By: Brad Kneeland
This coming Tuesday marks the three-month anniversary of the Orlando shooting at the Pulse Nightclub. 49 people were killed that night and 53 more were injured, in what would become the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history. As a gay man, this barbaric act of terrorism on the LGBTQ community profoundly affected me.
The night of the shooting, I wrote a post about the events of that day and how it had left me feeling. In the three months that have passed, there has been no action taken on gun control and there has been nothing done to make it less restrictive for the gay community to donate blood. This post was originally published three months ago, but as we approach the three-month anniversary this Monday, I thought I would share my thoughts and feelings on that day. It has been three months and the pain I feel for my fallen brothers and sisters, for their families for the LGBTQ community is still palpable. Healing is difficult, but our community is strong. My message for those still working through the emotions is this:
It is ok if you're not ok yet. It is ok to feel how you feel. When you're afraid, take my hand. And when you're brave, do the same thing. We'll get through this together.
#BecauseOfOrlando, I will not be afraid. #BecauseOfOrlando, I will live a full, honest life. #BecauseOfOrlando, I will love freely and wholeheartedly. I will live my life in honor of those who were denied the chance to live theirs- #BecauseOfOrlando.
June 12th, 2016
My heart is broken. My heart is heavy.
This morning, we woke up to the news of America’s worst mass shooting in history. To call it a mass shooting is to water it down. What happened in Orlando last night was an act of domestic terrorism. It was an act of micro-genocide against the LGBTQ community. As I watched the news intensely with the rest of the world, I found my heart breaking with every shred of news. This is my community. These are my brothers and sisters. This happened during Pride, a time for celebration and community and love. Watching President Obama speak this afternoon, it was noted that this was the 15th time he has had to address the nation after a mass shooting.
After the shooting comes thoughts and prayers. I don’t want thoughts and prayers. I want action. I want legislation. I want common sense gun control. I want an outdated, discriminatory policy preventing gay men from donating blood repealed so we can help our brothers and sisters. I am so sick thinking of not being able to donate blood to help save a life because I’m gay. I want these 50 people to come back. I want love to win over hatred and light to win over darkness.
When I first came out, my friends and family cautioned me against being “too out”- that is, to be mindful of being gay for fear of violence. It wasn’t too long ago that our country sat glued to the television and learned about a young man named Matthew Shepard, who was maliciously targeted and killed for being gay. I have lived my whole life mindful of the possibility that I could be subjected to hate or violence. I watch my mannerisms in public. I’m mindful of my voice, of my appearance, who I am seen with, what I am doing. I will never forget the first time I went to a gay club. For the first time, I felt like I could be myself; that I could let my guard down and enjoy myself with my LGBTQ family, free of fear, free of judgment. I will never forget my first time at Pride and the overwhelming feeling of love and acceptance I felt. I felt free. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could exhale- that I could decompress. I imagine that is how the victims from last night must have felt- that they were looking for that freedom and acceptance that is so elusive to our community- a right we are so often denied the right to indulge in for fear we will be treated ill for being authentic.
I see the names and the faces of the victims from last night’s massacre and I feel like I know them. These are my brothers. These are my sisters. I try to go about my day, but I cannot focus on my work. I cannot eat. I cannot sleep. I am angry. I am devastated. They said on the news that investigators on the scene in the club have to tune out the constant ringing of cell phones, scattered amongst the deceased- family members and friends desperately clinging onto the ever diminishing hope that they might be able to reach their loved ones. This is the antithesis of Pride. There is so much bad in our world. There is so much hate in our world. There is so much misunderstanding, fear, anger and ignorance in our world and last night, 50 people were killed for trying to escape the harsh realities of our world. 50 people were killed for choosing love and authenticity- many more injured alongside them.
I meet people and they get to know me. My sexuality shouldn’t be a point of conversation but it inevitably comes up. That’s the thing about being gay- you are never “out of the closet”- you have to come out again every time you meet someone new. I can’t tell you how many times I have been commended or admired for being gay- for being “so brave” for being myself. They mean well, but I hate being commended for being me. That is like admiring someone for having blonde hair or for being so tall- you are praising them for in inalienable, unchangeable characteristic. I don’t get to be brave for being gay anymore than I get to be brave for being 6’0” or for having green eyes. But the people in that club last night…..the ones who were on the scene, helping the fallen and injured- the ones calling for help, the ones applying pressure to wounds, the ones pleading with the injured to “stay with me”, the ones who didn’t leave the side of the hurt and the fallen, the ones who were there- that is brave. To see the fire and to run into the flames- they are the ones we should honor.
All the words I type feel cheap. All day, I have been wondering how to honor the fallen. We will never forget their names. We will never forget their faces. On Twitter, there was a trending topic, #BecauseOfOrlando, where people have been posting how this senseless act of violence has changed them. I click the link and the tears come. Children. Kids 12, 13, 14, 15 years old talking about what they want to do to make our community better and safer, #BecauseOfOrlando. I spent my formative gay years cognizant of the possibility of our community being subjected to hate and violence. These kids live in the reality of it. Gone is the age of innocence and ever present are the threats of violence, the words of hate, the legislation of prejudice and the politicization of our lives. These kids have it so much worse than we ever had it, and here they are, pledging to volunteer at their LGBT Center, promising to be kind to their neighbors, promising to raise awareness of bullying, pledging to not let hatred win, #BecauseOfOrlando.
We celebrate Pride every year to celebrate our community- to come together to celebrate love, togetherness and reaffirm our indivisible, unwavering commitment to lifting each other up as a family. In the darkest hours, in a world consumed by hate, our community has been an unwavering beacon of light and love. The courage exemplified by those in our community inspires and is numinous. We celebrate that. We honor that.
Terrorists want us to live in fear, including political and religious fanatics in our own country. I’ve thought about it long and hard, my eyes red from crying, my head hurting from trying to process these events and my heart broken for those we’ve lost and for their families. I am determined to honor the fallen. My brothers. My sisters. My family.
#BecauseOfOrlando, I am going to live my life honestly and openly. I will love freely and fiercely. I will live proudly and unabashedly. I will live life with kindness and compassion. I will show my boyfriend affection in public. I will hold his hand. I will kiss him. I will look lovingly into his eyes, I will get married, I will have a family, I will be an upstanding member of my community, I will participate in society, I will make my voice heard, I will be a good man, I will live an open, authentic, fulfilling, happy and blessed life and I will not be afraid. I will not be afraid. I will not be afraid. I will not be afraid.
I will not be afraid.
I do this in honor of the victims of this senseless tragedy, who were denied this opportunity. I will do this #BecauseOfOrlando. I will do this because love is louder and we will never be marginalized or silenced because of hatred, because of bigotry, because of terrorism, #BecauseOfOrlando.