In 2006, if you had told my newly outed 13-year-old self, that 10 years from now I would wake up on the morning of June 12, 2016 to find that the largest U.S. mass shooting in history was committed among the community I was now a part of, I’m not sure I would’ve believed you. But on Sunday morning, I was forced to live it. I opened Twitter and was shocked to find out that around 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, a young man walked into Pulse nightclub in Orlando and opened fire, killing 50 people and injuring 53 more. I was in disbelief, even now in America where mass shootings happen every day (in the 164 days of 2016, thus far, we’ve had 133 mass shootings) I still couldn’t wrap my head around it.
It took me almost 10 years to become totally and completely comfortable with my sexual identity and in that time, I’ve been afraid of many things: not being accepted, losing my job, being outed (more than I already was), no one loving me, but never did I fear being violated in a queer space. It felt unlikely— why would anyone care what we do in our own community? As I kept growing, I learned that line of thinking is naive, dangerously naive. There is no longer a safe space and to be honest, I don’t know if there ever really was.
What is most infuriating is the hate that motivated this crime is everywhere, from bigotry that’s hidden behind laws intended for “bathroom safety” to preventing local government from enforcing ordinances designed to grant protections to LGBTQ+ people. What did people think would actually come of these actions? Unfortunately, some reactions to this tragedy only further reinforced the culture of hatred; a presidential candidate bragged about being “right” about radical Islamic terrorism which only enforces more Islamophobia. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick tweeted (and then deleted) “you reap what you sow” just hours after the news was revealed, thus also reinforcing bigoted religious beliefs. Is it possible that we as a society are too far gone in the culture of hatred to ever know better? Maybe. Not all hold hatred in their hearts, but some do and they’re willing to kill us over it.
In a few years when I have children, they’ll ask what life was like for queer people before they arrived and unfortunately, my partner and I will have to tell them that June 12, 2016, occurred, during a month where people in the LGBTQ+ community are celebrating themselves, their love and their freedoms— and how that was tragically snatched away from 50 people, exactly two weeks before the one-year anniversary of gay marriage becoming legalized in all states.