When I wake up in the morning I reach for my phone, switch off my alarm, type in my passcode, and scroll through any messages I received during the night. I respond to friends who sent me funny videos, I confirm plans made for later that day, and I smile upon encountering texts that I missed before falling asleep: “Goodnight, love you!” This routine is comfortable for me; I have never had to start my day after reading that a friend was shot and killed. I have never had a pit hollowed out in my stomach as news greeted me that it was my mom. My dad. My sister. Others do not have the same privilege that I do of not having loved ones taken by violence – violence motivated by hatred and fear that permeates through generation after generation. As I wonder how much time I have left before that privilege is taken away, I also consider that such acts of immeasurable cruelty do not shock me. When confronted by the headlines announcing tragedy in Orlando, I felt a swell of dread rise in my throat, but not surprise. Then came the rage, and the rage was followed by a grief that can only be produced as I see a video of a mother’s face contorted with fear as she pleads to know if anyone has seen her son, and as I learn that her son was among the dead. My reserve of grief is not depleted as I read these headlines time and time again. Every senseless death tears a new wound. Every life lost to an atrocity like this one rips a gaping hole in the fabric of so many people’s worlds.
The proclamations of sadness for what has happened that I have seen have been interspersed with demands for an answer of when the United States will finally decide that we, as a country, have had enough blood spilt on our soil to want to make any lasting changes. I, too, would like to know when this moment will be upon us. Among other things, we have a dismal history of violence toward the LGBTQ+ community, and this instance is not unique. June’s designation as Pride Month came about after the Stonewall Riots in 1969 in New York City, which were violent clashes between gay rights activists and city police, who had been harassing and targeting patrons of the Stonewall Inn for quite some time. Just as the patrons of the bar were targeted, so were those attending the nightclub in Florida who were killed or injured early Sunday morning. Members of the LGBTQ+ community in the United States are more than familiar with the violence and discrimination that has been directed at them, and the massacre at Pulse fits neatly into the tapestry of American history woven with strands of homophobia and racism – the victims were not only primarily gay, but also Latinx.
When hatred like the kind that was characteristic of the shooter is combined with deadly weapons, 49 people are killed and 53 are injured. When 49 people are killed and 53 are injured, the best United States legislators can do is offer their prayers. I do not want Ted Cruz’s “solidarity,” and nor do I want Rick Scott’s prayers. Among the 7 politicians in the linked article are men who have staunchly opposed marriage equality and protections for LGBTQ+ citizens. Their reflections on the tragedy are meaningless, and as far as I am concerned, they and every single other person who has voted in favor of denying rights to members of the LGBTQ+ community should be hanging their heads in shame. These attacks do not appear out of thin air. Homophobia takes many shapes and forms, but all are insidious and dangerous, and all contribute to tragedies like Orlando. I do not appreciate the sympathy of legislators who turn their backs on the families and friends of victims of mass shootings. I do not want to hear the screeches of National Rifle Association members and sympathizers that praise the utility of deadly weapons when parents listened to their children’s phones go to voicemail without knowing whether or not their messages would be heard. I do not want to read declarations of Islamophobia that falsely attribute this horrible crime to Muslims. And yet I hear these things and I read these things and I anticipate the pivot of legislator’s heels as they turn their backs on us and compose prayers for the next time this happens.
The Chicago Pride parade takes place during the last weekend of June and I have many friends and acquaintances who plan on attending. I have recently been coming to terms with my own sexuality and was also excited to join in on the festivities, but now the only thing I feel is fear. I am conflicted because I feel obligated to go and be among my LBGTQ+ peers, but I worry that our names will be next to show up on a list of victims. My mother fears for my life as I walk around on my university campus, as I settle into a seat at a movie theater, and as I move around in a country where gun violence fails to generate even a flinch. LGBTQ+ individuals have had their status as targets affirmed once again. This time around, I knew someone who knew someone who was killed. Maybe next time I will know someone. Maybe next time it will be me.