There are no words.
And yet there are so many.
I can’t remember the exact time of when I read about the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. I do know that when I fully cognized what had happened, my heart was saddened and my mind was outraged. I couldn’t believe that while I was on a bus ride back home, jamming to music on my phone, so many lives in Orlando were directly threatened, and ended, by domestic terrorism. U.K. newspaper, The Sun, acutely labeled the hate crime as “American’s Bataclan“, referencing the venue that was the target of the terrorist attack that took place in Paris, France in November 2015.
As Sunday morning became Sunday afternoon the next day, the impact of the tragedy became potent. The news media delivered that it had turned out to be the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, led by ISIS-affiliate, Islamic radical Omar Mateen. 49 (at press time) declared dead, and 53 wounded, by an AR-15, a gun used by the military. As if the incident wasn’t enough to shake me. This realization was too damn much. The mainland that is the United States today has been around for 15,000 years and celebrated its Bicentennial in 1976. In the year 2016, the worst and most extensive mass shooting had taken place. I felt cold, hurt, and embarrassed. Tears began to shed. Why did this happen?
I had never heard of Pulse nightclub. But I am familiar with its setting. It is a popular LGBTQ nightclub and I say that I familiarize with it because while I am not gay and don’t reside in Florida, I have been to plenty of gay spots with friends that proudly were. I became acquainted with them most during my college years, around the ages of nineteen to twenty-two for good ol’, regular dance nights and epic drag show events. The latter, I witnessed, at the club Divas, located in Northampton, Massachusetts. Looking back, how enormously excited my friends were for the night ahead of them. Especially if they had a performance planned. A few times for these gigs, they had a spent the month before rehearsing their choreography and lip-syncing and perfecting their outfits. Drag nights were a big deal.
On the eve of such fun, I was often joined by their local friends, sometimes including other heterosexual young women (who occasionally joined in as their background dancers), and we pre-gamed and watched our friends that aspired to be Nicole Scherzinger or Christina Aguilera for the night get ready. An attempt at smoky eyes was dusted on, as were gingerly applied colorful wigs. I never once thought they were odd for performing or dressing in drag. My sentiments were always amongst the lines of: “They are really excited about this. This is going to be fun.”
Every time I was in a gay club, as a heterosexual Black Latina, I was quietly floored by how safe I felt and included. Though to the community, it may have seemed I had the “advantage” of being “straight.” I was no less immune from feeling that my surroundings, acquaintances, and peers didn’t fully embrace who I was or what made me unique. With my gay friends and in a gay club, it had transferred to me that I had found my people. People who, in the face of adversity, carried on with courage no matter how ridiculous they assumed to look to others or unaccepting the outside world was of their love or being.
In these wonderfully insouciant spaces, I was yards away from an atmosphere that had gotten accustomed to regulating me as “weird” or “eccentric.” Together, we were the new normal. Not to mention, the gay community’s taste in music was beyond fantastic.
It makes some uncomfortable or they either completely disagree with the comparison I’m about to mention, but I gauge a lot of similarities between the LGBT community and Black America. From our victories to our tribulations, on either side, we are not lost damsels or a bunch of mad villagers looking for sloppy acceptance. We are the seeds, that have grown out of the hate and condemnation bigots tried to bury us in and rose with our voices louder and missions clearer against racism, sexism, homophobia, and general xenophobia. Since those days at Divas, my gay friends today don’t compete in drag shows. But they are unapologetic about their sexual orientation and are just as smart and happy as any fellow gay man that just happens to wear platforms and tad wash of lip gloss. There’s work to do in gay circles as well. Sometimes racism does occur, as does pejorative attitudes towards heterosexual women. But generally speaking, “gay culture” is a culture that with open arms wants you to come as you are.
As I reflected on the tragedy of Pulse nightclub, my thoughts eventually made a beeline for June 2015’s horrific murder of nine South Carolinians. During their time of worship, in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, they were shot and killed by racist terrorist Dylann Roof. My heart brimmed to the outline with grief in knowing that in a house where their earnest beliefs in Christ soared in Bible study, would wind up a crime scene. What occurred in Orlando, during their weekly Latin Night party, this past weekend is no different. A nightclub where the LGBT community went for a good time, of course, was also their haven for unity. I shivered and cried again at recognizing how many times I had been in a gay club. Like the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, where it felt like that could’ve been my school. Pulse could’ve been Divas. My friends and I could’ve been there. These tragedies in recent years, from Sandy Hook to the Boston marathon, are only hitting closer and closer to home, with every life lost to senseless hate. And as he ends the near of his two terms as President of the United States of America, President Barack Obama had to remit his eighteenth somber speech following a devastation.
As always, I stand with my LGBTQ brothers and sisters and pray to Heavenly Father that these hate crimes will stop and that evil radicalism will no longer hide behind religion or cultures to spew hate or intolerance. Too many people are hurting, injured, and funerals held for victims that were gunned down for very simply having brown skin, loving the same sex, wearing a hijab, for being different, for being a woman. For very plain and simply, wanting to be treated as equal. Enough is enough.