Posts tagged ‘Orlando’

One Year Later

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Photos from various Pulse tributes in Orlando, including Pulse itself

A year ago today, I woke up, groggy. It was a Sunday morning and some friends and I had gone out for my birthday, ending the festivities at a local gay club. I leaned over and grabbed my phone to check things. That’s when I saw it. There had been a shooting at a nightclub in Orlando. Pulse. I immediately thought of friends in Orlando and reached out to make sure they were OK. I had only been to Pulse a couple of times while I lived in Orlando, but it was a lot of fun and I knew it was pretty popular. No one I knew was there that night. But as we would learn, so many others would forever be changed.

By many accounts, people in Central Florida came together since then in wonderful ways. The nation came together in some ways, too, though in other ways, certain divisions were only made clearer.

Other mass shootings were horrific to me, but none had hit this close to home. It could’ve been me or many of my friends. We were all OK, and yet I still felt so intimately devastated, so I can’t imagine what those who lost loved ones, those who were injured, or those who were there but managed to make it out physically unharmed have gone through. 

After Pulse, countless people realized they didn’t know much about our communities and they pledged to learn more. They offered “thoughts and prayers” and maybe helped in person or donated to the victims and their families. These are are wonderful things. But for lasting, tangible, positive change, there must be more.

Many of these people were conservative Christians. As I heard one Orlando-area pastor of an Evangelical megachurch put it, he didn’t really think much about the LGBTQ community before Pulse. He certainly wasn’t the only one. As a gay Christian who grew up in a conservative Evangelical environment, I’ve seen firsthand the actions and rhetoric that push LGBTQ people away and often lead them to become depressed and even to suicide.

So while I’m thankful for “thoughts and prayers,” even from those with whom I disagree, there’s a larger problem and I don’t think it’s being addressed nearly enough in the places that actually need to address it among the people who need to address it.

Transformation tends to begin from within. So for those folks who were offering “thoughts and prayers” and perhaps even pledged to learn more about us, I want you to ask yourself some questions:

What were my exact Pulse-related prayers like? From what perspective were they being offered? 

Were your prayers genuinely just about God providing comfort and peace to grieving people, all children of God created in God’s image? Or were they more about “sinners” turning away from their sin and toward God? Were you genuinely grieving along with us? Or were you just praying to change us?

What have you done since the Pulse tragedy to better understand the LGBTQ and Latinx communities? 

Many people pledged to get to know communities they did not know or understand. Did you? If so, have you followed through? I’m not saying you have to magically transform your theological understanding as it relates to the LGBTQ community (as much as I’d love that). I’m just saying you should get to know people who are not like you. Put faces to the “issues” you see in the world. Start there.

What have you done since the Pulse tragedy to help the LGBTQ and Latinx communities? 

Have you worked within your church to be more welcoming to these communities, particularly the LGBTQ community? Have you volunteered? Have you had conversations with people within these communities? Have you had conversations with your friends and family who don’t understand these communities and refuse to even try? Have you spoken up when someone uses a slur? Have you contemplated how you can better serve the marginalized?

Does your church and its members contribute to a narrative that demonizes LGBTQ people? 

Has your churched discussed this possibility? Has your congregation given thought to becoming more welcoming and affirming? Are LGBTQ people, even those who disagree with you, included in these conversations? Are you willing to do the hard work and operate within the questions and the tension instead of defaulting to what’s comfortable for you? Do you understand that it’s not the job of LGBTQ people to educate you, so when one of us is willing to walk with you on this journey, you should feel thankful and blessed?

Pulse was tragic. For many, it was life-changing. For some, it was life-ending. But we have a choice. We can choose to examine why events like Pulse happen and how we may, even indirectly, be contributing to a narrative that allows things like this to happen.

Moreover, the LGBTQ community, like other marginalized communities, faces a constant barrage of discrimination. And I know for a fact that many of the same people who said they were thinking of me and praying for me and people like me after Pulse were the same people that helped put Donald Trump in office. I struggle with that.

Actions speak louder than words.

So if you truly want to remember and pray for the people who were injured or died at Pulse, and their family and friends, great. Pray away. And then get to work. Honor them with action. Be bold. Be brave. Be courageous. Step out of your comfort zone. Re-examine your beliefs and your preconceived notions. Do the hard work. Because that’s what we need.

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What Would Jacksonville Do?

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As I’ve watched the outpouring of support in Orlando, I can’t help but wonder what that support would look like had this tragedy happened in Jacksonville.

Would our mayor even acknowledge that it was an attack on the LGBT and Hispanic communities? Or would he just speak in generalities?

Would our churches do more than just “pray”? And, if so, would they do it without qualifying their charity in some way? Or would they only say they’d love and pray for us, making sure to mention that it’s in spite of our sin?

Would our city council representatives be out in the community, sharing in the collective pain of such an event? Comforting people, even LGBT ones? Would we even WANT some of them to do so after some of the things that have been said about us? Or would they go radio silent or only gravitate to the reporters for their next quote or sound bite?

Would city leaders be working to help get victims and their families visas if need be? Or would they be worried about where these people are from?

And if — IF — all of these answers are the best answers we could hope for, would we believe any of it is true and honest and good, given how our community has been treated? Given how we can’t even pass basic protections for our community? Given that, on the Monday after 49 people were murdered, people had to go to a school board meeting to defend a bathroom policy that has been in effect since 2008 with seemingly no issues? Would our community treat us better in death than it does in life?

Will our community now consider treating us better in life by treating us like everyone else? We’ll see.

Struggle & Strength

Ten years ago, I sat my dad down at the dining room table before heading off to college and came out to him. The realization was all still very new to me, but I knew I definitely wasn’t straight and had finally come to terms with it.

He had lots of things to say, all understandable and none bad. Naturally, there was some confusion, but more importantly, there was unwavering support and love. But there’s one thing that currently stands out in my mind more than anything else.

Dad told me he was worried because my life would be more difficult and dangerous as an openly gay man.

It was a reality I was already aware of and I’m sure I agreed with him, while maintaining my truth. But it’s a reality that I don’t think I fully grasped until Sunday.

Sure, I’ve dealt with my unfair share of haters. I’ve heard all the names and the rhetoric. I’ve been an “issue to be dealt with” and not a person to be loved. Every day, it seems like there’s a new version of “coming out” we have to encounter. And you know what? Some days, in some fleeting moments, it’s easier to say “roommate” than deal with the potential fallout of saying “boyfriend.” Perhaps that’s a terrible thing to admit, but it’s true.

But this — this is different. This is life and death, literally life and death. And sure, we all deal with life and death and our own issues. But this is people wanting to kill us for simply existing or showing any form of affection to someone we love.

Over the last few days, I’ve read and heard more times than I care to count that there will always be people with hate or evil in their hearts. Maybe that’s true. But should we not at least try to erase the hate and replace it with love? Should we not at least try to eliminate the evil and replace it with good? Is it not worth at least an attempt?

My dad was right. Our lives are filled with different and sometimes greater challenges for being different. But I wouldn’t trade this for the world because I am also stronger and smarter because of it. I have met some of the kindest, most beautiful people I have ever known, and will ever know, because of who I am. And I have learned from them.

We are fighters. We are fierce. We love because we all too often feel the sting of hate as a result of fear. We understand the importance and value of diversity and celebrate it. We support each other because sometimes it feels like no one else will.

So while my dad’s point was right, it was not the full story. Thank God it wasn’t the full story.

One of my favorite quotes lately has been one from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross:

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

We. Are. Beautiful.

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