The day after Orlando hit the newswaves, my heart is still shattered. I left the house last night to go to work, and today to go get food, and every time, I found myself looking over my shoulder, wondering. Wondering if the guy in the car next to me harbors the same rage, the same hate toward the LGBTQIA community as the shooter. If his car is loaded down with the same arsenal as the guy heading toward PRIDE in Los Angeles. If I am safe, or if I am about to be the next victim.
49 people died in Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub. At least 50 are injured. And I keep reading, in the midst of all the love and support (which has been beautiful) that people think the victims deserved it, that being gay should be punishable by death, that they should have been armed (never mind that there were at least three armed people there, and couldn’t get to the shooter), that what else can you expect for being at a gay bar? What they don’t realize is that gay bars are about more than drinking or partying. They are about community, about safety.
When I was younger, I found safety and sanctity in Louisville’s gay nightclub scene. I was struggling with my own identity and sexuality, not sure how to express my bisexuality, not sure how to come out, where to find love. In the gay bars, I didn’t need to worry about being told I was a sinner for hitting on someone. I didn’t have to fear physical retaliation. Not that it was just about finding partners and romance–in gay bars, I was not alone. I was not gross, or an oddity. I could talk to other women who had the same doubts and fears of being found unfeminine or gross, or hit on by straight men who confused “bisexual” with “easy.” I could talk to men who were burdened with being labeled not masculine enough. I met women who had been raped by men determined to teach them what sex should be about. I met men who had been raped by other men to teach them that they didn’t actually like it. And I met people who had felt ashamed of who they were, who were desperate for community and acceptance, like I was.
For many LGBTQIA Floridians, Pulse was the same sanctuary as the gay bars of my youth were for me. And in the aftermath, I keep thinking this, over and over: It could have been me. I could have been on vacation there and decided to go out. The shooter could have been a Kentuckian instead. He could inspire others. And so we need to come together. We need to make sure we keep our brethren safe. We need to keep our loved ones safe. We need to not blame this on ideology or mental illness or anything. We need to not turn it into a debate over whose candidate could have prevented it, or if immigrants are to blame (the shooter was an American-born citizen, btw.) We need to embrace each other, our allies and ourselves. And we need to listen, to really hear the voices who are suffering under homophobic agendas and laws, and we need to understand that they are people. That we are people. And we deserve to have the same rights and the same safety as everyone else.
It could have been me. It could have been any of us.