The events in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, June 12, 2016, rocked the nation and left a community of people feeling unsettled and betrayed. I spoke with a dear friend who is part of the LGBT community. She shared that the man who murdered the people in the club that evening had been frequenting that location for some time. She said that, knowing the tendency of the LGBT community to welcome people “as they are”, with open arms and full acceptance, and knowing that this man would have been accepted lovingly by the patrons of this club, is what cut the deepest. It was a deep and true betrayal of trust at its core. This betrayal left my friend and many members of the LGBT community feeling unsettled, untrusting, and afraid. It was a pure act of hatred and it struck at the very heart of this loving community.
My friend and I spoke in great length about the initial shock and the after-shocks, like that of an earthquake, rumbling through the psyche and the community as a whole. We talked about our hopes that this act of hatred would not lead to higher walls and deeper mistrust between the straight and LGBT communities. Lastly, I voiced that my greatest hope is that people come together in a demonstration of love and unity, to stand as one against hate, rather than allowing this or any act of hatred turn us against one another or leave us with more fear. Fear feeds hatred and is usually a primary goal of an attack like this. These attackers want to instill fear and mistrust so that people stay guarded and afraid. Rather than give hatred, or the ones who spread hate, the satisfaction of dividing us, I hope and pray we bring peace and love to the table and join together to say that we will not be cowed… we will not allow the darkest of hearts to snuff out our light, and we refuse to kneel at the altar of fear.
It is easy in times like these to forget that the world is full of loving people, and that those who cause harm are the minority here. I think we forget because, so often, the attacks leave such deep wounds… physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. It doesn’t help that we rarely see stories of love, good deeds, or positive change within the media. Too often the expression, “if it bleeds it leads” takes hold and we are force-fed stories of murder, terrorism, hate crimes, kidnappings, etc. to the point that we can’t help but become fearful and borderline paranoid of the world we live in. It’s sad, really, that we allow hate and bloodshed to sit at the head of the table as we dine on terror and choke down warnings of imminent danger by some unseen enemy. I am not saying we should turn a blind eye to these events or the devastation that occurs anywhere on our planet. To the contrary, I want us to pay attention and then take positive action. I want our love and compassion for one another to be in the forefront. Anger is justified in these situations but anger without positive action is pointless and anger with violent and vengeful action only breeds more hate and violence.
I know many will see me as naïve. I assure you I am not. I am not blind to the depths of darkness of which humanity is capable. I am not of the illusion that if we hold hands, sing Kumbaya, and pretend that everything is all love and light, all the time that the world will magically become a perfect place. What I am pointing to is our collective blindness to the fact that we have been, whether willingly or subconsciously, led into a situation where fear holds dominion over our lives. Like confused cattle being led to slaughter, we sense that something isn’t right but we feel powerless to change what is happening. The cows may not have a choice but we do. We are not powerless to enact change and it begins and ends with each one of us.
I am left to wonder if the continuation of violence and our unwillingness, or perceived inability, to change how we react to acts of violence, stems from a lack of a sense of responsibility (i.e., it’s not my job to be my brother’s keeper or that’s above my paygrade), an undercurrent of laziness (i.e., change is hard and I haven’t been directly affected so why should I do something?), fear of being perceived in a certain light (i.e., if I stand up for gay rights people will think I’m gay; or, they’re just a Liberal Tree-Hugger trying to stir up trouble), a misguided idea that in order to stop violence and discrimination we must use more violence and discrimination (i.e., we should just send them all back to where they came from; or, let’s shoot up their neighborhood/drop a bomb/buy more guns, etc.), or a deeply sad belief that this is how things have always been and so will always be. I find every example listed above hard to swallow and some are downright ignorant and toxic. The only reason things haven’t changed is because we, as a collective, haven’t stepped up to say enough is enough. Instead we allow ourselves to be fragmented and turned against one another in a constant state of suspicion. Yes, there are “bad” people out there but not all people are bad and it’s dangerous to generalize based on a handful of people’s actions. The vast majority of the world’s people are good and loving individuals who simply want to live peaceful and happy lives. It is the few who we allow to spoil the whole.
I wish I could present an instant “fix” to the dilemma we find ourselves in. I wish people didn’t have to experience this kind of trauma and devastation. I wish we could begin seeing the similarities within each of us while honoring, and even celebrating, the differences instead of seeing anything and anyone “different” than us as “bad” or in the least something of which to be suspicious. Together we weave a beautiful tapestry of cultures, beliefs, and humanness. Why can’t that be our focus? Why, when something horrifying like the mass shooting in Orlando happens, can we not step back and say, this is not who we are or what we stand for and then come together in peace and support rather than turn away from one another, place blame, and allow anger and fear to jade us? I’m not entirely sure what the solution is but I know one exists. I also know that we cannot wait for a hero to save us and we cannot wait idly by hoping someone else will do something about it. It’s up to us. It’s up to me and you to extend the olive branch, to trust that the heart of humanity is good, and to approach every encounter with a spirit of love and unity. Only then will we be able to begin to heal. Only then will the domino effect of hate and pain and violence be stopped. Only then will we be able to say that things may have been this way in the past but we refuse to allow it to continue any longer. We all have a right to peace, to freedom, and live our lives with dignity and an absence of fear. This is our world and we all have a responsibility in shaping it or we allow it to shape us. I believe, rather I know that we can come together and make this world a place we are all proud to call home. We may never be “perfect” but we can definitely do better than this.