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.