One year ago today, June 12, 2016, the world woke up to the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history when a gunman entered Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 and injuring 53.
This was not only the deadliest shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history and the deadliest terror attack since 9/11, it was also a hate crime of epic proportions. The gunman went into Pulse, a gay nightclub, and killed 49 people, queer men and women and those outside of the gender binary, as well as their friends, family and allies. It was also Latin Night, so most of the victims were Latinx and people of color.
The attack was at a nightclub during Pride month, both are deliberate and significant. June is Pride Month, where queer people join together to not just celebrate their queerness, but to express their political activism and energy. The fact that Pulse was a nightclub is also significant: clubs have long been safe havens for queer people. When we could not be accepted in “society” or by our families and friends, we went to the clubs to find community. The Stonewall Riots began in a club, when police officers led a raid into Stonewall Inn. That moment is widely considered to be the beginning of the modern LGBTQ rights fight.
One year after the Pulse massacre, we have a president who has yet to acknowledge June as Pride month and wanted praise for being “right on radical Islamic terrorism,” a vice president who legalized discrimination against LGBTQ+ in Indiana and was a proponent for conversion therapy, a First Daughter who only thanked queer people for their “economic” contributions to America, and an Attorney General who advocated for the rescinding of federal protection to transgender students.
The massacre was another example that queer people are not safe in America, especially queer people of color. Do not be fooled into believing that because we have marriage equality that we have equality. We don’t.
Not when there are trans women of color being murdered for existing, or kids being denied access to bathrooms. Not when a man can walk into a gay nightclub and murder 49 people and there are politicians who would refuse to call it a hate crime but send their “thoughts and prayers” to people who minutes earlier they were debasing as pedophiles and mentally ill.
Being queer in itself is a both political act and a danger in this America. Our bodies, and the people we love, and our genders are being argued and picked over by politicians like vultures. We are an inherently political minority because our identities have been placed in the political conversation without our consent. So fight on, and fight harder because we don’t have the option to be neutral.
Fight on for women and for people of color and immigrants and those with disabilities (both visible and invisible). Because there cannot be equality for one minority if there is not equality for all minorities. The way the government treats women directly affects queer people. The way the police treat people of color directly affects queer people. Our fight is everyone’s fight, and everyone’s fight is our fight.
To the people who died that night in Pulse, who were primarily Latinx and black, on Latin Night; I’m sorry that we could not do enough. I’m sorry that you didn’t get a chance to be a part of the fight today. You would have all done amazing things in a world that was always, always against you. But we take on your memory and your love and your identity as we march forward and against. We will not forget you. I did not know you, but I love you, and I grieve for you.
The fight for equality is the fight for love, for choice, for freedom. It’s about our right to exist in public spaces, as Laverne Cox said in the aftermath of Trump’s administration revoking federal protection for transgender students.
I’d like to end with two quotes from James Baldwin, a gay black writer who was born in 1924 and whose work pushed the boundaries of queerness and blackness in a time that was particularly lethal to both.
“Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.”
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
These things that cause us such deep pain are the things that unite us, the things that make us stronger. They break our bones and they make us bleed over and over, endlessly. But we fight onward and upward and together because that pain is nothing compared to the joy of being together, and fighting together and loving together.
People will try always to tear us apart; whether it be through violence or legislation or words. But we are stronger than that and wilder than that and more beautiful than that.
Be strong in the face of adversity, loving in the face of hate, and kind in the face of unkindness.