Jul 10, 2016

We Are Not Okay

by Ryan Jent

While the LGBT community is strong, we are not okay, but when you come for one minority, you come for us all.

My fiancé and I live in St. Petersburg, Florida, where it’s not uncommon to take an “Orlando weekend.” We’re about an hour and a half away from Pulse.

Last November, we took one of those weekends. We went to Pulse with many of our friends and celebrated a friend’s birthday. We all laughed there. Took pictures there. Sang there. Hugged there. Danced there. Felt safe there. (Why wouldn’t we?)

Last Saturday night, 320 other people did the same. They all laughed there. Took pictures there. Sang there. Hugged there. Danced there. Felt safe there.

53 of them were injured there. 49 more of them died there.

But you know that. You know that the LGBT community is now at the epicenter of the country’s deadliest mass shooting, and the worst domestic terror attack since 9/11. Still, let that sink in, because not everyone has. Please, read it again:

The LGBT community, targeted because of who they love, how they love, or whose love they support, is now at the epicenter of the country’s deadliest mass shooting, and the worst terror attack since 9/11.

Sons, daughters, brothers, sisters. Cousins. Best friends. Music lovers, pet owners, activists. Gone.

But the LGBT community is strong. We’re strong because we’ve always had to be. When our only way to find acceptance was at a seedy bar, and when even our right to do that was threatened, the patrons of Stonewall showed us what strength was in 1969. We carry that with us, all of us, inherently, because we’ve never had any other choice.

In 2016, we now have generations of us who have fought for our equality. We carry their strength within us, if only in the fact that perhaps for one moment, we didn’t second-guess ourselves before showing even the most minuscule display of public affection toward someone we love.

So perhaps now we’re stronger than ever. The outpouring of love and support after the massacre at Pulse, and the solidarity that so many communities have shown ours, is a stark difference from the political climate of 1969. Our rights have flourished.

The day following the massacre, I lasted half a day at work. I felt so disconnected from so many of those around me: those that acknowledged this as a sad story, sure, or perhaps that it was shocking that it was so close. (“Only over in Orlando!”)

I couldn’t fathom it. I couldn’t think about anything else. The country’s deadliest mass shooting, and the worst domestic terror attack since 9/11, was not just another sad story. It was the only story.

And that’s why, if you’re reading this—as a member of the LGBT community or not, please know that while we are strong:

We are not okay.

We are not okay when you criminalize the Muslim community because of the actions of one evil man. We have been the Muslim community: hated, feared, misunderstood. Questioned, berated, threatened, afraid to show our faces. Why would we condone treating an entire community as poorly as ours has been treated in the past, and in many scenarios, still is? When you come for one minority, you come for us all.

We are not okay when gay and bisexual men who have not been celibate for one year are unable to donate the much-needed blood to save the lives of our LGBT brothers and sisters. We do not forget that it took 30 years to even amend the Reagan-era rule which initially forbade us from giving blood at all.

We are not okay when a reality television star running for president panders to us in the wake of such an extensive loss of our lives to lie to the American people. To say that “the LBGT community is just, what’s happened to them it’s just so sad, and to be thinking about where their policies are currently with this administration is just a disgrace to that community, I will tell you right now.”

We are not okay when that Republican presumptive nominee determines for us what is a disgrace to our community. We have that covered, and I’ll give you a hint: it’s orange. He opposes same-sex marriage and supports the First Amendment Defense Act, allowing for the right to discriminate against us. He calls LGBT “LBGT” because he doesn't know it's LGBT. It certainly isn’t his administration’s era which repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or supports the civil rights of transgender students. (Oh, and there’s the bit about this administration’s fight to allow us to marry.)

We are not okay with the elected officials who pretend they haven’t cultivated an environment in which murderers could view us as second-class citizens, as they “defended the Constitution” hearing by hearing. By hearing.

We are not okay with the elected officials who ignore that it was our community who was targeted in this massacre. We know that we were targeted, and we will not allow you to erase our brothers and sisters in death the way that you erased them during their lives, vote by vote. By vote.

And finally, we are not okay that a man who had previously been questioned by the FBI could so readily, so easily, so legally, buy the AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle that he used to rob us of 49 lives. The same weapon which has no waiting period to obtain, in a state where no license is required to buy or carry it. In a country which the same weapon was used to murder 26 people and wound two more in Sandy Hook. To murder 12 and wound 70 in Aurora, Colorado. To murder 10 and wound 9 in Roseburg, Oregon. To murder 14 and wound 22 in San Bernardino.

Was Orlando different because my fiancé personally knew a victim? Was it different because nearly everyone from my immediate community on Facebook had to wonder if one of their friends were dead? Was it that Pulse was an hour and a half away? Sort of.

Every mass shooting has disgusted me. It’s filled me with rage, and with hurt, and made me question the greatness of this country as lawmakers do nothing. As more innocent people die. This didn’t disgust me more. It disgusted me differently. More intimately.

More intimately because if that shooter had opted to go to Pulse last November, instead of last weekend, most of of my immediate friends would be dead. Our Pomeranian and our Jack Russell would wonder why we still weren’t home. My family in Ohio wouldn’t be coming to my wedding at the end of this year, they’d have been coming to my funeral long before it could’ve ever taken place.

And I am urging you, all of you – if we truly are all Orlando – to make sure that the next mass shooting, and there will be another, isn’t the community you call home. That it doesn’t speak to you intimately.

Speak out. Be heard. Be seen.

-New Civil Rights Movement

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