All Our Freedoms

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Pulse Nightclub Shooting: THE VICTIMS -the 49 people who lost their lives on the morning of 12th June 2016.

On Saturday, my company’s LGBTQ Associate Resource Group walked in Washington, D.C.’s Capital Pride Parade. For the second year in a row, I walked with coworkers, friends, and family in what can only be described as a joyous event. As we walked and threw beads out to the crowd, I was struck by the excitement and joy of the onlookers. 

Before the parade, as I was driving into Washington, D.C., I had a wave of fear. The parade would be the largest annual gathering of LGBTQ and their allies in Washington, D.C. What if someone wanted to do us harm?  What if there were gunshots fired into the crowd? I brushed aside my thoughts, unwilling to be afraid as we marched. I wondered if my fear was some vestige of internalized homophobia. But as we would learn the next morning, my fear may have been appropriate. For all the freedoms we have won as LGBTQ, there remains a long way to go. There remains around the world, and in our own country, LGBTQ hate, intolerance, bigotry, and ignorance that we must continue to fight.

At the parade staging area, I met up with the group from my company. We began to fill balloons with helium and hand out company t-shirts. As I greeted friends and met others for the first time, my fears quickly faded. Soon my partner showed up. More people arrived. As we readied to march, we each took a handful of beads, a tradition borrowed from mardi gras, to throw out to the crowd. 

I love walking in the pride parade. There is a joyous feeling looking out into the cheering crowd as we walked. The Washington, D.C. Parade is 1.5 miles. We experienced 1.5 miles of the incredible diversity of gender, sexual orientation, race, color, and age — all excited and cheering. Everyone was enjoying one of the great LGBTQ traditions in the ongoing fight for equality. What began in 1970 as an act of courage and protest for equal rights has evolved into a mainstream celebratory event with corporate sponsors and thousands of walkers and onlookers. But in light of the world we live in, it is still an act of courage and protest.

On Sunday morning, I woke up before my partner and began to read the news on my iPad. I have a morning ritual of reading the New York Times first followed by the Washington Post. I noted the shooting at an Orlando night club but ignored it while I caught up on election news. Finally, I circled back and read about the shooting. I read both the New York Times and the Washington Post articles. Neither of the early Times or Post articles mentioned that the shooting was at a gay club. News had been going off on my phone all morning but it was from the Fox News app’s alert that I learned that this had been a gay club. I also learned later in the morning that another attack had been thwarted as a heavily armed man had been arrested on his way to the Los Angeles gay pride parade where 400,000 people were expected to attend. 

I came out at work over two years ago. On Saturday morning I emailed one of my peers at work who is Muslim and sent him a link to a New York Times article about the building boom in the ‘sacred center’ of Mecca. He had made a pilgrimage there last year and I thought he would be interested. As news broke about the Orlando shooting, and the death toll began to rise, I got a beautiful heartfelt email from him. He wrote:

“I woke up this morning to the terrible news about the attack in Orlando. Whatever direction this takes over the next few days with media, please know that the entire Muslim American community is grieving alongside the LGBTQ community in this senseless violence. While this shooter may lay claims to Islam, Islam has no claim with him or his actions. Praying for the victims and their families in this difficult time. “

One of the best articles I have read yesterday trying to make sense of this tragic event was by Frank Bruni in an opinion piece in the New York Times. Bruni, a long time writer for the Times, is an out, gay man. He rightly describes this event as an attack on all of our freedoms. It is about the hate felt by Muslim extremists against our culture with our welcoming of diversity and difference. Bruni writes in part:

“But let’s be clear: This was no more an attack just on L.G.B.T. people than the bloodshed at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris was an attack solely on satirists. Both were attacks on freedom itself. Both took aim at societies that, at their best, integrate and celebrate diverse points of view, diverse systems of belief, diverse ways to love. And to speak of either massacre more narrowly than that is to miss the greater message, the more pervasive danger and the truest stakes.”

One of the more shameful and painful things I read last night were tweets from Donald Trump. They were self-serving and self-congratulating—“Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” A later tweet was worse, saying that this “is just the beginning” and, “I called it and asked for the ban.” Trump speaks to the worst in us by encouraging hatred and fear. A Trump world is a frightening world to imagine. As so many have of our military leaders have already said, Trump’s perspective on Muslims encourages people to feel isolated in their own country, pushing them towards radical Islam. As I left my home this morning and tuned into XM satellite radio for Morning Joe, I heard the regulars and Frank Bruni, critical of Trump’s response to this horrible attack. I hope he is roundly condemned as the day goes on. 

Having only begun to come out in my mid-fifties the personal fight for LGBTQ equality is new for me. I am proud to have walked in Washington, D.C.’s Capital Pride Parade. I am proud to be actively involved in my company’s LGBT Associate Resource Group and in the LGBTQ community. And I am proud of the love I have for another man, my partner of the last year and a half. While this most recent attack was against the LGBTQ community, I agree with Bruni that this was an attack on all our freedoms.

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