Those who know me, or are long-time readers of this blog, know my high school story. Graduated in 1994, spent the last semester learning via home bound education because of the incessant bullying (some of it due to my sexuality), and I didn't attend the graduation ceremony because, frankly, I was done with it all, and did not feel comfortable going back to the school. That was a pretty low time in my life.
Later that year (December of '94 to be exact), I turned 19 and was legally able to go to bars in Champaign. The night of my nineteenth birthday I went to Chester Street Dance Club, a local gay night club, and ended up spending many weekends there over the next few years. While time spent at C-Street contained a fair amount of the drama and tumult one would expect when a bunch of gays and lesbians get together, it's fair to say that it served as a wondrous haven and safe space where one could just be comfortable within their own skin.
I cannot over-express the importance of having a haven when you are part of a minority community, especially one that is often scrutinized and disparaged publicly by so many who do not wish you well. That is probably why the mass shooting at a gay Orlando nightclub on Saturday night caused such a visceral reaction in me. It struck at the very heart of what, for many LGBT people, has been our safety net. Of course, nowhere is truly safe, least of all our gay dance clubs. We've seen that even our most vulnerable are at risk when they attend school.
As these mass shootings continue across our land, I sadly find myself becoming more and more desensitized to them. The realization of that, however, provokes anger from within. How many more of these incidents will there have to be before there is some sort of reckoning? The school massacre at Newtown was shocking. Who would think of children as targets? Unfortunately, when I first heard of the shootings at the Pulse nightclub, I was saddened, but rather unsurprised. There has been much vitriol directed at the LGBT community in spite of (or because of?) our fairly recent legal victories. Bigotry tends to not go quietly into that good night.
The Orlando shooter was a Muslim, though his actions say as much about Islam as Timothy McVeigh's actions said about Catholicism. There will always be those who use their religion to justify their hate. They are the very definition of lost souls. There will be some who will try and use this occurrence as a hammer against Islam, all the while ignoring our own Christians who attend conferences run by a man who advocates the government-sponsored death of homosexuals. These are sick individuals, not sick religions.
I don't believe in a devil, or Shaitan, or Lucifer, or whatever you want to call him, though I do believe in the evil that lies in our hearts. All too often, evil begets evil, and it was this I struggled with most yesterday, as the waves of emotion swept over me regarding what happened in Orlando. There was, of course, anger. There still is. But my initial anger was at Muslims, and that was wrong. Then it shifted to conservatives/Republicans, or at least some of them, for their hurtful/hateful rhetoric against gays. The angry geek in me wanted to quote General Chang from Star Trek VI and exclaim that they would be "blown out of the stars."
Of course, this is what evil does. Open the door just the slightest, and it begins to insinuate itself within our very being. It justifies its presence by sudden, cruel events. We fall prey to its trap. How did Shakespeare put it? "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?" Thus is born the cycle of evil.
The man who murdered so many of our LGBT brothers and sisters is dead. There are still those around who want us dead, or injured, or quiet and subservient. Unfortunately, they will always exist. The best way to handle them is to be who we are, to not cower in fear, and to show them love. Yes, love. It is our best weapon. It is who we are. We will not be morphed out of it, falling prey to terror and fear.
There has been such an outpouring of support from so many people since Saturday night. And not just the usual suspects. I've heard from folks young and old, Republican and Democrat, conservative and progressive. There are people who love us. There are people who have our backs. We must never forget that. Focus on the love. That's what will see us through the dark times. Indeed, it always has.