our many trials and tribulations, our heartache and misunderstanding, we can truly bond in this ethereal way that almost transcends morality, empathy, and basic human connection.

When one of us is hurt, all of us are hurt. Moving forward, I do my best to respect my gay brothers and sisters, my friends who are questioning, my trans people who just want to feel comfortable in their skin, my bisexual loved ones who don’t want to choose between one or the other, and everyone else in between. We should treat everyone with respect, even those who we don’t care for, but we should treat our own with even more respect. We’ve made leaps and bounds, and we shouldn’t tear one another down with harsh stereotypes, discrimination and racism, sexual shaming, and other factors that break that special connection we’re able to form.

It’s such a shame that the incident occurred during Pride Month, a special time of the year filled with celebration, love, and liberation. This is our time to show the world how much love we have to give, but we have to give it to one another, as well. I can’t tell you how hard being around gay people has been for me since coming out of the closet. I’ve felt more isolation after coming out than I did before when I was in the closet. I’ve met so many beautiful gay men who have this shield of protection up, a shield that’s been hardened by a hateful, unapologetic society, but a shield that can’t seem to let down even in the presence of another gay soldier. I’ve seen so many men come and go, pull themselves away, and purposely sabotage relationships out of fear of being hurt all over again.

We need to give ourselves more credit. It starts with us. I look on Snapchat and see all of the LGBT, rainbow, Pride-related geolocation filters, and I’m reminded that the world does care about us. It may not be everyone, but the love and respect are present in a sizeable portion of our neighbors. Let’s embrace that and spread that. Even in our darkest time, let’s challenge ourselves to fight the fear, the hatred, and self-loathing. Go above and beyond and put yourself out there with your head held up high. Even when your voice quivers and your hands sweat, know that you have a world out there that supports you and needs you in it. We have strength in numbers.

I can’t take another Orlando. I can’t fathom a shooting with the same gravity happening at a gay club or bar in New York City so close to home. I can’t deal with the thought of another friend being at the same location of a massacre and waiting that extra hour before leaving, an extra hour that could’ve claimed his or her life. I just won’t settle for that. We can’t get rid of the bad people in this world; They will always be there, consumed with anger and evil. They need fear to gain power. Let’s not give it to them. This month – Pride Month – reach out to one of your LGBT brothers, sisters, or non-binary gender friends and let them know how much they’ve helped you grow in your journey as someone different, someone the world has not, is not, and will never be fully ready to appreciate. Hug your family. Laugh more than you ever have. Treat yourself. You’ve come along way, but remember that the spotlight you’ve been granted is nothing unless you have a supporting cast up there on the stage with you.

 

Happy Pride Month. #OrlandoForever

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