We Are Orlando

“You better be careful; we don’t want to get shot.”

These are the words I said to Jeremy last Saturday evening when his hand reached for mine while walking into a restaurant in an unfamiliar town.  These are the words that were uttered mostly as a joke, but which now haunt me as I process and grieve the horror that unfolded that very night hundreds of miles away in Orlando.  These are the words that haunt me as I think about what it means for me to live out the liberation that Pride represents, fearing that I have too often chosen the safety of a closet that easily welcomes me back into its slowly suffocating embrace. 

I said those words to Jeremy in a joking way, but the more I think about them, the more I realize how much they came from a sense of deeply-rooted fear.  I think about all the ways we tried to navigate that unfamiliar territory, looking for somewhere to eat and weighing words like “tavern” versus “bistro” as if one or the other might tip the balance toward welcome for us.  I think of all the ways I subconsciously checked what I was wearing, how close we were standing, and who might be near enough to overhear our conversation. 

In the days following what happened in Orlando, I have struggled to know what to say.  Many beautiful and important things have been shared to offer condolences and commit to ending all forms of violence against LGBTQ people, and in particular LGBTQ people of color.  At times I feel like I am not entitled to the grief I feel because Orlando is so far removed from my experience of privilege as a white gay man.  At other times, it feels all too close to home.  Since last summer, nearly 200 anti-LGBTQ pieces of legislation have been introduced in the U.S., and congregations and denominations across this country have propagated the demonization of people like me (much more so for transgender women).  Orlando was not the first attack on the LGBTQ community, and it will most certainly not be the last. 

Last evening I attended a vigil for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting.  The most moving part of the service was when they rang the church bell for each of the victims who had died.  I can conceive the number 50 easy enough in my mind, but hearing those bells that seemed to ring and ring and ring for an eternity made the horror of what happened much more real.  As I listened, I could not help but think of the words of John Donne, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Searching for words to offer those I love, one of my initial reactions was to pray for a safe Pride for those who will be celebrating this weekend in Columbus.  But I realized that Orlando has exposed for me that Pride can never truly be safe.  Whether it’s a restaurant in an unfamiliar town or even the sanctuary of a gay nightclub, no one can promise safety.   We can pray for it and we can work toward it, but in the end we can never guarantee it. 

Instead, whether you are part of the LGBTQ community or wanting to stand with those of us who are, I pray that we would know a Pride that finds space to be brave in the face of fear, a Pride that is powerful in ways that can’t be shot down, and a Pride that offers life-sustaining joy for all the moments when the world feels heavy.